A blended scotch whisky has swept aside all single malt rivals to take the prestigious Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible Award for 2011.
Ballantine’s 17-year-old has topped all other whiskies in this year’s publication, which includes 4,500 different brands – of which over 1,000 new entries were tasted by Jim Murray in six months.
Single malt scotch, often preferred by whisky lovers, failed also to take either the runner’s up or third spot. Second place went to Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye (129 proof) ahead of William Larue Weller (134.8 proof), both from the same distillery: Buffalo Trace.
Speaking at the publication of the Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2011 Jim Murray said, “Blends are seen by many as the poor relations to single malts. Ballantine’s 17 proves, quite spectacularly, what many of us have known for a great many years: it isn’t. A blender has the chance to create something unique and quite beautiful by putting together many whisky styles. With Ballantine’s 17, the blender has done his job in glorious, quite majestic fashion.”
Giving the blend 97.5 points out of 100, Jim Murray describes the whisky as “one of the most beautiful, complex and stunningly structured whiskies ever created.”
And in another boost for unsung whiskies, the own label Irish whiskey from Sainsbury’s, Dún Léire Aged 8 Years Single Malt, won Irish Whiskey of the Year, the first time a supermarket brand has gained top country honours in The Whisky Bible. Produced by the Cooley Distillery for Sainsbury’s Jim Murray said, “this is Cooley at its best and a very astute and masterful piece of whiskey buying”.
Last year, the World Whisky Award went to Sazerac 18-year-old Kentucky rye. This year, younger sibling Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye (129 proof) secured second place, whilst William Larue Weller (134.8 proof), a bourbon, came third. Both brands herald from last years World whisky winner Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Conducted over a four month period, whilst writing the 2011 Whisky Bible, Jim Murray tasted in excess of 1000 whiskies to reach his final decision.
In the end, it was a Scotch blend which scored highly in previous editions which took the top prize.
Added Jim: “Ballantine’s 17-years-old has always been one of the world’s premier whiskies: its consistency over the years has been quite remarkable. But this year it just progressed that extra notch to leave all other whiskies in its shadow. This currently marks the epitome of great blending, indeed, great whisky: nowhere else can you find balance, texture, and content come together in such a sensual, graceful way. It really is the nectar of the gods, except even they might struggle to get to the bottom of its labyrinthine complexity. It needed something out of this world to see off the two Buffalo Trace whiskeys…and this was it.”
Of the Buffalo Trace brands Jim Murray said, “Having tasted and been overwhelmed by both whiskeys at the Buffalo Trace early this year, tasting them again in the confounds of UK based tasting room, devoid of the romance of the distillery and in the wake of some tough competition was a tough challenge for these two newcomers” said Murray. “But wow how they delivered. These are two of the best American whiskies the best I have ever tasted and for very different reasons.”
Jim Murray’s Tasting Notes:
Ballantine’s 17 Years Old (97.5) n24.5 deft grain and honey plus teasing salty peat; ultra high quality with bourbon and pear drops offering the thrust; a near unbelievable integration t 246 t with gooseberry juice offering a touch of sharpness muted by watered golden syrup; t24 immediately mouthwatering with maltier tones clambering over the graceful cocoa-enriched grain; the degrees of sweetness are varied but near perfection; just hints of smoke here and there; f24 lashings of vanilla and cocoa on the fade; drier with a faint spicey, vaguely smoky buzz; has become longer with more recent bottlings with the most subtle oiliness imaginable; b25 now only slightly less weighty than of old. After a change of style direction it has comfortably reverted back to its sophisticated, mildly erotic old self. One of the most beautiful, complex and stunningly structured whiskies ever created. Truly the epitome of great Scotch. To the extent that for the last year, I have simply been unable to find a better whisky anywhere in the world. 43%.
