Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate Award: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

February 8th, 2012

Macallan Royal Wedding Limited Edition, 46.8%, £150

Okay, this is long gone, and is now either an investment or another whisky fueling the speculative bubble, but rarity isn’t the reason I’ve chosen it as my top Speyside release. Neither is it because of fealty to the Royal Family. Rather this, for me, was a whisky that countered the sniping which has been targeted at Macallan for a number of years: that it was too expensive, that it was pursuing the luxury market to the detriment of quality, that it wasn’t as good as it used to be.

This bottling showed that Macallan continues to do what it has always done best: use high-quality sherry wood to produce a single malt with resonant depth of flavor — and intent. Great Macallan is one of those drams whose presence forces you to pay attention to the slow unfolding of flavors in its depths. This bottling had that quality, and in doing so it eloquently answered its critics. —Dave Broom

Join us tomorrow for the announcement of Whisky Advocate’s Islay Single Malt of the Year Award.

29 Responses to “Whisky Advocate Award: Speyside Single Malt of the Year”

  1. Gal Granov says:

    now come on! .
    that was so limited, noone can drink it.
    it should not count.

    • John Hansell says:

      Gal, we already had this discussion last week in the Elijah Craig 20 year old post thread. “Availability” and “commonality” have nothing to do with the measure of the quality of a whisky. Therefore, it should not be a determining factor. Our guidelines for these awards were established in our January 31st blog post. Go back and read it.

      • Tadas says:

        Great that extremely limited editions are being reviewed. Where else would I find out about them other than whisky magazines. I am sure I will never be able to get hands on them. But would it be better to exclude those drinks targetted for super rich or extremely limited (let’s say 1000 or less bottles) releases from awards? So only whiskies available for general public (i.e. distributed) could win an award? Elijah Craig 20yo was released only for a private event at Heaven Hill and on top of that it is only available at the distillery.

  2. Travis Kingdon says:

    I didn’t have the opportunity of having this Macallan but I would have thought that the Glenfarclas 175th Anniversary had a fantastic balance of price, availability, quality and age? Was this close? What about Balvenie Tun 1401? Haven’t had it but apparently one of the best Balvenie’s ever. Have 2 unopened – can’t wait.

    • John Hansell says:

      Both are also very nice whiskies. I did not envy Dave’s position of having to pick just one. And remember: price and availability are not measures of the quality of a whisky.

      • Scribe says:

        John, you and the team have been consistently clear that “price and availability” are not the measures you use, ensuring you present “the best of the best.” I appreciate that focus in that I learn a lot from each write-up, even if I am not able to sample the victor. However, perhaps the ongoing focus of some commentators for winning whiskies to be accessible could lead to a new category in 2013: “The People’s Choice Awards” in various categories, enabling voting (one per visitor!). Just a thought!

  3. Gal Granov says:

    I love the tun 1401, it’s wonderful. and i have a bottle . if this one is in par,well it’s divine.

  4. Sku says:

    With awards like this and the Elijah Craig 20, I can understand people being annoyed that they will never be able to taste them, but keep in mind that the recognition might encourage the award winniners to think about a wider release of a similar profile whiskey. After all, while I’m sure Macallan is happy to have the recognition, they can’t really capitalize on it. Originally, Redbreast 15 was a single retailer offering only available in France, but after getting a very positive reception, the made it a regular expression. That could well happen to some of this year’s winners.

    That being said, I do understand where people are coming from. The MA team may want to reinstitute the best buy of the year category or even a best buy in every category.

    • Stevely says:

      I think that it is great that rare and expensive whisky is winning awards. Although, I agree that maybe it should be in a category of its own. These awards should not be down played of their importance and the growing popularity of MA in the whisky industry. I actively look at awards like this to compare tasting notes or entice me to buy a quality product I have not tried yet.

      These whiskies should not be excluded by any means as they are important. However, I do agree that maybe it’s time for an ‘exclusive whisky’ category for such products. We are going to see more of these rare and expensive products entering the market and I wouldn’t want to see an awards list in the future of products that I would never have the opportunity to try.

    • John Hansell says:

      All good points. Thanks.

    • kallaskander says:

      Hi there,

      hi Sku. I see your point but imo Redbreast 15 is not a good point in case. If Redbreast 15 – the original bottling for the anniversary of La Maison du Whisky, France – was one thing then it was not scarce!
      It would never have had the wide recognition which as you rightly say made it into a standard offer through Irish Distillers finally.
      Would it have been scarce not so many people would have learned of its quality and it would never have been so highly praised and demanded by whiskey lovers that a standard bottling could have been the result.

      And – it would never have made it to the USA.
      So I tend to believe that rare bottlings are not a good starting point for coming standard bottlings.


  5. Tom Troland says:

    Let’s not get too excited about these awards. They are fun to read about, and distillers will understandably use them for promotional purposes. But they are nothing more than one person’s completely subjective opinion. Whiskey awards carry no more objective truth than People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” award or the countless TV countdown shows. Whiskey awards are entertainment. And I am often entertained by them!

    • John Hansell says:

      To be accurate (and fair), it’s not just one person’s subjective opinion. Each award is proposed by the writer covering that given region and then discussed by our editorial staff before proceeding.

      • mongo says:

        has the entire editorial staff tasted each whisky nominated? on what basis does the discussion proceed?

        • John Hansell says:

          By editorial staff, I mean primarily the Editor (me) and our Managing Editor (Lew Bryson). “Entire” was a bit misleading, and I edited it out. Thanks.

