The results of the 2022 spirits judging have just been announced by the International Wine and Whisky Competition (IWSC). A total of 85, predominantly UK based, judges evaluated over 4,000 entrants across a dozen major categories.
In the Scotch Whisky category, traditionally one of the competition’s largest and most competitive segments, a total of 12 blended Scotch whiskies were awarded the coveted Gold Outstanding medal. The winners ranged from iconic brands like Royal Salute The Malts Blend 21 YO to less well-known brands like Scottish Leader or The Woodsman.
The IWSC is an annual wine and spirits competition. Founded in 1969, by Anton Massel, it has grown to become one of the largest such competitions in the world. Spirits are evaluated on a 100-point scale and awards are given out for Gold Outstanding (98-100 points), Gold (95-97 points), Silver (90-94 points) and Bronze (85-89 points).
The top two blended Scotch whiskies were the
Distell International, Black Bottle Alchemy Series Double Cask Blended Scotch Whisky and the J.G. Thompson & Co, Rich 23 YO Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. Both expressions scored 99 out of 100 points.
Black Bottle is a classic blended whisky that dates to 1879. Following a long period of decline, the brand was revitalized in the 1990s using a new blending formular based on Islay and Speyside single malts. Distell acquired the brand when they purchased Burns Stewart in 2013.
Black Bottle combines Islay’s peaty, smoky backbone with the fruitiness and elegance of classic Speyside whiskies, duplicating a style reminiscent of 19th century blended Scotch whiskies. The judging panel described the whisky as:
Lemon cake, wheat, bread, citrus and grapefruit aromas on the nose combining with orange blossom, pomelo, pepper and spice flavours on the palate with a long finish.
Black Bottle also took a Gold Outstanding medal for its Black Bottle Alchemy Series Island Smoke Blended Scotch Whisky. That expression scored 98 out of 1oo. The official tasting note described the whisky as:
Soft and creamy style with orchard fruits, delicate balance and ginger spice on the finish.
J.G Thompson & Co was the name of a historic, 18th century wine and spirit merchant based in Leith, Edinburgh’s port. The brand was resurrected in 2021 by the Artisanal Spirits Company, the owner of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, as a bottler of unique, single cask, “small batch spirits.” The company also bottles an assortment of rums and gins.
The judging panel’s tasting notes describe the Rich 23 YO blended Scotch whisky as showing:
Wonderfully expressive, presenting aromas of orange and caramel before complex and intertwined flavours of mango, brown sugar, banana and cinnamon. There is a deep earthiness and toasted oak character running throughout. Chocolatey and extremely lengthy on the finish. Divine!
Hankey Bannister took two Gold Outstanding medals for their 12 YO Regency Blended Scotch Whisky and their Heritage Blend Scotch Whisky. The brand is not well known in the United States, which is a pity since it’s an excellent blended Scotch whisky and represents an exceptional value.
The official tasting note from the judging panel described the 12 YO Regency as:
Vanilla and caramel led by a floral, honey and stewed fruit nose. Nice fruitcake nose on the finish.
While the Heritage was described as:
Inviting citrus blossom aromas expand into botanicals, citrus blossom, and coconut. Elegant, fragrant and approachable.
Whyte & Mackay took two Gold Outstanding medals for The Woodsman Blended Scotch Whisky and for Waitrose Rich and Warming 3 YO Blended Scotch Whisky. The latter is a retailer specific brand that is not available in the US.
The official tasting notes from the judging panel described The Woodsman as having:
Lovely vegetal notes greet the nose, supported by hints of orange peel and turmeric. Beautifully peppery on the palate with flavours of roasted vanilla sugar and a pleasingly grassy finish.
Chivas Brothers, Royal Salute, The Malts Blend 21 YO Blended Malt Scotch Whisky also took a Gold Outstanding medal. The brand was launched in 1953 by Chivas Brothers to commemorate the ascension of Princess Elizabeth to the British throne. The blend was based on single malt from Strathisla, the oldest working distillery in Speyside.
The name Royal Salute and the reference to the number 21 refers to the practice of giving the reigning monarch a 21-gun salute. The salute, reserved for a monarch or visiting head of state, is considered the highest military honor that a state can render.
Unlike typical blended Scotch whiskies, which are a blend of grain whisky and multiple single malts, The Malts Blend consists solely of single malt whiskies. These kinds of blends used to be called “Vatted Malts” but today are simply called “Single Malt Blends”. The Malts Blend consists of more than 21 different single malts that have been aged between 21 and 25 years.
The Judging Panel described The Malts Blend as having:
Light, bright, fruity and creamy. Rich oak, vanilla and sweet banana marshmallow.
Ian Macleod Distillers, Isle of Skye 21 YO Blended Scotch Whisky also won a Gold Outstanding medal. Although the label references the Isle of Skye, this is actually a blend of whiskies from Speyside and the Western islands, including both Skye and Islay. The blend is centered on the Isle of Skye’s most famous single malt – Talisker.
The judging panel described it as:
A subtle nose opens to reveal an inviting, green savouriness before a bold palate of sweet apples, florals and seashell minerality is displayed in focused intensity, offset by gentle smoke.
The two remaining winners were William Grant & Sons Distillers, Grant’s 8 YO Sherry Cask Edition Blended Scotch Whisky and Scottish Leader, 12 YO Blended Scotch Whisky. The official tasting note described the Sherry Cask Edition as:
Peach, raisin, burnt sugar, cherry, caramel, liquorice and warm oak aromas on the nose. Rounded and sweet with drying finish and dried fruit, toasted coconut and oak on the palate.
While the Scottish Leader 12 YO was described as:
White grape on the nose leads into a smoked cheese character and a hint of mango. The palate displays the breadth of Mezcal flavours with maraschino-like cherry, blackberry and briny notes coming to the fore, with a satisfying diesel finish.
Despite the continuing and growing popularity of single malt Scotch whisky, blended Scotch whisky is still the best-selling category of Scotch whisky in both volume and revenue. Blended whiskies are often dismissed as lacking the depth and sophistication of single malt expressions. That’s unfortunate and also untrue.
Blended Scotch whisky can offer the depth, layered nuance and complexity typically associated with single malt Scotch and often represents better value. If you’ve drifted away from drinking blended Scotch whisky or if you have never bothered to try them, these 12 medal winners are a good place to start. They represent the best of the best in blended Scotch whisky.