I like looking at the results of the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) each year. I don’t put a tremendous amount of credence to the awards themselves but I do like looking at which malts scored highly because it can give me an idea of what to try next. The IWSC gives awards to a wide variety of alcoholic beverages but the one I look most closely at are the Gold Outstanding and Gold awards for Spirits out of Scotland. They also award three other levels, Silver Outstanding, Silver, and Bronze; though I always wonder how great Bronze is when there are four categories ahead of it!
Their online search is a little weak but I was able to pull out the eighteen 2013 list of Gold Outstanding, which is the highest award (notes are from the results document linked below):
- Ben Nevis Single Cask Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky 15YO – Nose leads with fragrant rose wood followed by lavender, violets and honey. Hints of caramel and toasty oak. Well edged by vanilla, cinnamon and black pepper. In the mouth dried fruit adds to the complexity along with fig and peach. Good balance and fine texture. Smooth flow leads to fine, well modulated finish.
- The Glenlivet 21 Year Old Archive – Fascinating nose that seems to offer just about everything! Rich chocolate, full malt, citrus, sherry and light smoky note. Even a hint of rum? Gracious entry into the mouth with smooth, velvet flow across the palate. Repeat of everything the nose had while extra flavours of ripe fruit, honey and some dark sugar develop. Rich spice where vanilla is dominant. Great balance and super oak support. Elegant, rich and warming. Pure perfection.
- Johnnie Walker Black Label Deluxe Blend Scotch Whisky 12YO – Nose carries a wonderful smoky kick that immediately grabs your attention. Beautiful spice, cooked apples. Perfect balance of grain and malt. Full flow through the mouth with complex flavours of malt, peat and smoke followed by a range of spice where vanilla, cinnamon and ginger feature. A canopy of pure elegance enriches the palate. Sensational!
- Oban Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky 14 YO – Nose leads with rich spice and lots of sherry. Good floral notes in the background. Slips into the mouth with great ease and here it
fills the taste buds with great array of stone fruit and some exotics, Spice comes into play by way of cinnamon and hint of ginger but vanilla is dominant. Decidedly mellow with some rich dried fruit characters. Long, well controlled finish. Very satisfying.
- Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky 10YO – Magnificent pungent nose with teasing spice, rich barley and smoky peat. Smooth and full in the mouth with super smooth flow and finest texture. Great weight and balance with sweet spice and light peppery nip towards the finish. Some complex malty notes develop but in gorgeous balance all the way. Deep, warming after
glow. Pure luxury and breathtakingly beautiful.
- Master of Malt 30 Year Old Speyside – Nose opens with an array of tropical fruits including mango, pineapple and citrus. The barley, ripe plum, raisin and dried apricot come into play. Warm, elegant entry with slow flow across the palate into deep, well rounded mouth. Butterscotch joins what the nose advertised. Warm, appealing, long finish. Generous and rewarding.
- James King Scotch Whisky 15 YO – Nose opens with a dominant display of citrus, honey and dried fruit with fudge and vanilla in attendance. All repeats in the mouth where some toast and rich malt also play a part. Smooth flow across the palate reveals lovely, warming, mellow and mature characters. Fine texture and excellent balance. Full fruited, long, satisfying finish.
- Glenmorangie 18 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Enticing nose laden with ripe tropical fruits and full array of spices. Luscious and full in the mouth with elegant balance and
fine texture. Flavours of honeycomb and citrus develop and some blackcurrants enter the mix. Gorgeous complexity and lots of mature, mellow notes yet very spritely movement across the palate.
Long, mellow finish.
- Glenmorangie Signet Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Very attractive, complex nose with wide range of fruit, nuts and spice. Chocolate booms out followed by citrus and lychees. Big sweet malt and almonds add extra complexity. Super deep well rounded mouth follows the nose with concentration of chocolate, raisins and citrus. Cocoa repeats all the while with hints of spice including cinnamon and liquorice. Attractive tarry character leads into very pleasing finish.
- Kingdom 12 Years Old – Big bold and majestic on the nose showing loads of honey, berry fruits, with hint of mint. Lots of citrus and creamy malt in the mouth with a satin smooth flow carrying chocolate and vanilla as well as cinnamon all adding to the smoothness. A judge exclaimed “a treasure chest of liquid gold!”
- Jura Vintage 1977 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky – Fascinating nose with smoke, fresh fruit, red berries, barley sugar, butterscotch and yellow plum all jostle for position. Great array of sweet spice at the edge. Smooth entry into the mouth where barley and malt take the lead with brown sugar, honey and butterscotch all well in focus. Good oak support and lingering smoke in long, full finish.
