Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

21st Annual Whisky Advocate Award: Craft Whiskey of the Year

Friday, December 5th, 2014

St. George Single Malt Lot 14, 43%, $80

There have been a significant number of “American malt whiskeys” popping up recently, and a fair amount of talk about them. Are they a new class, are they “Scotch” (they’re not, period, end of discussion), and more importantly, are they any good? I don’t think any new type of American whiskey is going to be a class or a category for at least five years—it’s just too soon to tell—but I can taste them now…and this one’s most definitely good.

St George Single Malt_Lot14The St. George Spirits (Alameda, California) single malt releases have been on my short list for this award for the past three years, but this year’s stood out. The bottlings—the “Lots”— before were good, but I felt that they had integration problems; too much of one flavor, uneven transitions. The whiskeys that went into this Lot—eight different casks, 4 to 15 years old—don’t argue or mumble, they all sing in balanced choral harmony. There’s an overture, a beautiful middle section that recapitulates and enhances the overture, and a hauntingly teasing finale that brings it all to a circling completion.

For more detail, here’s the heart of my review. “Delicate fruit, nuts, and sweet malt combine like a perfect pastry in the nose. Add a bit of unsweetened chocolate on the palate, finishing with a lingering reminiscence of every bit of flavor, and you have a beautifully integrated whiskey that is unmistakably St. George. Delightful.”

I said “unmistakably St. George” and I meant it. Whatever small flaws the previous Lots have had, they have had an underlying consistency of malt purity and light fruits. The fruit was lost in the somewhat singular voice of the pear eau de vie-casked XXX release two years ago, but it’s nicely framed this year. I’m looking forward to more of the same from St. George…and even better whiskeys to come. —Lew Bryson

The American Whiskey of the Year will be announced tomorrow.

21st Annual Whisky Advocate Awards To Be Announced

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

The Whisky Advocate Awards are less than two days away!

wa.awards2015.logThe 21st Annual Whisky Advocate Awards will be announced right here on the Whisky Advocate blog beginning this Friday, December 5th. As the awards are announced, they will automatically be published to the Whisky Advocate Facebook page and the Whisky Advocate Twitter feed (@whiskyadvocate).

The Whisky Advocate Awards exist to recognize excellence in the world of whisky. Now in its 21st year, the program is simply about the world’s greatest whiskies and distilleries, and the individuals who make and promote them. As always, these awards are not simply assigned to the whiskies that get the highest ratings in our reviews. The winners might be the highest-rated, or they might instead be the most significant, or the most important, or represent a new direction for a category or niche. The awards process is not, in short, a mere numbers-based formula. It is recognition of a combination of excellence, innovation, tradition, and…simply great-tasting whisky. Our Buying Guide reviewers reach a consensus on the awards.

These awards are the oldest and longest-running annual whisky awards program. We taste and sample over the course of the year, at year’s end we consider and confer, and then we make our decisions based solely on the merits of the whiskies…as we have done for over twenty years. We give you our word: that’s how it will continue to be.

Stop by each day to get the winner and read our commentary on the whisky and why it was chosen. Here’s how they’ll roll out, starting with the American whiskeys and progressing around the world to wind up in Scotland, followed by our Lifetime Achievement Awards and the big one: Distiller of the Year!

December 5: Craft Whiskey of the Year

December 6: American Whiskey of the Year

December 7: Canadian Whisky of the Year

December 8: Irish Whiskey of the Year

December 9: Japanese Whisky of the Year

December 10: World Whisky of the Year

December 11: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year

December 12: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

December 13: Islay Single Malt of the Year

December 14: Highland/Islands Single Malt of the Year

December 15: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year

December 16: Lifetime Achievement Awards

December 17: Distiller of the Year

Be sure to check in every day, and join the lively conversation that these announcements always set off!

Whisky Advocate Award: Distiller of the Year

Monday, December 23rd, 2013


Roseisle distillery

Roseisle distillery

Diageo moves in big ways, and that makes some folks uneasy. People scoffed when Diageo unveiled the massive new Roseisle distillery, for instance, fearing it would lead to the lights going out at affiliated distilleries all over Speyside.

Actually, what happened next was a $1.5 billion, five year investment program in Scotland, including a brand new distillery beside Teaninich. The numbers are big: 13 million liters per annum, sixteen copper stills, twenty new jobs, and a project cost of $76 million. Expansion projects and upgrades benefited distilling at Mortlach, Teaninich, Inchgower, Glendullan, Dailuaine, Benrinnes, Cragganmore, Glen Elgin, Glen Ord, Linkwood, and Mannochmore. The Cameronbridge facility has been revolutionized with a $163 million investment, endorsed by a site visit from the British prime minister. The company expanded the Diageo archive at Menstrie and realized improvements in their Leven packaging plant. The nearby Cluny Bond will have 46 new warehouses, each of which can store 60,000 casks.

