Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Spirits - and Beer - of the Year 2016

Ah, at last it is time for my annual Spirits of the Year post. I always look forward to this, but this year was a little different. You see, for the vast majority of the year, Spirit of the Year contenders came solely from the genre of whisky. Admittedly, it is mostly my fault in that I didn’t religiously try all that many other types of spirits, but it’s also the spirits’ fault in that the ones I did try just weren’t quite up to the standard I expect from a Spirit of the Year. It actually made me sad, and may have been partially responsible (along with getting more interested in reading, and finding it harder to divert funds towards the purchase of spirits) for the discouraging malaise that set in over the last four months of the year. I don’t mind telling you that I nearly stopped writing the blog. Buuuuut there have been so many nice comments over the years, and so many good times that I kept it ticking over, and in the end I was rewarded for my persistence with some late contenders.
You might not think all the contenders being of the whisky persuasion is such a big deal, but this blog has never been just about whisky. It’s about all spirits – except gin, and sometimes it might even be about gin. Last year, none of the winners were whiskies. It would be fine if two out of the three were whisky as long as they were of different genres (at a push), but if all the winners are whiskies, I haven’t been doing my job properly. So who are this year’s great and good?
Whisky: Old Ballantruan (50%, £39.52 for 70cl)
I hope I haven’t brought you down too much in my introduction to this [normally] celebratory post. There were some good whiskies to choose from – three in particular spring to mind, but I won’t be mentioning them because you have to be a winner to get a mention here. This though, was the pick of the bunch, a no longer in production peated Speysider that stood up well to the behemoth that is Ardbeg 10. It is still available on line at the time of writing, so it’s not too late if you want to experience it. This is the no age statement bottling, by the way.
Vodka: Russian Standard Gold (40%, £15 for 70cl)
The first of two late entrants. You’re going to have to wait a few months to read more about this and my final winner, as I only opened them in the last three or four weeks of the year. Be assured though, that they are well worthy of their places. Russian Standard Gold is an uncommonly good spirit. I was lucky to get this for £15 by all accounts, but I’d urge you to try it even if you have to go just above £20. It’s as full-bodied and full of flavour as any vodka I’ve ever had the pleasure to try and, there’s no definite way of knowing, but it might be even better than the last vodka to place in the final three spirits of the year, Stolichnaya Blue. It is even sealed with a stopper. As I say, more about this in the coming months.
Grappa: Leali di MonteAcuto Grappa (45%, 13 euros for 50cl)
Finally then, my favourite spirit genre. I drank one bottle of grappa over the week we spent back by Lake Garda and brought back four more. I was expecting them all to be supreme examples but, while they were by no means bad, this one was by far the stand out and coincidentally the last I chose to open. It was also the first of the producers we visited. Beautiful branding, a classy bottle and a sweet, delightful spirit inside. Definitely a good way to end the year.
Beer of the Year
I’ve spent a lot of money on beer this year. This Distinct BeersChallenge thing has really taken over – even though we’re not really doing it anymore. I mean, it’s not a competition (or a graph) anymore, but it is almost a way of life (I’m up to 947 distinct beers at time of writing, have one in the cupboard, and a couple of beer shopping trips planned in the next few days). As a result I’m learning more about breweries and being more discerning about which ones I’ll try and especially which ones I’ll buy from again. It’s funny how many times I get asked whether I’ve finished all the beers – people don’t realise that breweries are creating new beers all the time, so it literally isn’t possible. More importantly, this year I had a lot of potential winners – I scored no fewer than nine beers a full 5 marks out of 5. This year’s winner though is Cloudwater of Manchester’s DIPA V9. So fruity, so full flavoured – like all their DIPAs (that I’ve tried) so far, but more so – so expensive, come to mention it. These DIPAs vary, but for 330ml you can expect to pay between £4.50 and £6.80. I think v8 touched the top end, while v9 was a little more reasonable. In regard to beer though, it’s about flavour, not price. Sorry, I didn't get a picture of this one, but well done to Cloudwater.
All that remains then, is to contact this year’s winners with the good news and give you a little sneaky peak into what to expect in 2017. Hopefully the world won’t descend into all out nuclear war, we’ll get the Tories out of government, Brexit will work out better than we’re all expecting, Trump will get himself impeached, I’ll still have a job, things will get better and maybe we’ll all be able to raise a smile and even laugh again. Other than that though, I’ll be heading back over to Canada for a couple of weeks in the summer, so expect more Canadian beers and whiskies. I have a stag do in Amsterdam, so god knows what to expect from that. And there will always be more spirits and more pub crawls, in spite of the atmosphere of doom I started this post with. I will be instigating a new MO for the new year; the old procurement matrix whereby I categorised whiskies and bought whatever it threw up was turning out to be too expensive. So from now on, instead of trying to convince myself to spend nearly £100 on an 18+ year old Highland malt, I am going to try to stick to the rotation of regions, but I’m only going to make a purchase when it’s a good deal – or if I’m particularly excited about a purchase. I was simply buying too many things that were giving me no pleasure and making me feel guilty, and I don’t want my alcoholic explorations to be tinged with sadness anymore. We’ll see how we get on with that.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking with me if you have. Merry Christmas, happy new year, let’s get fucking drunk.


  1. Happy New Year!

    I admit that your intro had me worried but it quickly turned into another enjoyable read, I'm glad to hear you'll be keeping DIHULI going.

    I'm looking forward to reading your comparison between Russian Standard Gold and Stoli Blue, especially considering the extra 10 ABVs Stoli brings to the table.

    My thanks also for the two posts on post-fatherhood drinking, I'm facing the imminent arrival of my first child and found both posts insightful, you've given me some hope that things at home won't be completely unrecognisable from what they are now.

    I still haven't tried any grappa ... perhaps 2017 will be the year (I think I said something similar last year).

    All the best, to you and the family.

  2. Thanks David, I really appreciate that. And massive congratulations on your imminent first arrival! Exciting times truly are ahead. Good luck with everything, and thanks for reading the blog.

    Happy new year!

  3. I've really enjoyed reading your blog for the past few years, found it entertaining, educational and very funny, and then you go and have a pop at Tories, Brexit and Trump.

    Why ruin it all with some leftie virtue signalling?

    Oh well, hope it continues to go well, but I think it's off my bookmarks list, pity and ciao.

  4. Thanks for your kind comments Paul. Alas, I am a leftie, and as I'm sure you're aware, my blog has always been about more than evaluating products - I express my views on all kinds of things from time to time, which I don't expect everyone to agree with. Nevertheless, I understand if some of my views have ruined your enjoyment of my blog. I expect I too would probably stop reading a favourite blog if it started expressing certain right wing views.

    I'll take your comments under advisement, though in terms of the concept of the blog, I don't think I'd be telling the full story if I didn't include certain motivating factors and influences.

    Best wishes to you, Paul.