The 2014 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Whisky
2014 was another year in which we saw the decline of the importance of the age statement as it related to distilled spirits. Increasingly, companies are unwilling to make a proclamation which states the age of the youngest spirit in their blended or single malt whiskies. An argument could be made that the age statement (as it is currently being used) is a highly deceptive statement in the first place, and maybe we are better off without it. This is because the age statement as it is currently used only tells the consumer how much time the youngest portion of the blended spirit has spent in an oak barrel. However, this length of time spent in oak is only a small part of the maturation equation.
If we place two identical spirits in two different oak casks for an equal length of time, the taste and quality of the two spirits which are drawn from the casks at the end of the maturation will almost always be different. Other factors which are rarely reported on the label of the final spirit have as much or more to do with the final taste and quality of the spirit than does the length of time the spirit spent in the barrel. One important factor rarely mentioned is the age of the actual barrel the spirit is resting in. Also important is how many times this barrel has been used before, and what was the length of time it was used each previous time a spirit rested in it. It would be nice to know what other spirits were aged in the barrel previously. Questions I would like answered are, was the barrel charred ( or re-charred) before the spirit was placed within it? Where was the oak which was used to produce the barrel harvested from? Was this 0ld growth oak? And even , how many different barrels were used in the maturation of the spirit we are about to purchase? All of those factors, and many more others, impact the final spirit at least as much (and probably much more) than does the actual length of time the spirit spent in the oak barrel.
Does that mean that I embrace the gradual disappearance of the age statement? Certainly not! This information, as flawed as it is, at least is something the consumer can use to help him or her make a purchase decision. Rather than seeing the decline of the age statement, I would prefer to see spirits companies offer a more complete age statement, especially for the more expensive offerings in their spirit portfolios. Unfortunately, I see no momentum either within industry or within governments which would require spirits companies to be more forthcoming about how they mature their spirits. We are left merely with a deceptive age statement which is not even mandatory. (This is better than no information at all). Sadly with respect to detailed information which would be of real benefit to consumers in making a determination regarding quality before they buy a bottle of whisky, the trend is towards less information and not more.
Having gone on my yearly rant (which I suspect most of you skimmed over), it is time now for to unveil my Rum Howler Awards with respect to best Whisky I have tasted in 2014. 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 2014 Rum Howler Awards for Excellence in the Production of Whisky.
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Whisky Value
and the Winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Schenley OFC Canadian Whisky
Honourable Mention to: Potters Special Old Rye Whisky
It was an easy process to determine the best whisky value for my 2014 Rum Howler Award. I determined first which of the whiskies I had received or reviewed in 2014 which were available to me at a retail price of less than 25 bucks for a 750 ml bottle. (That may seem expensive to some of you but remember that we pay a lot of taxes in Canada on booze, and that translates to about $12.50 pre tax.) Then I checked my most recent review scores and determined which of those whisky spirits gave me the best bang for my buck. It is a little subjective, as I for one am more willing than some to pay a slightly higher price to enjoy a really good whisky.
This year I settled on a perennial favourite of mine, Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky. It is slightly more expensive than the Runner-up Schenley OFC or the Honourable Mention, Potters Special Old. However, it is (in my opinion) a better overall whisky than the others and well worth a few extra bucks to purchase it. In fact, I recently scored Alberta Springs as one of the Top 10 Canadian Whiskies produced in 2014. And as far as my review score goes, it is on par with some of the much more expensive spirits that will be receiving Rum Howler Awards for Whisky in my other categories. Alberta Springs is a gem of a whisky, and it deserves the accolade of Rum Howler 2014 Best Value Whisky.
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Canadian Whisky
and the Winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Wiser’s 18 Years Old Limited Release
Honourable Mention to: Crown Royal Cask 16.
This year after I published my 2014 Top 25 Canadian Whisky Countdown I would not blame anyone for thinking that I must have had a predisposition for the Wiser’s brand. I say this because Wiser’s placed three brands in my top 6 and four in my top 10. More impressive yet, not only did Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release grab the number one spot, Wiser’s 18 Year Old Limited Release grabbed the number 2 spot, and is my Runner-up for the Rum Howler Canadian Whisky of the Year Award. It was without a doubt, a great year for Wiser’s Whisky.
