First, dear reader, let me thank you for being here reading this humble blog and all those words spat out by the lousy blogger that I am. You are one of not that many, I’ll come back to that, so thank you. Then, allow me to wish you a very happy New Year, full of joy, good health and great whisky. It’s time, slightly late as usual, for me to look back in the rear-view mirror and recap the whisky side of 2021. So grab a dram, sit comfortably, and let’s go. And yes, the irony of saying let’s go after telling you to sit doesn’t elude me.
Poacher Turned Keeper
The first thing I have to talk about, the most important event for me in 2021 related to whisky, was Whisky Live Paris. For the first time, I was on the pouring side of the table (or the cask, in fact). At the end of September, for the three days of this whisky festival, I was on the exhibitor side, helping out the Dingle Distillery team who had the strange idea to allow me to give them a hand. Little did they know that it would mean me rambling for hours in front of visitors to the Dingle booth and tasting the whisky regularly to refresh my memory and my tasting notes! More seriously, Graham Coull, Master Distiller, Fay Coull, his way better half and Steven O’Carroll, the International Export Manager for Dingle Distillery, had the kindness to give me the chance of being on the exhibitor side of a Whisky Show. Their kindness, generosity and humour helped me have an absolute blast during these three days, and I must admit it had been a long time since I had so much fun and I was laughing so much, so a thousand thanks to the three of them!
This experience allowed me also to meet new people, meet some Internet friends in real for the first time, make new friends, and have a lot of fun. And whenever it was calm on the booth, it was great to sneak out with Graham, to try whiskies from other distilleries or mind-blowing old Cognacs from Vallein-Tercinier or Grosperrin. My god that Lot 52-22 (80% 1952 Cognac, 20% 1922 Cognac if my memory serves me well) was out of this world…
Like 2020, there were several Zoom tastings in 2021, either online tastings organised by distilleries, or by people from the Whisky Community, like the Whisky Circus, or people from Larkfire. To name a few, great Zoom tastings with the Circus with Glen Moray (selecting their next Bottle-your-own from 4 blind cask samples), Glen Scotia or Inchdairnie (though in this case the samples never reached me), but also several 18-year-olds with Larkfire, a couple Bimber online tastings and a very interesting one with Isle of Raasay, trying the six components of their first official bottling!
And there were, of course, Tweet Tastings, with most of the ones I participated in recounted on these pages. I had the chance to participate in a few of them, though unfortunately some of the others I wasn’t in were UK only, and Brexit did not help… The ones I was in were The Whisky Cellar and Walsh Whiskey in March, Hinch Distillery and Lux Row Distillers & Limestone Branch Distillery in May, Bimber with their first batch of the Spirit of the Underground Collection in June, then another Whisky Cellar in November for their Series 003, as well as a Lux Row flash blog event in November as well. Thanks again to Steve and the distilleries involved for having me!
I’ll quote what Brian says on his review of his whisky year, as it’s exactly what I feel:
These have been a brilliant way to try new drams and more importantly share your thoughts about them in real time with others – it’s like sitting in a room of 20 people enjoying a dram or two and talking about them – but you can hear what everyone else is saying and join in every conversation!Brian @MaltMusings
This fucking Brexit (pardon my… French) has been more than ever a pain, with parcels being either rejected by customs when reaching France, or hammered by heavy-duty taxes (68€ for a pack of samples!). I’ve had to stop buying whisky from UK-based shops and auctions, redirecting my whisky buying addiction to French, Belgian, German and Dutch shops, when the 3 latter do ship to France. Sometimes it was for the best, as German and Dutch shops have very good prices (less taxes I think), but often for the worse, not being able to buy some UK exclusives or being excluded from tastings because I was in Europe…
But I’ve also discovered great alternatives to Drinks by the Dram samples that I used to buy on Master of Malt, with several European shops having a great selection of samples… as my credit card would tell you if it weren’t crying in its sweat in a corner of the whisky room. It also forced me to find another whisky advent calendar, as I couldn’t find a shop delivering the Boutique-y one before somewhere in December. But on that point, it was probably for the best, as, as you have been able to read in December, I bought a fantastic advent calendar from a friend, made from his own bottles! I’ve not tried and reviewed everything yet as I had to skip a few drams, but you’ll read about them soon on More Drams.
