“Save the date for the opening of an innovative new distillery” cried the invite. “Aha!", I thought, "Another craft distillery with a gimmicky twist on production techniques.” What was it to be this time? Would the visitors centre be open before a drop of whisky had been matured? Was I to learn of an imaginative business plan that involved selling raspberry gin until the whisky is ready? And when the whisky goes on sale after three years, will it actually be ready?
If I sound jaded, it’s probably because I am. As exciting as crowd-funded micro-distilleries seemed two or three years ago, they are becoming so common place that I’m struggling to care about the latest grow-your-own-locally-sourced-organic-barley operation.
Whilst sipping a lovely Bladnoch over the festive break I was struck by just how much depth was cloaked in the spirit’s initially understated personality. This drew me to the much revisited topic of Whisky awards, and to considering which releases win them and ultimately, why? It seems quite difficult to find a Scotch that hasn’t attained gold before at least one set of “learned judges”, but more importantly, what of those awards that still hold merit amongst the sea of the somewhat dubious? The Malt Manic Awards, Cask Strength’s Best in Glass or Whisky Magazine’s annual awards are a few that maintain a level of trust, but just what is it that makes a winning malt?
It seems to me that one theme runs deep as you look back over the bottles that have found themselves graced with top honours. Big whisky, powerful either by way of sherry, peat, active oak or a distinctly forceful character tends to steal the show. Indeed The Malt Maniacs are well known for their penchant for old, heavily sherried releases and last year’s awards did nothing to shake that view as another (admittedly lovely) Glendronach stood out above the rest. In the Best in Glass awards it was a forceful dram from Balcones and in The Whisky Magazine’s round up it was the similarly bold Yamazaki 25 year old. “Delicate whiskies find themselves lost in the crowd, outshone by the whisky equivalent of attention-hungry exhibitionists.”