I did it. I made it through the entire Whiskey Advent Calendar that I received as the most unbelievable birthday gift. 24 samples have come and gone, displaying a range of styles from all over the world. There was not a bad one in the bunch, each 30mL sample showing different characteristics. Some were driven by the types of grains used, others by distillation techniques, all with various aging levels. Location of the distillery and warehouse even plays into this, too. I touched on the first four that I opened in the beginning of December before holiday life took over, but now after taking diligent notes and processing everything I can share my thoughts on what I tasted. When I told people about the Advent Calendar, I was often asked, "What has been your favorite?"
Here's how I'll answer that question. Each whiskey brings its own expression to the table: lively or rich, sweet or dry, complex or simple, subtle or forceful. The beauty of all the styles of whiskey out there is that there is a time and a place for all of them and they can all be appreciated when placed in proper context. Some might be better suited for a cocktail rather than enjoying neat with a few drops of water. Others may be comforting and soothing in the winter, while some examples might be lighter and more refreshing in the hot months of summer.
What's my favorite whiskey? It is like trying to pick your favorite child. The Greatest Wife In The World and I have the running joke that our favorite child is the one who sleeps the most at night. My favorite whiskey is the one that is making me happy today. It's all about mood and environment.
So let me share which drams stood out the most. There are several products in the calendar that we have either limited or zero access to in the U.S., and they deserve to be discussed based on their individual merits. However, the whiskies in my top six are all either available in the majority of states or have nationwide distribution. Let's run them down below. Special thanks to the Greatest Wife In The World for going to Master of Malt for an amazing gift.
Honorable Mentions (hard or unable to source in the U.S., but fun to share with you in case you encounter any of these in your travels):
Mackmyra Brukswhisky (approx. $49 via Master of Malt): I wrote of this when I first opened the kit. Even after tasting through the 24 whiskies, the Mackmyra still stands out to me. The combination of delicate floral notes on the nose with red berries and ginger on the palate left a positive mark. We need this here in the states.
Millstone 6 Year Old Dutch Whisky (approx. $62 via Master of Malt): This example from the Zuidam Distillery was a limited release (only 637 bottles were made) and never made it to the U.S. This whisky is malty with banana bread and maple syrup on the palate. On the nose, it's candied walnuts, toffee, and creme brulee. Warm and balanced on the finish. FYI...the Millstone 100 Proof Rye is available in the U.S. if you are looking to try something from this producer.
Puni Nova (approx. $62 via Master of Malt): Puni Distillery is located in the far north of Italy, and the young Nova expression has a mash bill of malted barley, malted rye, and malted wheat. Light in color and body, anise, lemons, and cured meats are subtle on the nose. The palate is lively with green herbs and citrus, along a touch of espresso and dark chocolate. Great potential as a summer whiskey or as a base in a cocktail. Puni has some products distributed in California, but it is not widespread yet.
English Whiskey Company Chapter 13 (approx. $90 via Master of Malt): Malt and leather are countered by orange zest and the smell of an old library (just imagine it...you have encountered it before). Dried oranges, malt, and fresh citrus on the palate, which starts off malty and sweet, but finishes lively, spicy, and dry. Origin is St. George's Distillery in Norfolk, England. This was very cool.
Penderyn Welsh Whisky Portwood Finish (approx. $64 via Master of Malt): The Port barrel is noticeable on this killer Welsh whisky from Penderyn. Peach pie, raspberry jam, caramel, and vanilla on the nose. Sweet red and black berries on a rich and full-bodied palate. If you are a fan of Port-finished whisky, then I hope this makes it to the states.
Now for the top six (in no order, all can be had here in the U.S.):
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak Single Malt ($115): This Taiwanese producer is gaining a lot of traction in the U.S., with distribution in many states and only gaining a larger footprint. A fragrant whisky with chile peppers, citrus, and an exotic range of savory spices on the nose. On the palate, the spices are there, but finishes like a Bourbon with a vanilla and long toffee-like sweetness.
Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey ($40): Many Irish whiskeys feature unmalted barley, leading to a light and clean profile. Teeling uses a high proportion of malted barley (a la Scotch), and the whiskey spends some time maturing in rum casks. This has a soft and sweet nose, with almond, toasted coconut, apples, and vanilla. On the palate, marshmallows, coconut, pie crust, and chocolate with a full and sweet finish.
The Quiet Man 8 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey ($50): The brand's name comes from the distillery owner's father, who was a bartender in Northern Ireland. For being made from all malted barley, the nose is very clean and fragrant, with floral, citrus, and vanilla cream aromas. On the palate, it is light and gentle with a distinct lemon curd flavor and fresh coconut on the finish. This is incredibly easy to enjoy.
Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey ($35): Tuthilltown Spirits in New York's Hudson Valley gives rye whiskey the attention it deserves. Loaded with spicy aromatic intensity, it is like walking into a New York bakery and smelling rye bread. On the palate, it's roasted root vegetables, rosemary, orange peel, nutmeg, and ground black pepper on the finish. At 92 Proof, this is loaded with flavor to make an amazing cocktail. Where's my pastrami sandwich with this?
Whistlepig 10 Year Vermont Rye ($75): Whistlepig continues to gain accolades with newer expressions rye-based whiskies, and deservedly so. This 10 year example takes a stock of Canadian rye that was destined for blending and instead, Whistlepig aged it, finished it in Bourbon barrel, and bottled it at their Vermont property. This is French toast, dates, and fruitcake on the nose, with candied oranges, scones, maple syrup, and baking spices on the palate. Well worth the spend!
Brenne Cuvée Spéciale French Single Malt ($64): When Cognac and Scotch have a baby, you get Cuvée Spéciale from Brenne. The barley is grown in the Cognac region of France, the whisky matures in French oak, then finishes in Cognac casks. The result is a nose of fruitcake, orange peel, and floral notes. The palate has baked pears, green figs, golden raisins, and a warming vanilla finish. Since I happen to be a Cognac fan, this whisky was right in my wheelhouse.