The International Wine and Whisky Competition (IWSC) has just announced the results of the 2022 spirits judging. A total of 85, predominantly UK based, judges evaluated over 4,000 entrants across more than a dozen major spirit categories.
In the Scotch whisky category, traditionally one of the competition’s largest and most competitive segments, a total of 38 single malt Scotch whiskies were awarded the coveted Gold Outstanding medal.
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 competition 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 three Scotch whiskies, each scoring 99 points out of a hundred, were, surprisingly, from two of Scotland’s lesser-known distilleries: Tomatin and Deanston.
Tomatin is a single malt distillery located in the village of Tomatin in the Speyside district of the Scottish Highlands. The distillery, after having passed through several Japanese owners, is now owned by Marubeni, a Japanese integrated trading and investment company. Tomatin was once the largest Scotch distillery in Scotland, with an annual capacity of around 10 million liters of pure alcohol.
Current production is approximately 2 to 3 million liters of alcohol. Most of the distillery’s production is slated for its own blended whisky brands: Antiquary and Talisman. The company has been shifting its production to single malts and expanding its available range of expressions. Emphasizing a higher percentage of first fill ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks has allowed it to produce very flavorful, structured and complex single malts.
Tomatin, 1976 Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Tomatin, Legacy Single Malt Scotch Whisky were two of the top three ranked Scotch whiskies.
The Tomatin 1976 is a single cask, 36 YO+, whisky. Distilled on 13 September 1973 and bottled on August 10, 2010. It was matured in a first fill America oak cask. The official tasting note on the Tomatin 1976, described it as:
Strong spices and wood aromas. Evolves to powerful red fruits with high alcohol. Water addition creates softer, sweeter notes of tropical fruit and vanilla spice. Sweet lengthy finish.
The Tomatin Legacy is a no age statement (NAS) expression that is matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak casks. The Tasting Note on the Tomatin Legacy described it as:
Nutty, yet rose-rich with sweeter fudge showing through. Butter popcorn, mushroom and chestnuts also. Lusciously long and round.
The third top ranked whisky is the Deanston, Virgin Oak, Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This is a NAS, peated whisky produced at the Deanston distillery in Doune, a small-town northwest of Edinburgh. The company has been owned by Distell since 2013 – a South African based beverage conglomerate recently acquired by Dutch brewer Heineken.
The Deanston Virgin Oak is a young whisky matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and then finished in brand new casks of American oak from Kentucky. The official tasting note described the whisky as:
Classic peat on the nose – a bit of earth, smoke and bacon fat. Bright green fruit and tinned peaches with the spicy tang of liquorice and smoke on the finish.
The other winners were a mix of perennial medalists as well as a number of lesser-known distilleries.
Ardbeg 25 YO and the Ardbeg Wee 5 YO Beastie were both awarded Gold Outstanding medals. Glendronach, a distillery whose profile and medals has been rapidly rising under the deft hand of Master Distiller Rachel Barrie, was a triple winner.
The Glendronach 16 YO Boynsmill, 18 YO Allardice and 21 YO Parliament single malt Scotch whiskies all won Gold Outstanding medals. The 21 YO, a personal favorite that is matured in both Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez (PX) Sherry casks, gets its name from a resident flock of crows at the distillery. A flock of crows is referred to as a “parliament” – hence the name.
The official tasting note described the 21 YO whisky as:
Nutty nose with hints of sawdust and incense. The palate is delicate with chamomile notes.
Among the lesser-known Gold Outstanding medalists was Balblair, which was a triple winner for its 12 YO, 18 YO and 25 YO. This is another up and coming distillery whose portfolio of single malt whiskies is outstanding and hugely underappreciated. It’s sister distillery, Pulteney, also won for its 18 YO expression. The Balblair 25 YO, an exceptional whisky was described in the official tasting note as:
Full with lots of dark chocolate, some nutmeg, and prunes. A round and sweet palate.
