For the past 5 years, drinks writers (and now whisky bottlers!) Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley have hosted an awards ceremony intended to turn the whisky judging world on its head—or at least put it poolside with a drink in its hand. Jeil (or Noel, as they are affectionately referred to at MoM HQ) designed their Best in Glass Awards to celebrate whiskies that are accessible, delicious, and newly released. The annual Best in Glass Awards were held on 12th December 2012 at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in London. After a gruelling afternoon of a two-course luncheon (wink!) and blind tasting of ten whiskies, one whisky emerged victorious from the collection to be dubbed the champion of the Best in Glass Awards 2012!
A new twist was added to this year’s event, namely: that the entire tasting was done blind from start to finish. Neil and Joel hand-selected ten whiskies following two main criteria:
1. The whisky was released in 2012; and
2. The whisky is available to buy on the mass market (no festival bottlings, no travel retail only etc.)
A man and his award ceremony…
Whether by choice or by fate, each of the whiskies was under £100. We were told the ABVs of each of the whiskies to begin with, though some might argue that such a move can hint at the true identity of a bottling. Notable whisky enthusiasts from across the industry were on hand to nose, sample, and offer their learned opinions. I had the esteemed pleasure of sitting betwixt a Midwesterner who’s also a world-famous whisky blender and one of the UK’s drinks journalist superstars. Jackanackanory.
The whiskies were judged in 3 rounds, with 4 whiskies eliminated in the 1st Round, 3 whiskies eliminated in the 2nd, and the final 3 whiskies going head-to-head-to-head in a Battle Royale to claim the ultimate prize. Too many numbers? Read on. It’ll make sense.
Opinions varied across the board—there was at least one instance where serious dismay was caused with the voting out of a certain Kilchoman by a certain Master of Malt gentleman who tends to sport a most handsome moustache—but all-in-all the consensus was quite easy to come to, and there was some lively debate to boot!
Ooh, Gromit, I do like a bit of whisk(e)y!
Now, for the whiskies in the order of tasting, and some very, very brief notes (such as they are) attached to each taken at the time of tasting:
Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky – 45% – 2nd round cut
Creamy vanilla, dried hay in a barn, all things Spring, fresh flowers and yin-yang sweet/bitter pepper finish
Dark fruits, sultanas, dried fruits and leather leading into flat Coca Cola
Lemon meringue pie, crust, cream, and lemon; then apple pie cinnamon, cooked fruit, and pie crust
Sugary, even maple-y but in a delightful way with a whisper of smoke
Salted caramel then distinctly a Hershey Pencil, then a mixture of the seaside with salt and kelp and soft cheese like Brie or Camembert
Cutty Sark Tam ‘o Shanter Blended Whisky – 46.5% – Finalist
An explosion of chocolate, red wine, sherry, port brown sugar, molasses, and mulled wine. Finish is long and full with lingering Autumn leaves.
Lemon candies, perhaps apple pie or apple juice. Bright, sweet, buttery, and delicious.
Teelings Hybrid Blended Irish / Scotch Whiskey – 44.7% –Finalist
White pepper, lillies, and a hint of smoke.
Instant smoke. Dark wood like mahogany with roasted chestnuts and a dollop of heavy cream. Underpinned with a sprig of mint, cedarwood, brown sugar, and red wine.
Smoke. Peat. Rubber. Shoes.
What a line-up…
Sadly, the Johnnie Walker, Macallan, Kilchoman, and Glenmorangie got the axe in the first round. All agreed that these are exceptional whiskies, yet compared with the others on offer, they just didn’t possess the same levelof excitement, balance, intrigue, and character to be named Best in Glass. Even though these drams were out of the running, the judges were not made aware of their true identities. Were we a bit too hasty?
Round 2 saw the departure of the Balvenie 17 Doublewood (a real stunner), the Nikka Coffey Grain (a beautiful example of a grain whisky, as noted by John Glaser), and the Springbank. I can safely say the Springbank was one of my particular favourites and I was saddened to see it go. But we must soldier on then, mustn’t we?
…and what a view!
And then there were 3. With a bit a break (a breath of fresh air, a long drink of water) we were ready to tackle the final drams.
The final decision was quick, with the Place and Show really not standing a chance. The flag dropped, and we had our winner.
Yesiree, ladies and gents, the Best Little Whisky in Texas* was the winner of the Best in Glass Award 2012! Who’dve thunk that a Single Malt from the Lone Star State could sway the palates of such Scotch stalwarts? If you’re surprised, I highly encourage you to try it. Right now. Don’t be shy…
*just in case you didn’t get the joke, The Best Little [ahem] Whorehouse in Texas is a bonkers musical starring the indefatigable Dolly Parton, wherein she performs I Will Always Love You, later made famous by Whitney Houston, god rest her.