Diageo also takes energy efficiency, water treatment, and renewable energy seriously. This investment in sustainability has added the latest green technologies to Glendullan, Dailuaine, Glenlossie, and Cameronbridge, with plans for a bio-energy plant at the new distillery in Alness. Roseisle is scaring nobody now.

Then there is Johnnie Walker. The world’s biggest Scotch whisky brand introduced Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label into the United States, in addition to a freshly primped JW lineup in stores and Travel Retail. Odyssey tore up the rulebook on the perceived worth of blended malts. Those following the oceanic adventures of the John Walker & Sons Voyager across Pacific Asia and Europe were treated to a heady mix of glamour, celebrity, talent, and show-stopping spectacle with blended scotch as the guest of honor.

Now their single malt brands are returning to the fray. For starters, there are three new regular Talisker expressions, backed by the passionate people running the innovative new visitor experience on Skye, and there will also be more choices from Cardhu, Dufftown, and Mortlach.

The Diageo Special Releases 2013 contained some phenomenal liquids: the stunning Brora from 1977 with flavors that snapped into place with a droplet or two of water, and the beguiling, rounded flavors to be found in a glass of Convalmore 36 year old. The steep jump in some prices was in part justified as Diageo’s latest salvo on the war against flipping on the secondary market. Their attempts to snuff out the commoditization of highly sought-after limited editions may ensure that the purchasers are truly venerating the single malt whisky in the bottle. This stance extended to the festival bottlings of Lagavulin, Caol Ila, and Mortlach in 2013 from the Islay Jazz festival, Fèis Ìle, and the Spirit of Speyside festival. Bottling runs were upped into the thousands and prices were kept around £100 to prevent disappointment and curb profiteering.

Diageo is about whisky on a global stage. New innovations have bolstered their prospects across the Atlantic; Crown Royal Maple and Bulleit Bourbon 10 year old hit the ground running. Bourbon lovers will be intrigued to try the new Orphan Barrel whiskeys and Blade & Bow bourbon. Internationally, a pivotal moment was marked when Diageo gained control of India’s United Spirits Ltd. The prize was not Whyte & MacKay especially, rather the flourishing opportunities in accessing potential drinkers in the Indian subcontinent.

Sure, Diageo is huge, and their size makes some people nervous. But big moves require a big company. Substantial investment, a world-beating vision for future growth, and harnessing their guardianship of brand history to reach out to consumers have helped our Distiller of the Year deliver an incredible portfolio of whiskies to suit all pockets and preferences. — Jonny McCormick

photo credit: Keith Hunter Photography

Whisky Advocate Award: Lifetime Achievement

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Michael Urquhart

Managing Director, Gordon & MacPhail

M. Urquhart_Gordon & MacPhail CREDIT John PaulMichael Urquhart, son of George Urquhart and grandson of John Urquhart, joined the family firm of independent whisky bottlers Gordon & MacPhail in 1981. His grandfather started work at the little grocer’s shop in Elgin in 1895, just a year after they first opened their doors.

“Mr. George,” Michael’s father, launched the ever popular Connoisseur’s Choice range in the 1960s. George’s three sons Ian, David, and Michael followed him into the company, along with Rosemary Rankin, John Urquhart’s granddaughter. Shortly after the firm’s centenary, Benromach distillery reopened under their ownership and continues to grow.

For the whisky community, the unrivaled release of the Generations Mortlach 70 year old 1938 and Generations Glenlivet 70 year old 1940 shone like a beacon around the world. It was Michael who led the team that designed and launched these exceptional whiskies. The Mortlach decanter #1 was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II and is proudly displayed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Michael is impeccably well-mannered and gracious company, yet he commands instinctive, razor-sharp business acumen too: what better qualities to represent Scotland and Scotch whisky around the world? A Master of the Quaich, Michael’s tireless energies are focused on driving forward exports of Scotch whisky, particularly Benromach, to new and existing markets. This ensures he is constantly traveling to the fifty or more markets they supply. His vitality is enviable; with a spring in his step, he’ll greet you with a recent anecdote along the lines of ‘last week, when I was in Russia’…or was it Taiwan, or perhaps Vancouver? No wonder the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade in 2013, repeating the honor they received in 2009.