Other notable winners are Highland Park’s 15 YO Viking Heart Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Aberfeldy’s 16 YO and 21 YO expressions. The Glenmorangie Company won a Gold Outstanding medal for its Finest Reserve 19 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Among Islay distillers, Laphroiag was the big winner, taking two Gold Outstanding medals for its 10 YO Sherry Oak Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky and its Select Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Islay whiskies marry particularly well with sweet wine casks, producing expressions that are smoky and with distinct fruity and sweet notes.
Kilchoman was the only other Islay distillery to take a Gold Outstanding medal. It won for its Machir Bay Scotch Whisky. The whisky is matured in both ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks. Great Drams, a specialty bottler, took a Gold Outstanding medal for its Islay Distillery Single Cask Single Malt Whisky.
Among the more unusual winners was Atom Brands, 10 YO Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire Single Malt Scotch Whisky. The tasting note described it as:
Assertive and complex; aromas of basil and mint are lifted by lilac. Pine and cedar drift across the rich, roasted vegetable palate and a caramelised hint lingers into the finish.
Another unusual winner was a single malt Scotch whisky expression from The Lindores Company, one of Scotland’s newest whisky distilleries. The distillery is named for one of Scotland’s original 17th century distilleries at the Lindores Abbey. The Lindores Distilling Company, Single Malt Scotch Whisky was described by the judging panel as:
Meaty roasted barley emerges on the nose with rich Scotch-esque aromas on the palate. Nuts, caramel and creamy pastries are well balanced to leave a lasting finish.
Loch Lomond, another Scotch whisky distillery with a rapidly rising profile, took a Gold Outstanding medal for the
Inchmoan 12 YO and Glengarry 12 YO. The latter is matured in a combination of first fill and refill ex-Bourbon casks as well as re-charred ex-Bourbon casks. The tasting note for the Inchmoan 12 YO described it as:
Bright notes of tropical fruit, raspberry and milk chocolate on the nose with grassy undertones and lingering mineral notes. A creamy palate of butter, malt and marzipan.
Rounding out the Gold Outstanding medal winners were several expressions from Whyte & Mackey: Co-Op Irresistible 12 YO, Tamnavulin French Cabernet Sauvignon Cask Edition, and a retailer branded offering – Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. The latter is not available in the US, but widely available in the UK.
Other standout winners included Ballantine’s Glenburgie 12 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Most of Glenburgie’s whisky output is slated for Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whisky, one of the top 5 blended whiskies in the world by volume. The distillery, significantly underappreciated, has also been releasing single malt whisky expressions.
The judging panel described it as:
Fresh and vibrant on the nose with hints of candied orange, gingerbread, sweet and spice.
Glencadam, another little-known distillery, which is among Scotland’s oldest working distilleries, took three Gold Outstanding medals for its The Rather Dignified 15 YO, Reserva Andalusia Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish and American Oak Reserve Small Batch Malt Scotch Whisky. The latter is not yet available in the US market but is coming soon. Glencadam has been rapidly increasing its whisky lineup with a range of single barrel expressions as well as innovative cask finishes.
The Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish, a personal favorite, was described by the judging panel as showing:
Not a shy personality! Fragrance of florals, tropical fruit, peach, apricot, grapefruit, and chamomile, nuanced by notes of butterscotch and cereals. Finely textured with a nice lingering finish.
The other Double Gold medalists included: William Grant & Sons, Ailsa Bay; Glen Moray, Elgin Heritage 21 YO Portwood Finish; Ian Macleod Distillers, Glengoyne 12 YO; Glen Turner Company, Heritage Double Cask; John Dewar & Sons, Royal Brackla 18 YO Sherry Cask Finish Paulo Cortado and William Grant & Sons Distillers, The Balvenie 12 YO Sweet Toast of American Oak.
This year’s judging produced an outstanding selection of Scotch whiskies. Some well-known, perennial medalists, others less so. Plenty to explore and discover here.