The World Whisky Masters 2019 results
Away from the traditional whisk(e)y heartlands, producers are using a sense of freedom and flexibility to make a host of intriguing expressions. The Spirits Business reports from a World Whisky Masters that offered plenty of diversity.
There’s a wonderful sense of freedom that trickles through whiskies that hail from outside of traditional regions such as Scotland, Ireland and the US. The rules tend to be a little more flexible and styles are less regimented, meaning variety, experimentation and innovation have flourished.
Consumer interest in the ‘world whisky’ category has peaked in recent years. Japanese whisky in particular has become so sought after that producers have had to discontinue certain expressions and formats to allow time for supplies to be replenished. The world whisky sector’s diversity and popularity are indisputable – but is the quality of liquid coming out of these new whisky regions up to par?
That was the question we aimed to find the answer to on the day of The World Whisky Masters 2019 – which took place on the same date as The Irish Whiskey Masters and The American Whiskey Masters. All three competitions took place at Indian Accent in Mayfair, London, where four expert panels prepped their palates for the taste test.
The first flight of the day was Asia (excluding Japan and India): Single Malt – Premium, which was assessed by Derek Millar, retired whisky retailer, and Joe Harper, assistant bars manager of The Savoy hotel. The panel was chaired by me, Melita Kiely, deputy editor of The Spirits Business.
It was a hugely exciting flight to start the competition, delivering two Master medals, one of which went to “playful, compelling” Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, with notes of “citrus and coffee”. The second Master was handed to “layered, complex” Kavalan Distillery Reserve Rum Cask Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, with notes of “tobacco” and “marzipan”. A Gold medal was also awarded to Kavalan Distillery Select Single Malt Whisky. “I’d be quite happy to pay the top end of the price bracket for all three of those and feel like I’d get a really good deal,” said Millar.
The next flight, Asia (Excluding Japan and India): Single Malt – Super Premium, was judged by Billy Abbott, ambassador for The Whisky Exchange, who chaired a panel comprising Dan Greifer, head bartender at Belmeis, and Mark Jennings, founder of Drinks Galore. Three Masters were awarded in this round, the first to Kavalan Classic Single Malt Whisky, which the judges praised for its notes of “plums and prunes” and “beautiful balance”.
Kavalan Solist Port Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky also scooped a Master, thanks to its “massive wood influence”, and flavours of “fruits” and “glacé cherries”. The third Master in this heat was given to Kavalan Solist Ex‐Bourbon Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, with its “fruity” characteristic and “beautiful freshness”.
“I was shocked by how good that round was,” enthused Abbott. “The quality was outstanding. It might be the best round I’ve ever judged.” With an additional five Golds and two Silvers awarded, it was clear to see why that was the case.
Up next came a lone ultra‐premium blend from Australasia, to which Abbott’s panel also awarded a Master medal. Willowbank 17 Year Old (That Boutique‐y Whisky Company) was enjoyed by the team for its notes of “caramel, toffee and wine”. Jennings described the expression as like “licking a copper pipe then chewing gum – in a good way. Really grew on me”.
My panel was having an equally enjoyable time tasting a super‐premium single grain from Australasia, and found a worthy Master medallist in the form of “rich and sweet” Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky.
A single malt from the same distillery scored a Gold medal in the Australasia: Single Malt – Premium heat, praised for its “grass, vegetal” aroma and “hot cinnamon syrup” flavours.
Turning to whiskies on the other side of the world, and three premium Canadian whiskies picked up Golds: “banana, sherbet and citrus” Shelter Point Single Malt and “rich, bakewell tart” Shelter Point Double Barrelled, and “well balanced” Firstwatch Whisky.
The third panel of the day was tasked with tasting the Europe (Excluding Ireland and Scotland): Single Malt – Premium flight, and was chaired by Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business. She was joined by Toby Sims, distiller at Rebel Distillers, and Jamie Matthewson, Waitrose buying manager – wine. A Gold medal was given to Adnams, Single Malt Whisky for its flavours of “roast pork and apple”. The team also dished out five Silvers in this strong flight.
Whisky Squad co‐ordinator Elise Craft’s team then took on a selection of ultra‐ premium, single malt whiskies from Europe, excluding Ireland and Scotland. Her panel comprised Ciaran Duffy, 1806 manager, and Tommy Cummins, general manager at Umbrella Group. A worthy Gold was found in Mosgaard Organic Oloroso Cask, with its “buttery, malty nose” and “coffee hints”. Two Silvers were also awarded – but the team noted there was work to be done in this sub‐ category. “Some of this flight stood out, but overall the whisky needed more time,” noted Cummins. Craft also agreed there was room for further development. She said: “Weird doesn’t always equal interesting, and European whiskies are still finding their place. Based on what I’ve tasted recently, I expected a stronger performance from this flight.”
The next flight set before Hopkins’ team, Europe – Rye, saw Adnams walk away with another Gold. Judges applauded Adnams Rye Malt Whisky for offering “citrus” aromas that led to a “balanced” sweet and spicy palate.
Europe – Other Grains gave Adnams its hat trick of Golds. My panel praised Adnams Triple Malt Whisky for its notes of “fudge and vanilla” and lingering “fresh wood influence”.
On to India: Blended – Standard and All Seasons Whisky from Om Sons Marketing secured a Silver medal, while Paul John 6 Year Old (That Boutique‐y Whisky Company) came “highly commended” and took home a Gold in the India: Blended – Ultra Premium flight.
The final Master of the day was discovered in the Japan: Blended – Ultra Premium contingent, awarded to Japanese Blended Whisky #1 – Batch 2 – 21 Year Old (That Boutique‐y Whisky Company). Craft described the whisky as: “A purposeful and restrained blend. Lots of character but all delicately layered in, which is what you come to expect from a masterful Japanese blend at this level.”
Leading on from Japan was a single entry into the South Africa: Single Malt – Super Premium flight, which resulted in a Silver medal for Three Ships 6 Year Old (That Boutique‐y Whisky Company), with notes of “almond and apricot”.
A single entry into the Central and South America: Single Malt – Premium flight, Cervejaria Backer’s 3 Lobos Whiskey Artesanal Experience, was hailed for its “almost wine‐like” aroma and “thick oily texture”, winning Gold.
Beverbach Whiskey and Coffee Liqueur bagged a Gold in the final flight of the day, Whisky Liqueur, after judges praised the expression for being “well balanced”. “A good example of new‐age liqueurs, with people not as reliant on adding sugar,” noted Duffy.
All the top medal winners were re‐tasted at the end of the day to discover the ‘best in class’ Taste Master, which was bestowed upon the hugely popular Kavalan Solist Port Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky.
If diversity and quality were ever in doubt for the ‘world whisky’ sector, the day’s medal haul certainly proved the category is able to deliver these qualities in abundance.
Click through to the following page to see the full set of results from The World Whisky Masters 2019.