The Whisky Tasting Club

Do the World Whisky Awards have any value?

The World Whisky Awards are, for me, an annual treat, a great way to get through the depressing post Christmas drudge and misery.

I am fortunate to be involved at every stage of judging, and as the contenders are narrowed down I am always amazed at the quality. This year, particularly, I was amazed at the high standards across the board, and the results didn’t disappoint. The winners have, without exception, already picked up awards across the world. It’s a subjective thing, of course, but all of this year’s winners could lay claim to being the best in their respective fields, though just as impressively there were some stunning whiskies in the final round which were pipped at the post.

Great as the winners are, though, you have to ask the question: is there any point to these awards? Most of the whiskies cost more than £100, one or two are above £300, and at least one is all but unavailable.

There has been some debate recently about elitist high price whiskies and whether they are an obscene blot on the whisky industry, and even damaging to it. My position on this is unequivocal. Not only do I believe that they can be a force for good, but I think the argument against them is irrelevant.
So here’s the thing: if the best whisky in 2010 happens to be 30 years old, costs £300 and has sold out, does it stop being the best whisky of 2010? And just as importantly, wouldn’t it be odd if a collection of the world’s best whisky experts went through three rounds of judging and then gave the award to a £25 unaged bottle of whisky from Outer Mongolia and ignored the 40 year old world-honoured single malt Scotch? It would be like picking a Ford Fiesta as car of the year and overlooking the Ferrari. Indeed, that’s why some awards events have added a ‘best value for money’ award. There’s nothing the media likes more than a surprise victory for the underdog, and we are all humoured by the occasional upset: but medium to long term, surely a regular procession of such results would erode the validity of the whole judging process?

Inevitably there will be faults with any awards process as diverse and comprehensive as the World Whisky Awards. Not many though, and the two biggest of them are pretty unavoidable – one, the number of category and sub category winners is large, unwieldily, complicated and confusing. But that’s the price you pay for being thorough. And two, inevitably the judges are faced to make comparisons between the incomparable. It can be like comparing a whale with an elephant.

So are the World Whisky Awards worthwhile? In my view,definitely and here’s why
Look at the quality: see above. Proven winners all.
Look at the consistency: some reckon the results were surprising. Why? A very high portion of the winners, category winners and sub category winners have been there or thereabouts in the past, reflecting a consistent high standard of judging.
Look at the judges: you wouldn’t believe how hit and miss judging panels can be. There are awards where the drinks are judged by the people who own them. Sometimes the office secretary, whose drink of choice is Red Square and Tonic, is roped in. Even the big spirits awards which make so much of their high judging standards are unfocused and include judges for categories outside their natural skill base.

The World Whisky Awards are impressively on message.

And finally, look at the chairman: Dave Broom is surrounded by people who sycophantically blow smoke up his arse and I’m reluctant to join in, but credit where it’s due, nobody writing about whisky today has so successfully and articulately analysed taste and flavour. His new book is a definitive work in this field but his skills don’t stay in the classroom, and he has been able to filter and fine tune his thoughts in to the way he shepherds the judges in the World Whisky Awards.
He has worked to ensure some consistency in the way judges approach analysis and scoring. His judges’ guidelines and scoring template are outstanding. They are on the wall in my tasting room and I use them whenever I taste. They’re hugely important to me. My tasting style is instinctive, emotional and not very technical. It’s a bit rock and roll and potentially scattergun and wayward. Broom’s template has helped rein in my impetuosity, and it seems to be the case with other judges too.

For these reasons the World Whisky Awards compare favourably with anything else on offer. The results speak for themselves – all the winners are worthy champions and undoubtedly world class.

We might not be able to afford them. But they’re Ferraris in their field – every last one.

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Comments

  • Well, those awards are nice.
    but Dominic, i am not very interested to read about whiskies i may never be able to afford. as a blogger i might have a chance of sampling some of those, but the average whisky lover will not be able to even try those….

  • That’s a good point, Dominic, that I hadn’t considered before: You truly can’t award a “best of” whisk(e)y award to a product which is inferior to other, more expensive products, simply because of the price. I always have the same reaction to award winners (and some new releases): If it’s above $150, it’s for the collectors (or the fabulously wealthy), and therefore of no interest to me. However, I should probably consider that the skill of the whiskeymaker who produces an award-winning $400 whisky will probably translate into the entire range, and thus “trickle down” (in a way) to my $40/bottle daily dram. In that way, award winners should matter to me, the average consumer.

    That being said, with 90-95% of the market being low-cost blends, and a majority of the remainder being drinkable, inexpensive single malts, I would like to see more than one award category included in major awards to honor high quality in those “featherweight” price points. As a consumer, I really do want to know the best Scotch whisky under $80, the best bourbon under $50, the best affordable world whisky, etc., since those are the products I will actually be buying.

  • But that’s sort of my point. The whisky exists. It’s been entered in to the awards. It is tasted blind but shines because it is superb. It is very expensive.
    So what should be done? And if we’re going to introduce parameters, what does an ‘average’ whisky lover expect to pay? What’s the price limit?
    Also, as a journalist with an inquisitive nature in extremis, I don’t understand your logic. I love Elvis but obviously can’t see him perform or meet him. But if I meet someone who knew him – and I interviewed Tom Jones once – I want to mine every drop of information about him. I read every review of Led Zep’s O2 one off reunion gig. Out of reach doesn’t mean uninteresting does it?
    And at the risk of playing Devil’s Advocate, why are whisky companies sending you samples as a blogger of whiskies you won’t want to write about because they’re presumably not interesting to your followers who can’t afford them?

  • Perhaps they should change the categories, have it banded by price? I wouldnt like sub categories on each, but could you not just do under £30, £30-£50, £50-£100 etc? After all, if we are only concerned with is the quality, this is more useful information for me. The categories are a bit odd anyway, whats with the Liqueur category, who cares, and how many qualify for grains? Worst case they should have sub categories on price and get rid of the hundreds they currently seem to have. Tony
    p.s. forgot to add the actual winners to doms blog,

    World’s Best Whisky Liqueur Drambuie The Royal Legacy of 1745
    World’s Best Grain Whisky Greenore 15 years old
    World’s Best Blended Malt James Martin’s 30 years old
    World’s Best Blended Whisky Hibiki 21 years old
    World’s Best North American Whisky Parker’s Heritage Collection 10 years old Wheated Bourbon
    World’s Best Single Malt Whisky Yamazaki 1984

  • This is what Dave Broom said by email (reproduced with permission)

    “Saw the comment from one of your readers that they were unaffordable ..
    well … here’s the finalists with prices.
    Springbank 12yo £40.95
    Auchentoshan 1998 £42.95
    Bowmore Tempest £43.95
    Bushmills 16yo £47.95
    Redbreast 15yo £66.95
    Glenmo Signet £119
    Highland Park 25yo £131.74
    Glenfarclas 40yo £300

    You know, I’d say all of those best in class whiskies represented value for
    money – you try and get a comparable 40yo distillery only bottling for the
    price of the Farclas – and the fact that half of the finalists were below
    £100 shows what great whiskies are available for an affordable price
    tag.
    Yes, the Kavalan Solist and Yamazaki 1984 are hard to get in UK and as a
    result are pricey, but why should that make them ineligible for a world
    award?”

  • I didnt really read past the winners, partly because it is poorly formatted

    http://www.whiskymag.com/news/13609.html

    I wanted to do a tasting of the winners,

    World’s Best Grain Whisky Greenore 15 years old: £45
    World’s Best Blended Malt James Martin’s 30 years old: Unobtainable, cant see how much it was on sale for
    World’s Best Blended Whisky Hibiki 21 years old: Sold out, was on for about £100
    World’s Best North American Whisky Parker’s Heritage Collection 10 years old Wheated Bourbon: £100, available.
    World’s Best Single Malt Whisky Yamazaki 1984: £500.

    maybe we should do a finalists tasting instead

  • Dom, to your point about Elvis in your response to Gal: You may not be able to see Elvis perform, but you can still enjoy his music. I, however many lavishly-written tasting notes I read, will likely never taste a dram (let alone buy a bottle) of Glenfarclas 40. Does that mean its winning an award is meaningless to me? No, but I’d rather see it win an award in the “Rare and Old 20+ Age” category, rather than steamroll the excellent 12, 16, and 18 year-old drams which are, honestly, not competing with it for the same customers. Since I am in the group of customers who never spends in excess of $100 on a bottle, I’d far prefer to hear about the best-of-the-best in my price range.

  • You make a compelling argument for the importance of the WWA, Jason Debly wrote an equally persuasive article why the “International Wine and Spirits Competition” (IWSC) is not. The link is: http://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.com/2010/10/scotch-whisky-awards-should-you-pay.html

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