Competition for the top titles was extremely fierce this year, and an extra evening of debate among the judges was required on Monday January 30 to pick the overall World Distiller of the Year. Three very different distilleries were in contention the top title. The one we went with, though, is a worthy winner.
How we judged The Awards
The Wizards of Whisky Awards do not include entries from Scotland, Japan, Canada or the established distillers of Kentucky, and are deliberately designed to highlight smaller world distillers and distillers from non traditional areas. Costs are kept low and distillers can enter just one whisky if they want to. Judging took place over three sessions and the judges were made up with members of the VIP Whisky Tasting Club, and guests. The Whisky Tasting club has been tasting world whiskies with me for more than 12 years and are as experienced in whiskies from across the world as anyone in the industry.
Each whisky was scored out of 100 by each judge, and the scores were added and averaged out. Where scores were particularly close to the total required for a particular medal colour, they were re-tasted. The Distillery of the Year Awards are only open to distilleries and companies submitting at least three whiskies. The total votes cast are divided by the number of whiskies entered to give an average total. This is so a small distillery with just three entries has the same chance of winning as a major producer entering seven or eight whiskies. This is important to The Wizards because part of their purpose is to recognise small and emerging world distilleries.
Asian Distiller of the Year: John Distilleries, India
An absolute no brainer. John Distilleries won five golds, one for each of its core bottlings of Paul John single malt whisky. The judges felt that the standard of all bottlings had improved significantly on previous years, and that the distillery’s offering covered a range of tastes, making for an extremely impressive portfolio of malts.
Australasian Distiller of the Year: New World Distillery, Australia
We’re really proud of this result because we’ve followed the story of David Vitale’s Victoria distillery since its inception. I was delighted to meet David at the Whisky Show in London, where he proudly took his place among the world’s greatest distillers with whisky every bit as good as those on offer around him. Starward whisky has well and truly come of age, and New World Distillery is the latest in a string of distilleries from Down Under that can now be considered world class.
European Distiller of the Year: Spirit of Hven, Sweden
Highly commended: Zuidam, Netherlands
Spirit of Hven is a tiny distillery on a small island between Sweden and Denmark, but it has consistently produced fine whisky and has won gold medals in The Wizards every year for the last five years. But this year it surpassed itself with three high scoring gold medal whiskies. Sweden has a
strong track record in The Wizards and there are some great single malts coming out of the country. Spirit of Hven produces some of the very best. World class.
Zuidam is highly commended for once again producing excellent whiskies in its Millstone range. Its Olorosos cask single malt was the highest scoring malt in the whole of the Wizards Awards this year and it was runner up to Spirit of Hven by just a few marks.
Irish Distiller of the Year: Irish Distillers
Four entries, four gold winners, and the clearest winner of any of the regional winners this year. The judges were impressed by the fact that the company entered its flagship mainstream blended whiskey Jameson on the one hand, and the world class Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength on the other. The Redbreast is a world beater by anyone’s standards, so it was no great surprise that it was voted the world’s best ‘other grain’ whiskey by the Wizards judges.
US Craft Distiller of the Year: Corsair
Highly commended: Balcones
In a year when we have celebrated a coming of age for a new generation of American craft distillers, including Ironroot, Westland and New Holland, it is somewhat ironic that the heavyweight title has been a slugfest between two of the more established new wave of distillers.
But the battle between these two producers, one in Tennessee and one in Texas, has been the undoubted highlight of this year’s Wizards Awards.
Balcones has pitched in with wonderful, full bodied whiskeys in both the single malt and the ‘other grain’ (in this case blue corn) whiskey categories. Once tasted never forgotten. The distillery never fails to impress.
But this year The Texans were pipped by The Titans, and a diverse, beautifully made and impressive selection of whiskeys. The distillery has significantly raised the bar in the last three years, and where once it seemed to be happy to bottle a huge range of weird and wonderful whiskeys, it now seems entirely focused on quality as well as innovation.
WIZARDS OF WHISKY DISTILLER OF THE YEAR 2017
The winner of this award is selected from the five regional winners above. It was so close this year that the judges held a special extra session to debate the three leading candidates.
I would personally like to thank everyone who entered and to congratulate them all on such a high standard of entries this year. World and craft whisky has well and truly come of age.