Sainsbury’s Dún Léire Aged 8 Years Single Malt (95.5) n24 the score for this crept upwards as I investigated the aroma like the thermometer in my back garden on a bright summer’s day. The first thing to throw itself at you is Seville blood orange, backed up by a clever layering of barley at varying intensity and sweetness; the delicate oak acts as no more than a buffer in between; t24 just about the perfect mouth feel: silky and melting on the palate. Again, it was an orangey citrus first to show, then again followed by some stunning malt. Everything dissolves: you don’t have to do anything but close your eyes and enjoy, indeed: marvel…but it is hard work to stop yourself chewing; f23.5 dries slightly, but the bitterness threatened on the label fails to materialise…thankfully. The fruit and barley ride off into the sunset in tandem; b24 when I read “notes of bitter orange” on the label I feared the worst and expected a sulphurous whiskey. Well maybe there is a molecule or two hanging around, but so minor is it, it is impossible to tell exactly where it comes from. This is one of the great whiskeys from Cooley, ever. And as a supermarket Irish…unsurpassed. One of the surprise packages of world whisky for 2010. Magnificent. 40%
2011 World Whisky of the Year – Ballantine’s 17 Years Old
Second Finest Whisky in the World 2011 – Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye (129 proof)
Third Finest Whisky in the World 2011 – William Larue Weller (134.8 proof)
Scotch Whisky of the Year – Ballantine’s 17 Years Old
Single Malt of the Year (Multiple cask) – Octomore Orpheus Aged 5 Years
Single Malt of the Year (Single cask) – Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 70
Best Scotch New Brand – Compass Box, The Spice Tree
Scotch Blend of the Year – Ballantine’s 17 Years Old
Scotch Grain of the Year – Clan Denny Garnheath Aged 40 Years
Scotch Vatted Malt of the Year – Big Peat
Single Malt Scotch
No Age Statement (Multiple cask) – Ardbeg Corryvreckan
No Age Statement (runner up) – The Macallan Oscuro
10 Years and Under (Multiple cask) – Octomore Orpheus Aged 5 Years
10 Years and Under (Single cask) – Ardbeg 2000 Lord Robertson of Port Ellen KT
11-15 Years Old (Multiple cask) – The Arran Malt 1996 ‘The Peacock’
11-15 Years Old (Single cask) – SMWS 33.77 Aged 11 Years (Ardbeg)
16-21 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Highland Park Aged 18 Years
16-21 Years Old (Single cask) – Old Malt Cask Lochside Aged 18 Years
22-27 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Brora 25 Year Old 7th Release
22-27 Years Old (Single cask) – Duncan Taylor Highland Park 1986
28-34 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Auchentoshan 1978 Bourbon Cask Ltd Edition
28-34 Years Old (Single cask) – Old Malt Cask Auchroisk Aged 34 Years
35-40 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Highland Park 1973 Orcadian Vintage
35-40 Years Old (Single cask) – G&M Rare Old Convalmore 1975
41 Years and Over (Multiple cask) – Dalmore Candela Aged 50 Years
41 Years and Over (Single cask) – Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 70
No Age Statement (Standard) – Ballantine’s Finest
No Age Statement (Premium) – The Last Drop
5-12 Years – Johnnie Walker Black Label
13-18 Years – Ballantine’s 17 Year Old
19 & Over – William Grant’s 25 Years Old
Irish Whiskey of the Year – Sainsbury’s Dún Léire Aged 8 Years
Bourbon of the Year – William Larue Weller (134.8 proof)
Rye of the Year – Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye (129 proof)
No Age Statement (Multiple barrel) – William Larue Weller (134.8 proof)
9 Years & Under – Knob Creek
10-17 Years (Multiple Barrels) – Parker’s Heritage Collection Fourth Edition
10-17 Years (Single Barrel) – Willett Aged 17 Years Barrel Proof
18 Years & Over – Evan Williams 23 Year Old
No Age Statement – Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye (129 proof)
11 Years & Over – Rittenhouse Rye Aged 25 Years Barrel 19
Canadian Whisky of the Year – Crown Royal Special Reserve
Japanese Whisky of the Year – Karuizawa 1967 Vintage
European Whisky of the Year – Mackmyra Brukswhisky
European Single Cask Whisky of the Year – The Belgian Owl Aged 44 Months
Indian Whisky of the Year – Amrut Intermediate Sherry Matured
Jim Murray Liquid Gold Awards
Created last year to recognise whisky-making excellence around the world some x new whiskies, scoring 94 points or more have been awarded Liquid Gold Awards in the 2011 Whisky Bible.
Representing around 4% of all the whiskies featured in the 2011 edition, they are, says Murray “the elite; the very finest you can find on whisky shelves around the world. Rare and precious they are liquid gold”.
A full account of the 2011 World Whisky Awards can be found in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2011 published (11th October 2010). And with over 4050 tasting notes, including 1050 of the very latest releases, the ‘Whisky Bible’ remains the definitive and most up to date guide available.
Published by Dram Good Books priced at £12.99, the 2011 Whisky Bible is available through good book shops. Signed copies by the author can be purchased from www from www.whiskybible.com.