About Time: Whisky Guide 2023By Sam Holder
A few years ago my absolute favourite, go-to, reliably delicious whisky suddenly doubled in price. There was no credible explanation. It went from a luxurious but relatively affordable £45 for a high-quality Scotch, to a baffling £90 overnight. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning.
Since then, there has been a relentless march of rising prices.
There are myriad reasons why drams have become so dear – ranging from inflation and the cost of energy to post-Brexit and post-Covid supply chain issues – but in the end, all you want to know is whether the whisky you’re parting with your hard-earned cash for is worth it.
And that’s where this guide comes in. Whether you’re looking for Christmas whisky gift ideas, or just want to treat yourself, you can rest assured all of these whiskies have been thoroughly taste-tested and pass with flying colours.
And the price, for the most part, is right … just about.
Probably the best surprise whisky of the year. I’m sure, like me, you’ve never heard of Uhuru. It’s a tiny release (just 250 bottles) from a drinks company focused on wildlife conservation in Africa, with ten percent of sales going to charity. And what’s this? An elephant on the label! This has the warning signs of a whisky that’s all about the story rather than the liquid itself. But just like a gazelle pounced on by a lion hiding in the long grass, from seemingly nowhere Uhuru strikes, showing outstanding power and guile. Bottled at 55%, the blend from unnamed distilleries is packed full of flavour: loads of creamy vanilla, a lick of sugary lemon and just a slight hint of peat to add backbone. Who knew saving the world would be this enjoyable?
A rye whiskey with a big reputation – the problem is getting your hands on it. Bottles often sell out quickly and every time they’re restocked the price amps up a bit further. There’s a reason that demand seems to dramatically outstrip supply. As soon as you take that first sip, your palate is flooded with coconut, wood, toffee and orange peel. A ‘wow’ whiskey. Simply outstanding, get it while you can…
Experimentation is alive and well in the world of whisky. Have you heard about the distillery ageing their creations in rare Serbian birch wood fortified Ribena casks? Often the results are what you could generously describe as ‘mixed’. Sometimes all you want is to hark back to those simpler, more reliably delicious days. This is a classic, big-sherried, old-school whisky. It’s rich and decadent with waves of dried fruit. A heavy, late-night, by-the-fireside whisky, which – as the name suggests – is perfect for Christmas.
It takes some cheek charging £165 for a 10 year old Scotch, especially when the standard entry-level bottling from the exact same distillery is four years older and costs a third of the price. But Clynelish isn’t just any distillery. It has achieved cult status for its fruity and famously ‘waxy’ textured whisky, which normally ends up in blends. There’s just one single malt in Clyenlish’s core range – a peated 14 year old. What makes this such a special release is the fact it’s unpeated and cask strength (57.5%), which allows the calibre of Clynelish to shine. Sweet and rich fresh fruit notes, combined with a seemingly even more luscious texture than normal, make this a spectacular whisky.
This may well be the smoothest, most easygoing, rye ever made. The Oxford Artisan Distillery has regularly been putting out mind-bendingly impressive and delicious rye whiskies (see the ‘Red, Red, Rye’), with an innovative and sustainable approach. The genesis of this creation sounds technical (something about two different casks with different mash bills and sweet Italian wine casks) but the outcome is exceptionally balanced, with hints of many different fruits, flowers and spices. A refined rye, taking the best elements of this style and making them more drinkable and perhaps more delicious.
‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ sang Aaliyah, which in hindsight is … deeply problematic. But in this one very specific case, the words of that 90s classic still ring true. Torabhaig is a very young distillery on the Isle of Skye: this whisky is probably only around three years old. Normally ageing helps a whisky develop complexity and rounds out some of the harsher, ‘youthful’ notes. So it’s hard to believe that Torabhaig has achieved such quality and personality in a mere youngling. The distillery has rightly received plenty of plaudits for the intense (but approachable) smoky, sweet, salty and savoury whisky it produces. This limited run is bottled at a whopping 61%, which bolsters the flavours even further and results in a final product that can already compete with some of the big-name smoky whiskies.
Another accomplished release in Glenmorangie’s now annual ‘Tale of’ series. This has been part-aged in Mizunara oak casks, which are famous for helping give Japanese whiskies some of their celebrated characteristics. The wood has allowed sweet notes of satsuma and apricot to come to the fore, as well as a distinctive flavour of almond (frangipane). It’s also helped Glenmorangie emulate some of that smoothness that Japanese whisky is famed for. It is very, very easy-drinking and comes in a stylish Sim City-style cartoon bottle and box, which would make an excellent gift.
Aberfeldy is taking whisky geekery to a new level. Most distilleries like to experiment with putting their spirit in different types of casks, like those which previously held sherry or bourbon, or perhaps something more unusual like rum or even mezcal. At Aberfeldy, they are obsessed with red wine. Like, really obsessed. Every year they release an 18 year old whisky which has been finished in a different type of red wine cask, from Bordeaux to Côte-Rôtie, Tuscany and now the famed Napa Valley in California. The influence each regional rouge has on the whisky is profound. This time there’s new dark cherry, raspberry and woody notes, with a mouthwatering tannic finish – just as you’d expect from a top-end Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sound the trumpet, ring the bells – a tasty new whisky at under £50! Interesting things are happening at the GlenAllachie distillery. Under the guidance of renowned master Billy Walker, they’ve completely changed the way they make their spirit, using new techniques to extract more flavour. And they’ve just released a range of peated whiskies called Meikle Tòir ( – don’t worry, I’ve no idea how to pronounce it either). The whisky has managed to accrue a decent depth considering it’s just five years old. This version has been aged in Chinquapin wood from the Ozarks in the US resulting in a barbecue-smoky whisky with ginger and spices.
Listen, if you’re even considering spending nearly £2k then clearly the rising price of bottles isn’t something you’re too concerned about. What cost of living crisis eh? If you’ve got it, you may as well spend it on superlative whiskey… I certainly would. It’s very hard to judge bottles this expensive because normally I take the cost into account. This was blind tasted by a group before we knew the price and the response was unanimous: a faultless whiskey. The three decades of ageing have led to an intense, deep burst of flavour – think treacle, dried fruits, something a bit herbal and a really very clear taste of the candied orange peel you find in Christmas pudding and panettone. It’s vanishingly rare to find an Irish whiskey this old. A very special treat indeed.
Gullivers ‘47 PX Sherry Cask’ (£79) – Rich, sweet, fruity English whisky with a long, lingering, moreish aftertaste.
Method and Madness Mezcal Cask (Exclusive to The Whisky Exchange) (£100) – Unique and addictive limited release from Irish whisky pioneers, aged in Mezcal casks, giving a smoky – but not peated – edge.
Heaven’s Door Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey (£80) – Bourbon made by Bob Dylan! Beautifully designed bottles with classic flavours.