    • Travis Kingdon says:

      Haha Tom, hilarious and exactly right. I am also entertained by these blogs and thats why I read them. Sometimes we can all get a little carried away with award winners when in fact we all have our own little gems in our own mind in accordance with our own tastes. Thanks for your great columns though John and I feel your frustration. The US gets way more malts than even Australia gets and then I have to pay $195 for Glenmorangie Finealta which is about 210USD!!!

      • Tom Troland says:


        Thanks for your comment. My skepticism about whiskey awards notwithstanding, I do read the reviews, and I am often more inclined to try a new release if reviewers comment favorably upon it. In short, I do find a reasonable correlation between whiskeys reviewed favorably and whiskeys that I like. But the idea that one whiskey in a given category is the best of them all is shear fantasy. It is just one (or two) people’s opinion, entirely subject to the whims of their particular tastes. But whiskey awards make for fun reading, they sell magazines, and they please distillers. Also, of course, they are completely harmless entertainment, like Jersey Shore on TV, so what’s not to like about them?

        • John Hansell says:

          Tom, the first part of your comment contradicts the last part. I DO think that, if the person doing the review is a seasoned professional whisky reviewer, that there will be a “reasonable correlation between whiskies reviewed favorably and whiskies that I like.” The correlation is even stronger if your tastes and preferences are similar to the reviewer. That’s why we review and rate whiskies. They have a purpose.

          But let me clarify you on one point. For every award we give out, we might make one distiller happy, but we make the rest of them unhappy. Every day this week I have been getting emails from whisky company reps and their PR companies asking me why we didn’t pick THEIR whisky. (They may phrase it a little differently, but that’s the reason for their inquiry.) Trust me, for most of the distillers out there, we are not pleasing them.

          And please, don’t compare our reviews with the tv show Jersey Shore. They are not harmless. A bad rating, or a series of bad ratings, can (and has in the past), cost distillers and blenders their job. That’s why we take what we do very seriously. There are concequences to our actions.

          • Tom Troland says:


            Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I certainly do not wish to impugn the knowledge or the integrity of whiskey reviewers like yourself. I only wish to emphasize the inherent subjectivity of all whiskey reviews and, especially, of choices for best whiskeys in categories. If you review a whiskey favorably, the chances are good that I, too, will like it. But if you, and perhaps one other reviewer, declare a whiskey the best in its category, there is not much to this award beyond the simple fact that you really like the whiskey. So it’s just like People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” award. No difference at all, just personal taste in both cases.

            Now there is nothing wrong with giving out awards. We all like awards, and winners really love them. But I have the sense that whiskey awards are taken too seriously by many consumers. And by the trade. As if the awards represent real achievements, not just statements of personal taste by a very small number of individuals. In contrast, I expect most folks see the “Sexiest Man Alive” award as entertainment, not a real achievement by the honoree. Even though the honoree is, most likely, a good looking guy. Just as the award winning whiskey is a good product and worthy of attention. So I suggest that whiskey enthusiasts take whiskey awards as fun entertainment. Lighten up and enjoy them. But don’t take them as anything other than one person’s (or a very few people’s) personal taste. That said, I don’t underestimate the skill and care that go into making a great whiskey like many of those that win awards. And I love reading Whiskey Advocate. Even the reviews and the awards articles. Keep up the good work, John!

  6. JDW says:

    These awards follow the rationale established by the good people at Whisky Advocate to honor the most significant expressions, regardless of availability and price. This is an important public service as we plebeians most likely will not have the thrill of sampling these rarified offerings. I would be interested to know whether the Whisky Advocate staff blind taste from a pool of finalists for these awards? That might be an interesting approach à la Grand Jury Européen.

    • John Hansell says:

      Most of these whiskies you will have the thrill of sampling, JDW, if you look for them. And for the minority that you will have more difficulty accessing, it doesn’t diminish their quality and significance.

      But I do understand your frustration. It’s not our fault that these distilleries don’t make them more redily available. But, maybe our combined efforts might help to change this.

      • JDW says:

        John, there are a lot of things in life we experience vicariously! One of the reasons I love to read literature. Regardless, many thanks for educating us on what is new and exciting this year (and every year). Any chance I could coerce you to address the bit about blind tastings in my original comments? I would really appreciate your perspective. Thanks, JDW

  7. Marcus J says:

    To Scribe’s (and others) point, kudos on keeping the focus on taste, as opposed to price and availability, but John….do you have ANY IDEA how frustrating this is for the rest of us??

  8. Austinite says:

    I don’t really have anything new to add as others have already made great points on the matter of availability as a factor of consideration. That said, I love getting the opportunity to vicariously ‘enjoy’ some of the rare whiskies you have the privilege of tasting. I suppose we can hope that the distilleries do take notice and that the influence helps to ensure better products with wider availability.

    I fully understand the criteria and consideration of these awards, but I can’t help but feel it punctuates the gap I feel trapped behind in what I read in WA and what I can feasibly lay my hands on (and afford) on my local liquor aisle. I hope WA continues to take steps to lessen this gap in general reviews and features.

  9. sam k says:

    Man, this never ending angst about the (un)availability of limited releases puts me in mind of any given automotive enthusiast publication. In Car & Driver, there are plenty of features about cars you can afford, and plenty more about cars you can’t. This shouldn’t diminish your enthusiasm for those that are out of reach, mainly because “out of reach” is relative to your income level.

    Rich guys reading the magazine might just go for the Lamborghini Gallardo, while I’d have to satisfy myself with a Chevy Cruze. That doesn’t make me less likely to read about the Lambo and live vicariously through the rich guy, though.

    In someone’s Car of the Year awards, which would be more likely to win?

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