MY VIEW – FEBRUARY 2015
So here they are – the results of the third annual Wizards of Whisky Awards and boy, was it hard work this year. More entries, fiercer competition, some organisational issues and an exhausting judging process – it has taken about eight months to reach this point. Which it means it’s nearly time to start all over again…
But I’m delighted by the results, proud of all my judges, 100 per cent happy with the way we reached the outcome and with the winners. You can’t please everyone all of the time – especially when it comes to passing judgement on winners and losers from a group who all think they are winners – which, by definition they do, otherwise they wouldn’t be entering a competition.
But once more I honestly feel that The Wizards are the best reflection of what’s happening in ‘New World Whisky’ and that’s because I have such a strong specialist whisky-tasting panel that has been tasting whiskies from as far afield as New Zealand and Iceland for some 10 years now. As always,the whiskies were tasted totally blind, and no favours were conferred on any single distillery or nation. I pride myself on having no favourites and in treating all distilleries equally and with total fairness. It’s in my DNA – and anyway, I wasn’t a judge.
Our winners are an intriguing mix of old and new, straddled by the winner of the overall World Distiller of the Year, Mackmyra. On the one hand the distillery was in the original vanguard of ‘New World’ whiskies, one of a few that led the charge a decade or so ago. My VIP group has been tasting its malts since the very earliest bottlings of Privus and Preludium years ago.
But on the other, it didn’t enter the Awards until this year, making its triumph particularly impressive. While the whiskies were tasted blind, I do wonder whether my judges, who have always enjoyed Mackmyra’s whiskies, recognised distinctive characteristics while judging.
Not everyone was happy with the judging process, but I stand vigorously by it. It is deliberately designed to make awards success accessible to all distillers across the world, no matter how modest their budgets, and to recognise quality at every level. I have always approached my profession with honesty and integrity and the Wizards reflect that. And that’s why, I think, they are thriving.
That said, there will have to be changes next year because the awards are becoming too big to organise the way I have done over the last three years. This year, for example, it became impractical to have a London judging panel because there were too many whiskies to transport.
But change is a good thing, and I am looking forward to unveiling exciting plans for the coverage of New World Whisky in the coming weeks. Watch this space.
WIZARDS FLY HIGH OVER EUROPE
Europe has dominated the 2015 Wizards of Whisky awards, with two of its distilleries battling it out for initially the European Distiller of The Year and then The World Distiller of The Year.
Mackmyra of Sweden proved that it is still a major force to be reckoned with when it comes to distinctive and unusual whiskies, winning both titles with four excellent malt whiskies. Three of the best four malt whiskies came from the Swedish whisky, with the fourth finishing seventh.
But Zuidam in The Netherlands can consider itself unlucky not to lift both titles itself. It actually achieved more gold medals than Mackmyra but with lower scores, and therefore a lower average score across its range.
It was highly commended by judges for its Millstone range of whiskies. The English Whisky Company also produced very strong results. Sweden produced another high scorer with Spirit of Hven, which achieved gold. This meant that the Scandinavians produced five of the seven top malts.
The other notable success in Europe was France, which well and truly put itself on the New World Whisky map with two golds for Distillerie Warenghem and Brenne respectively.
Elsewhere Paul John of India managed to hold off a strong challenge form Kavalan of Taiwan to hold on to its Asian award, Balcones shrugged off its recent troubles to regain its US Craft Distillery title, and newcomers Still Waters lifted the Canadian trophy.
The most disappointing category this year was Australasia, mainly because the distillers Down Under are too busy targeting their limited supplies of whisky to an insatiable consumer demand to risk creating even more demand by winning further accolades in the Northern Hemisphere. Nevertheless, two awards did head southwards, with Heartwood lifting the Independent Bottler of the Year crown after a fierce battle with very Bros & Rudd in the United Kingdom.
The most fiercely contested category of all, though, was Ireland, reflecting the growing number of world class whiskeys coming from the country.
The title just went to Bushmills after a tight three-way fight involving Irish Distillers and Teeling.
The Wizards of Whisky World’s Best malt went to Mackmyra’s Midnattssol.
Although Scottish whiskies can only be entered through the independent bottler category, the country still reminded us where the whisky power base still remains. A Scotch blend produced by independent company That Boutique-y Whisky Co lifted the title of the Wizards World’s Best Other Grains Whisky.
Full results and interviews to follow.