My Honourable Mention goes to Crown Royal Cask 16. Although rumours persist as to the demise of this outstanding blend, I note that as of the end of 2014, it remains listed on the Crown Royal website as part of the Crown Royal Family, and is readily available in my home Province of Alberta.
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Scotch Whisky
and the winner is:
Runner-Up Award to: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old – The Solera Vat
Honourable Mention to: The Macallan Ruby
All of the Scotch whiskies I considered for my Rum Howler Awards were judged both neat and in an Old-Fashioned Cocktail with equal weighting given to each of the tasting sessions. This year my judging was extremely close, in fact after tasting each of my three finalists neat, I really could not decide which of the 3, I liked the best. However, when I mixed an Old Fashioned Cocktail with each spirit, I found that the cocktail I made with The Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Barrel was just plain tastier than any of the others.
I awarding the Runner-up Award to the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old – The Solera Vat, and the Honourable Mention Award to The Macallan Ruby. Other strong contenders were, Bowmore Tempest, and Bruichladdich Black Art 4.
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best American Whiskey
and the winner is:
Runner-Up Award: Angel’s Envy Rum Finished Rye Whiskey
Honourable mention to: Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
I judged the American Whiskey category using the same cocktail as I had used in my previous deliberations, (the Old Fashioned) as well as again sipping each whiskey neat. The winner as the Best American Whiskey I tasted in 2014 was Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon from Beam Suntory. I should note that the race was very close this year with Angel’s Envy Rum Finished Rye Whisky almost stealing the victory with an extremely strong showing especially when mixed into that Old Fashioned Cocktail. Knob Creek, last year’s winner retained its high standing winning the Honourable Mention this year.
It was a great year for American Whisky, and all of the Award Winners in this category were considered for the 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky.
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Whiskey from an Emerging Whisky Nation
and the winner is:
In the Emerging Whisky Nation category, I was only able to judge a few entrants this year. Only one of those whiskies, The Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky garnered an award. (I wish I had tasted more whiskies from around the world this year.) However, the Amrut whisky was of such quality, that I decided it should be a contender for the coveted 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky which is of course the next (and last) Whisky Award I am presenting this year.
And finally the Award that I am sure you have all been waiting for:
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky!
and the Winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release
This year the competition for The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky came down to a battle between an established American Whisky and a new Canadian Whisky brand. For sipping, both spirits were incredible, but I found myself preferring the awesome power of the full strength Booker’s to the smoother 90 proof Wiser’s Red Letter. When mixed in a cocktail however, the Red Letter held supreme. In the end I decided that the tie would go to the whisky which was the best sipper. But this was the closest competition on my website for Whisky of the Year since I began my Rum Howler Awards.
Two other American Whiskies rounded out my Whisky of the Year Awards. An American Whisky which bears and amazing resemblance to Canadian Rye, Angel’s Envy Rum Cask Rye Whisky (I asked but did not receive an answer regarding where the rye whisky in the bottle came from), and Knob Creek a fantastic bourbon from Beam Suntory each won well deserved Honourable Mentions.
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Whisky Value: Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Canadian Whisky: Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Scotch Whisky: The Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Barrel
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best American Whiskey: Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Whiskey from an Emerging Whisky Nation: Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky
The 2014 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Whisky: Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon
The Rum Howler 2014 Runner-Up Award for Best Whisky Value: Schenley OFC Canadian Whisky
The 2014 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Canadian Whisky: Wiser’s 18 Years Old Limited Release
The 2014 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Scotch Whisky: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old – The Solera Vat
The 2014 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best American Whiskey: Angel’s Envy Rum Finished Rye Whiskey
The 2014 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Overall Whisky: Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release
The Honourable Mentions
The 2014 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Whisky Value: Potters Special Old Rye Whisky
The 2014 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Canadian Whisky: Crown Royal Cask 16.
The 2014 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Scotch Whisky: The Macallan Ruby
The 2014 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best American Whiskey: Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey