The Whisky Tasting Club

RoW RIP – why it’s time for whisky awards to change

I’ve already written about why I think the World Whisky Awards are relevant and important, and how this year’s event bettered anything done elsewhere.

But that doesn’t mean they’re fault free and if they’re going to continue to claim to be relevant and respected they’re going to have to change – and soon. For truth be told, there are rumblings of discontent in some far away quarters and as more and more distilleries worldwide join the party the dissenters are going to grow louder.

The problem lies in the category known as ‘Rest of the ‘World. I’ve never liked it as a category head. There’s something ‘also ran’ about it, a bit second division – a bucket in which to throw all the minnows who aren’t of the real and serious whisky world.

But the world of whisky’s changing significantly and now the ‘rest of the world’ tag is more than just mildly offensive: it’s decaying and increasingly there’s an  unedifying whiff of old-fashioned colonialism about it. It’s becoming increasingly inadequate and irrelevant.

 It needs to be put down.

To explain why, let’s look at the World Whisky Awards work. If you are, say, a 15 year old Speyside malt you pay your entrance fee and you’re entered in to the Speyside 12-20 category. Win that and you come up against the under 12 year and over 20 year Speyside malt to be the Speyside malt of the year. Win that and you get to meet the other regional winners in a battle to be Scotland’s best single malt. Then finally you get a shot at the world crown, where you’re up against single malts from Ireland, Japan, and the Rest of the World.

If, on the other hand, you’re a ‘rest of the world’ whisky,  you’re bundled in with whiskies of your genre including, in the case of single malt, that of Canada, and you get the chance to be the ‘rest of the world’ single malt or blend. Then you go up against the big three of Japan, Ireland and Scotland. Where you lose.

It’s hardly worth the entrance fee, is it?

But there lies part of the problem. The distilleries in the furthest parts of the world, most with very limited distribution, have decided not to bother.  For this reason the number of entrants for the ‘rest of the world’ categories have been small. This, though, shouldn’t matter – there are already small categories (grain whiskey, liqueur, blended malt).

And frankly, the treatment of those in faraway places is shoddy. David Baker of Bakery Hill in Australia says he paid his cheque and sent his whisky – and that was that. There was no acknowledgement either to him or in print that his whisky even arrived, late alone got judged. Certainly he didn’t trouble the scorers.

What sends this debate over the edge, though, is the fact that we’re no longer talking of two-bit pirate nations pedalling moonshine and hooch. We’re talking of seriously high class whisky makers.

Most importantly of all, there is a growing number of them, and more are starting to bottle year by year. And here’s a statistic for you. There are at least 12 distilleries in Australia, seven in Tasmania. Tasmania alone has more than Canada, Ireland or Japan. not all are bottling but two more join the party this year. Three reputable companies in New Zealand are bottling whisky.

You could make similar argument for the Germanic nations, Scandinavia and the European lowlands of Belgium, the Netherlands and France,

So why aren’t we treating these properly now?

We should be. If an event wants to adopt a grandiose title such as ‘World Whisky Awards’ then it needs to reflect what’s going on in the world.  And in my next blog I’m going to present a blueprint for the future, and say how it should be done.

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