- Jura Vintage 1973 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky – Nose opens with a show of majestic maturity with spice, smoke, seaside and some haunting spicy notes. Amongst all the mature
characters is a delightful floral presence of violet and dark rose. Enters the mouth in a thick wave of ripe fruit backed by rich spice and supported by spicy oak. Long, slow, velvety roll towards the finish where some chocolate and vanilla add a very creamy, sweet note before a decidedly dry, sea-sensed finale.
- Grant’s 18 YO Scotch Whisky – Honey, maple syrup and vanilla lead on the nose with ripe fruits to follow. Delicate hint of peat. Rich and full in the mouth yet perfect balance and lovely layers of rich fruit flavours. Further enriched by caramel and butterscotch. Vanilla, cinnamon and light ginger fill in the background along with some fine floral notes. Full body leads into equally full flavoured finish.
- The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 YO Single Malt Speyside Scotch Whisky – Nose opens with apple, almond, honey and spice followed by hints of spicy oak. Rich and full in the mellow mouth where brown sugar and citrus notes join the fruit and spice in layers of flavour. Beautiful balance, complex, delicate and light on the tongue. Long finish where coconut and cinnamon feature. A grand dram.
- The Balvenie Thirty Single Malt Speyside Scotch Whisky – Incredibly complex nose with ripe, dark berry fruit, rich honey, hint of smoke, some sherry notes and floral backing of honeysuckle. Slow slide into the mouth with gentle, smooth flow across the well rounded palate. Mature, mellow flavours of chocolate, ginger, orange, marzipan, toast and rich toffee develop. Great oak support with distinct sherry notes and some dark fruit cake. Massive build up of characters including butterscotch and caramel before flowing into full fruited finish. Said one judge “Like a brilliant cut diamond it radiates with finesse and elegance.”
- The Balvenie 40 YO Single Malt Speyside Scotch Whisky – Very complex nose where some gentle pinewood, nettle, fruitcake notes are followed by rich malt, dark chocolate and some dark
berry aromas. Great explosion of complex flavours into the mouth covers the palate with wide range of mature flavours. Soft, rich and satisfying. Notes of peat, chocolate and vanilla. Toasty malt. Wonderful, long, rich, full finish. A great experience.
- Glenfiddich 40 YO Single Malt Speyside Scotch Whisky – Beautiful, seductive nose filled with ginger, melon, toffee, honey, stewed apple and vanilla. Big in the mouth with rich malt
and light twist of smoke. Slow flow across the palate where slow emergence of all manner of dried fruit, spice and some herby notes. Beautiful texture and fine balance. Mellow and elegant. Long, well sustained finish. A great experience.
Laphroaig Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 18 YO was listed in the results but not on the search… not sure what that means but here are the notes: “Incredible nose with amazing rich floral notes followed by smoke, rich barley, liquorice, treacle and then a wave of sea spray. Full powered entry into the mouth with immediate distribution of flavours to every taste bud. Big rich sensation as multi layers of flavour descend and smother the palate. Wonderful and sensational. A comment: “a conquest of fresh cut flowers ready to drink with delight!”
I wasn’t surprised to see something like Balvenie 40 YO (limited edition that costs like $3,400) or Glenfiddich 40 YO (another bottle that costs around $3,000) on the list but there were a few “everyday” bottles present. For example, Johnnie Walker Black is available for ~$27 in 750ml, Talisker 10 YO for ~$55, and Oban 14 YO for ~$63. There are a few pricier, around the next step up, but still within the realm of reason – Balvenie Single Barrel 12 YO (personal favorite) for $80 and Glenmorangie 18 YO for ~$100.
The single-malt list is mostly Highlands and Speysides, which was surprising. The only exceptions were:
- Oban – which is technically a “West Highland” that marries the smoky/salty island flavors with the sweet florals of classic Highlands,
- Talisker – which is on the Isle of Skye,
- Jura – which is on the island of Jura.
For the next award level down, Gold, there were sixty-three scotches… so I won’t be listing them but there are plenty of enjoyable ones in there as well at very affordable prices (and some that are not that affordable!). That said, I looked at the Bronze and was surprised to see names like Glenmorangie Lasanta 12 YO and Dalmore 18 YO.
Do you have a favorite among the Gold Outstandings?
Full results here (right click and Save As… because it’s a huge file), along with notes starting on page 117.