He is the last of George Urquhart’s sons to manage Gordon & MacPhail. The next generation are already playing their part in this unique family business and one day they’ll be in charge, but for now, we salute Michael Urquhart’s distinguished achievements. —Jonny McCormick

Photo credit: John Paul


Whisky Advocate Award: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Kilkerran Work in Progress 5 Sherry Wood, 46%, $60

Glengyle is Campbeltown’s newest distillery, in the sense that it first produced spirit during 2004, though the original Glengyle operated between 1872 and 1925; a period when Campbeltown was still a major player in the Scotch whisky world. Glengyle Kilkerran WIP5 Sherrywas revived by Springbank owner Hedley Wright, and features a pair of modified stills formerly used by the Ben Wyvis malt distillery at Invergordon. Glengyle is operated by Springbank staff, using malt made in the floor maltings there, and quantities of spirit distilled vary significantly from year to year. The distillery is also the focus for experimentation, with peated malt having been used at times; quadruple distillation has also been performed.

Glengyle is working toward the release of its first permanent expression in 2016, a 12 year old, and to that end now has its own dedicated team tasked with raising the awareness of the output of Glengyle distillery, which is named Kilkerran single malt because the ‘Glengyle’ title had already been registered.

In the meantime, annual batches of Kilkerran Work in Progress have been released since 2009, allowing consumers to gauge the progress of the whisky as it gains maturity. Next year, six different expressions of 10 year old—all from the first batch of spirit distilled and all matured in varying woods—will be marketed, but for 2013 we have a bourbon cask-aged variant and a sherry cask-aged expression. Just 9,000 bottles of each are available worldwide.

Of the pair, the Sherry Wood version in particular demonstrates that this is a single malt whose time has come. It is a “work in progress” in name only, being a confident, complex, integrated and individualistic whisky fit to stand alongside its Springbank, Longrow, and Hazelburn siblings. Who knows just how good it might get by the time it achieves mainstream release as a 12 year old? —Gavin Smith

Come back Sunday for our Lifetime Achievement Award.

Whisky Advocate Award: Highlands/Islands Single Malt of the Year

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Talisker Storm, 45.8%, $66

Talisker in any guise is a very special and idiosyncratic single malt, defining an Island style that is all its own. The last year has seen Diageo expand the existing portfolio with three new Talisker expressions, namely Storm, Dark Storm (matured in heavily charred casks), and Port Ruighe (port finish), all released without age statements. Of this trio, Talisker Storm seems the pick, with one commentator describing it as “…everything that you love about other Taliskers with the settings turned right up.”

Talisker Storm_Hi ResOne of the ways in which the bolder aroma and flavor profile of Storm has been achieved is by using a mix of refill casks and rejuvenated casks. The latter—older casks which have been de-charred and re-charred to give them a new lease on life—offer a distinctive wood influence when again filled with spirit.

Essentially Talisker Storm exhibits a more smoky, maritime character than the familiar 10 year old expression, yet could not be mistaken for anything other than a Talisker. Although it does not carry an age statement, this is one of those instances where you never feel when drinking the dram in question that the lack a specified age is about conserving precious stocks of older whiskies (although that may well be the case). All seems harmonious and well integrated, and any more youthful notes that emerge on the nose or palate seem entirely in keeping with the nature of the expression.

Storm arrived in the U.S. in October, and Talisker aficionados will no doubt argue long and hard over whether it just outpoints the 10 year old. One of the reasons behind the development of Storm was to be able to offer a new Talisker variant that remains true to the brand’s essential character while offering something slightly different, with easy availability and an affordable price. —Gavin Smith

Tomorrow: the Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year.

Whisky Advocate Award: Islay Single Malt of the Year

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Kilchoman 2007, 46%, $80

2007 Kilchoman VintageThis was a strong year—again—for Islay, with every distillery releasing sublime single malts, which made this decision an incredibly hard one. It ultimately came down to a choice between Bowmore’s The Devil’s Casks, a mentally wonderful sherried 10 year old which must now become a regular release (please?), and Kilchoman, with the latter shading it.

Why? Because here was a whisky which not only showed the difference between age and maturity, but was the first demonstration of a distillery itself reaching maturity, quicker than anyone might have imagined.

Single malt is all about distillery character and here you can see what Kilchoman’s is. In this expression you get full integration between oak and distillery, a sparkling mix of seashell, the freshness of seaweed, mixed with churned butter, driftwood, and fresh-kilned peat. On the tongue, there’s samphire, peat, sweet barley, and an herbal kick. The great thing is that there is clearly still more to come. Kilchoman has truly arrived. Buckle up, this is going to be some ride. — Dave Broom

Close to the end, with only four more awards left; tomorrow is the Highland Single Malt of the Year.

