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The 2013 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Whisky

RH-winner2013I tasted a lot of great whisky this year from all over the world, and I noticed a few trends which deserve noting. Whisky is growing in popularity throughout the world, and this is having consequences in both the variety of whisky available to the consumer, and the quality of the whisky available to the consumer. In terms of variety, things have never been better as I can find whiskies on the store shelves from places I would never have imagined a few years ago. The number of brands available from India and Japan keep growing, and as well brands from places like New Zealand, England, Wales, and Australia are also surfacing in my local liquor stores. A stronger selection of brands available to the consumer can only be good news; and hopefully consumers (and whisky critics) can put their prejudices aside and give these brands the chance they deserve.

However the flip side of this world-wide popularity of whisky is a disturbing reluctance from some of the major players to maintain their age statements. As an example, a few years ago Johnnie Walker Gold Label carried an age statement of 18 years. Back then it was called The Centenary Blend. Now however, the newest bottles of Gold Label no longer carry that age statement. Coinciding with that particular change was a bit of a name change as well. The new whisky is called Johnnie Walker Gold Label ReserveSimilar changes have occurred at The Macallan, and I am told that many other major whisky producers are going to be following this trend. The simple fact is that there is just not enough aged whisky stocks to maintain the present brands due to the growing world-wide popularity of the spirit. Of course the marketing hype proclaims the spirits are as good as ever, but I guess I question the veracity of those statements. Time will tell, and thankfully there are still many brands maintaining their standards and many more great whiskies for me to discover.

It is time though, for my to make my yearly proclamations regarding the best whiskies which I have personally tasted in the year which is 2013. As is the case each year, all of my Rum Howler Awards are based upon side by side tastings within each category of spirit. I taste the spirit neat, and I also mix a few cocktails with each spirit. All spirit samples which I receive to review on my website are automatically considered for my awards. I do my review, and then I set aside the remainder of the spirit for the end of the year judging. I also receive additional industry samples specifically for these awards. My side by side tastings are completed, and it is time for me to reveal the recipients of my 2013 Rum Howler Awards for Excellence in the Production of Whisky.

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Ninety_5_Year_Old_-_shadow_2013_06The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Whisky Value

and the Winner is:

Ninety 5 Year Old Whisky (Highwood)

Runner-up Award to: Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky

Honourable Mention to: Centennial 10 year Old Canadian Whisky

Last year I noted that when it comes to great whisky at a budget price, it is the Canadian Whisky category that dominates. I should add a corollary to that statement; of those whiskies made in Canada it is the whisky made in Alberta which tends to dominate the most. Indeed it is the Alberta Spirit which captured all three Value Whisky Awards in 2013. This year’s winner unfortunately is not yet readily available across Canada as an unexpected flash flood in the town of High River unfortunately curtailed production of the Highwood Distillery’s new ‘Ninety” Canadian Whisky brands. I was able however to get my hands on a sample of the new Ninety 5 Year Old Whisky, and I can tell you that this is indeed a succulent whisky of remarkable smoothness, well deserving of the Rum Howler Award for the Best Whisky Value. As the whisky becomes more available in the coming year, be sure to grab some and see for yourself.

Last years winner, Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky (from Alberta Distillers), and Highwood’s Centennial 10 year Old Canadian Whisky each received strong consideration for the Award.)

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Ninety_25_Year_Old_-_shadow_2013_06The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Canadian Whisky

and the Winner is:

Ninety 20 Year Old Whisky (Highwood)

Runner-up Award to: Lot No. 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian Whisky

Honourable Mention to: Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Year Old

Highwood’s new Ninety 5 Year Old whisky was shockingly good and actually received serious consideration for this Award as well. However Highwood’s 20 year Old version is on an entirely different level. This fantastic whisky carries suave creamy flavours forward adding an extra burst of flavour due to its 90 proof (45 % alcohol by volume) bottling strength. It was a pity that the Highwood Distillery suffered setbacks in production due to the flooding in Southern Alberta this summer. Those setbacks surely stole the thunder of accolades which the release of the new “Ninety” whisky brands deserved. Although I have not reviewed either Ninety whisky formally on my website at this time, when I do, they will carry scores which will be amongst the highest I have ever given.

I should point out that Corby’s Lot No. 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian Whisky and Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Year Whisky are each no slouches either. In another year, either could easily have won the Rum Howler Award for Best Canadian Whisky. (All of the whiskies in this competition were judged both neat, and in an Old-Fashioned Cocktail with equal weighting given to each format.)

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The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Scotch Whisky

and the winner is:

Glenfarclas 30 Year Old Highland Single Malt Whisky

Runner-Up Award to: Bowmore Tempest Batch No. 3

Honourable Mention to: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Just as I had done in the Canadian Whisky Category, all of the Scotch whiskies were judged both neat and in an Old-Fashioned Cocktail with equal weighting was given to each. For the Second Year in a Row the clear winner this year was the Glenfarclas 30 Year Old Whisky.

I surprised myself by awarding a Runner-up Award to Bowmore Tempest (Batch No. 3) which is a beast of whisky. It is gentle for just an instant before a full onslaught of phenolic peat and spice bash your tonsils. As you guessed (although I am by no means a ‘Peat Head’), I found this beast much to my liking.

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Knob Creek 9The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best American Whiskey

and the winner is:

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Runner-Up Award: Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

Honourable mention to: Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I judged the American Whiskey category using a combination of cocktails (the Mint Julep and the Old Fashioned) as well as sipping each whiskey neat. The runaway winner as the Best American Whiskey I tasted in 2013 was Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon from Beam Global.

The real contest was for the Runner-up Award which was won narrowly by Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey over the new Jim Beam Devil’s Cut. Bourbon is a growing category in Canada and around the world, and I think my appreciation for the spirit is growing as well.