While in 2020 I was invited in the Whisky Circus, a mostly UK community but with members also coming from Europe, Norway and even Canada. While in 2021 we had fewer Sunday sessions with people from the whisky industry, it was still very active on our Twitter private group, and we also had several whiskies bottled for us. Unfortunately, thanks to Brexit (see above), Julien and I still haven’t been able to receive our English Whisky Co. number 2 and 3, and we decided to pass on the 4th release as there was little chance we would be able to receive it…
But 2021 saw me invited to two other French whisky communities, one on Discord, and one on Facebook. I was invited on the Discord one by Benoît, one of the co-founders with me of the Rennes Whisky Club, a French whisky club we created in 2019/2020 and that had one session before being put on hold thanks to Covid… This French whisky community is, like the Whisky Circus, very dangerous for the credit card, as it made me spend several hundreds if not thousand euros on whisky. Another bunch of enablers, with fun people all having their own addiction to a specific distillery. One of them tries to buy almost every Ben Nevis he can, another one probably start drinking some Craigellachie at breakfast, another one is in love with Ledaig… And I won’t mention the one who made my whisky calendar, very dangerous for our credit cards too, buying lots of great whiskies and selling back to us open bottles at cost. I might have bought a few, but someone I won’t name buys them by the case!
The other group is La Confrérie du Whisky on Facebook (not the public one) that I recently joined and that will probably have a very bad influence on my spendings…
2021 started slow on Twitter for me in terms of new followers, but the end of the year saw a rapid acceleration. I started 2021 with 1151 followers and ended 2021 with 1542 followers, so +391, more than one additional follower a day, that ain’t so bad!
Many top tweets were related to Dingle Distillery, with which I engaged a lot this year, being friends with Graham Coull and culminating with me helping them at Whisky Live Paris.
Top 10 and Flop 5 Whiskies of the Year
It was a bit difficult to come with the Top 10 as some of the drams have been reviewed and rated on More Drams while others were not reviewed, and sometimes just rated using the 0 to 5 scale from @TomsWhisky. Anyway, here are the top 10 drams, with either their rating on the 0-5 or the 0-100, a 5 meaning a 90+ on the 100 scale.
- Joint 9th, with an 88 rating: Speyside 1998 The Whisky Cellar and Amrut Triparva.
- Joint 7th, with an 89 rating: Port Charlotte 2003 Hidden Spirits and Hellyers Road 2004 Peated.
- Joint 2nd, with either a 5 or a 90 rating, in no particular order: Mortlach 2002 Hidden Spirits, Bowmore 2001 Artist 7.2 LMDW, Timorous Beastie 40yo, Hibiki 21yo and Rumors (Bowmore) 30yo
And the winner is, with 90 points but after some thinking, still above the others:
Glendronach 12-year-old Original Previ Import bottled in 1985. This was nothing like any modern whisky, a trip back in time, a fantastic experience, really memorable whisky.
Now let’s move to the ones that I liked the less amongst the whiskies I’ve tried for the first time in 2021, in no particular order:
- Ledaig 10yo
- Lux Row Rebel Bourbon Tawny Port Finish
- West Cork Calvados Cask Finish
- Waterford Luna 1.1 Biodynamic
- Tullibardine Sovereign
Keep in mind that every palate is different, and that whiskies I didn’t like may be one of your favourites. These are my own favourites or less liked whiskies tried in 2021 and mine alone.
A Few Statistics
In 2021 again I’ve bought and swapped more whisky than I drank (my liver is thankful for that), but I’ve tried an especially low number of new whiskies this year. Why? Strangely because of More Drams. Many of the samples I have were set aside as I wanted to write a review when I’ll try them, but was too lazy for that, so I kept drinking mostly from my own open bottles. Out of the 44 bottles of whisky I seem to have bought or received as a gift in 2021, I opened only 15 (and a few bought before 2021), but also killed probably a dozen bottles.
I’ve tried in 2021 150 new whiskies from about 80 brands and distilleries, ranging from a few months old to 40 years old, from 19 countries or regions (Scotland being either Scotland – for blends for example – or specific regions like Speyside, Islay…). The country I tried the most whiskies from is surprisingly Ireland, followed by Speyside and the Scottish Islands.
And some learning!
End of 2021, I’ve also followed the courses from the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) from their Level 1 and Level 2 in Spirits. I’ve done the exam of the level 1 end of November and just as of today, I passed it with a score of 93%! I need to book my exam for the Level 2 in Spirits, I still haven’t booked it, and I hope I’ll have a result as good as with level 1.
Now it’s 2022…
2021 is in the rear-view mirror now, so let’s see forward and hope 2022 will be a year more normal, with more good, very good and fantastic whiskies, more whisky festivals (I’ll probably start as a visitor at the Lyon Whisky Festival early February but I hope to be on the exhibitor side at Whisky Live Paris at the end of the year once again!) And I hope to be able to meet you, either for the first time or once again. Because whisky is definitely better when surrounded by friends. So once again, I wish you a very happy new year, may it be filled with joy, good health and great whisky, and see you soon either on social media, at a session of my whisky club once I’ll be able to restart it, or at a whisky festival!