Whisky Advocate Award: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Macallan Ruby, 43%, £120

To say that Macallan flirted with controversy last year would be a bit of an understatement. The announcement that it was going to replace some of its age statement range in favor of a new selection of No Age Statements graded by Macallan Rubycolor certainly got plenty of people’s backs up. As a result, the new drams tended to be condemned before they’d ever been sipped. Those who did try them would, hopefully, have found that Gold, Amber, Ruby, and Sienna were not only excellent whiskies in their own right, but were excellent representations of Macallan, and, in this writer’s opinion, were superior to the whiskies which they were replacing.

For me, the finest of the quartet is Ruby, which is Macallan in mellow and fruitful autumnal guise mixing prune, dried cherries, rose petal, and chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. More vinous than resinous, it balances tannin with deep fruitiness. Yes, people will continue to carp, but if they do, ask them this: why replace one range with another that costs more to produce…and tastes better? Better still, sit them down, pour them a glass and watch the result. For quality and also for chutzpah, Macallan Ruby deserves the award.  — Dave Broom

Brace yourself: the Islay Single Malt of the Year blows in tomorrow.

Whisky Advocate Award: Blended/Blended Malt Scotch Whisky of the Year

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The Big Peat Christmas Edition 2013, 54.9%, £46

I’ve never hidden my love for big peaty whiskies. But this year releases that I thought would set my world on fire failed to deliver, and I found that most of the star performers were from the other end of the whisky spectrum. I was falling in love with gorgeous whiskies from bourbon barrels, laced with tropical fruits and vanilla, and reaching for quirky Aberfeldys and Glen Gariochs. Never was the case made more strongly tXmasBigPeat_Carton BlackCap2013 v2han in the case of blended whisky, where a procession of peated but bland blends failed to turn the lights on.

Then at Whiskyfest New York we were presented with a 1973 Ardbeg and normal service was resumed. On reflection, I’ve decided that my nonchalance towards smoky whiskies this year has been because most of them were ordinary to poor, presented in over-priced and under-aged Travel Retail bottlings where the peat is used to hide rootsy, sappy, immature malt.

You’d need a mortgage to buy the 1973 Ardbeg were it ever to be released, but a few days later I was asked to try the Big Peat Christmas Edition 2013. I not only rediscovered my passion for peat, but realized that getting it doesn’t need to burn holes in my wallet.

The cask strength release of Big Peat for this Christmas is a battering ram of a blended malt whisky, but with plenty of subtlety in the mix, too. Think of a rap star strutting and snapping menacingly for most of his show, but still including a tender and sophisticated ballad in the set. This has honey and billowing smoke, some spice among the peat. Then at the end it reaches a crescendo of oily tar and smoke, a metaphorical finale with all the greatest hits wrapped up in one impressive crescendo. Ace. Big Peat’s well and truly back. —Dominic Roskrow

The next award presented will be the Speyside Single Malt of the Year.

Whisky Advocate Award: World Whisky of the Year

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Kavalan Solist ex Bourbon Cask, 57.1%, $110

2013 was a strange year for nontraditional whisky making countries. For many distilleries it was a year of consolidation for existing expressions and expansion in to new markets.   A new wave of distillers—Paul John (India) , Overeem, Limeburners, and Hellyers Road (all Australia), Copper Still  (England)—took steps toward the international stage, while only St. George’s in England, Zuidam in Holland, and Mackmyra in Sweden punctuated the year with more than one special and original release.Kavalan-Solist-ex-Bourbon

But the year belongs to Taiwan’s Kavalan, which totally put to rest the notion that it is a whisky karaoke act doing as good impression of premium class whisky. Kavalan, some argue, has little substance or staying power.

My take on that? What nonsense! I have been a fan of this distillery for some time now, scoring eight of its whiskies at 90 or more. But this, for me, is the pick of a very strong bunch.

The distillery makes much of the casks it uses, and rightly so: they are sensational. But this expression puts to bed the suggestion that that while the cask may be willing, the spirit is weak. Here licorice, honey, and tangy spice fizz around a malt core that gloriously combines pineapple, tropical fruit, and vanilla ice cream. It’s clean, fresh, rich, balanced, and blemish free, and it stands up gloriously against comparable malts from Scotland.

The distillery now needs the confidence to go its own way and give us something distinctly Taiwanese. When it does, Kavalan will be a world force riding its own momentum. —Dominic Roskrow

Tomorrow’s Award will be the first of our Scotch whisky awards: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year.