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SAM_0727 New Zealand's 1987 Single Malt WhiskyThe 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Whiskey from an Emerging Whisky Nation

and the winner is:

New Zealand’s 1987 Single Malt Whisky (24 years Old)

Runner-Up Award:  South Island 18 Year Old Single Malt

Honourable mention to: Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

This year I chose to drop the Irish Whiskey Category, and add a category for Emerging Whisky Nation. This was no fault of the Irish spirit, but unfortunately I was not able to taste very many Irish Whiskies this year.  I was however, fortunate enough to try some very interesting whiskies from India, New Zealand, Guyana and Japan. The best of these Emerging Nation whiskies was the 24 Year Old 1987 Single Malt Whisky from the New Zealand Whisky Collection. This whisky was in fact so good, that it was given serious consideration for the 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky. Incidentally, the Runner-up Award also went to a New Zealand Whisky, the South Island 18 Year Old.

Note: The now closed distillery at Dunedin on the South Island (New Zealand) once produced both Single Malt and blended whisky. After its closure, about 600 barrels of single malt and blended grain whisky remained at the distillery and were left to mature. Three years ago, Mr Greg Ramsey, a young Australian whisky enthusiast from Tasmania, bought those barrels and set about bottling the whisky as part of a plan to revive the New Zealand whisky industry. As part of that plan, he created the New Zealand Whisky Collection.

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And finally the Award that I am sure you have all been waiting for:

Knob Creek 9The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky!

and the Winner is:

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Runner-up Award to: Ninety 20 Year Old Whisky (Highwood)

Honourable mention to: Lot No. 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian Whisky

This year the competitions for The 2012 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky came down to a battle between 2 great whiskies. I changed my mind at least three times as I sipped each whisky straight, with ice, and in an Old Fashioned Cocktail. The two whiskies represent a contrast in style. Knob Creek has a big bold taste with a strong oak character running through the spirit. Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old is soft and succulent and brings wonderful flavour nuances forward within its aged character. In the final analysis I chose the more robust and oaky expression of corn whisky, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon as the Rum Howler 2013 Whiskey of the Year!

The Lot 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian Whisky was a strong contender deserving of Honourable Mention. Also considered for the Award was the Glenfarclas 30 year Old and the New Zealand 1987 Single Malt Whisky (24 Year Old).

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RH-winner2013The Winners

The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Whisky Value: Ninety 5 Year Old Whisky (Highwood)

The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Canadian Whisky: Ninety 20 Year Old Whisky (Highwood)

The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Scotch Whisky: Glenfarclas 30 Year Old Highland Single Malt Whisky

The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best American Whiskey: Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Whiskey from an Emerging Whisky Nation: New Zealand’s 1987 Single Malt Whisky (24 years Old)

The 2013 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky: Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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RH-Runner-Up-2013The Runners-Up

The Rum Howler 2013 Runner-Up Award for Best Whisky Value: Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky

The 2013 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Canadian Whisky: Lot No. 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian Whisky

The 2013 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Scotch Whisky: Bowmore Tempest Batch No. 3

The 2013 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best American Whiskey: Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

The 2013 Rum Howler Runner-Up Best Whiskey from an Emerging Whisky Nation: South Island 18 Year Old Single Malt

The 2013 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Overall Whisky: Ninety 20 Year Old Whisky (Highwood)

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RH-HM-2013The Honourable Mentions

The 2013 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Whisky Value: Centennial 10 year Old Canadian Whisky

The 2013 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Canadian Whisky: Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Year Old

The 2013 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Scotch Whisky: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

The 2013 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best American Whiskey: Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The 2013 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Whiskey from an Emerging Whisky Nation: Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

The 2013 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Overall Whisky: Lot No. 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian Whisky

5 Responses to “The 2013 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Whisky”

  1. antihero7 said

    Hello, my Northern friend.

    Looks like I’ll have to track me down some Knob Creek.

    Question for ya…i heard tell a while back that for the purposes of reviews and awards you only consider spirits which have been provided by the industry. Is that so?

    Regards,

    Curt

    • Hi Curt

      When I opened my website four years ago, the bulk of the spirits which I reviewed came from my private collection. Over time (actually very quickly), industry began to recognize my efforts and requested reviews for which they sent me samples. Thus for the first two years of my Rum Howler Awards, the samples tasted were provided by Industry and from my personal collection. Now however, I receive so many samples that I rarely dip into my private collection for reviews. I guess the only exception would be that sometimes friends bring me a bottle and ask me to review it because they are curious about how I would score it, or because they want to reciprocate a kindness which was extended to them (I give a lot of bottles away after my reviews and awards are over). In fact our mutual friend Lance has gifted me more than one bottle for review. These bottles from friends are included in my Rum Howler Awards.

      Having said all of that, my whisky awards for the current year were based almost entirely upon Industry samples. The one exception would be the Yamazaki 12 which came from my personal collection. (So yes, that expensive 30 Year Old Glenfarclas was a sample from Industry.)

  2. Mike said

    Awesome, I love Knob Creek as well. What do you think of the Single Barrel version? Also looking forward to trying the newly-availably rye.

    I really hope those Highwood 90-proof whiskies arrive in Ontario sometime soon.

    • Knob Creek just seems to taste better every time I try it. At this point I would say that it is my favourite bourbon. I also understand that the Highwood Ninety will be in Ontario in around March, so keep your eyes peeled around then.

      As for the Knob Creek Rye, I am supposed to get a bottle this January for review.

      Take care Mike!

      • russ said

        hi chip…down here in florida and reeling from the fact plantation rums are gone from down here! as for knob creek,i agree fully and have been enjoying it ever since the first stone barrington novel…..happy trails russ

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