Whisky making is booming across the globe – and the 2023 Vintage Cellars Best of Whisky and Rum Awards have revealed the best of the best globally! The experienced team of Australian judges recently tasted an extensive range of international whiskies, from American bourbon to Irish and Japanese whiskies, plus the best Scotch whisky selections from Islay, Speyside, the Highlands and Lowlands – all with unique styles and tastes.
“It’s always a fascinating exercise to try different cross sections of whisky like this,” says judge Eddie Brook, Cape Byron Distillery’s co-founder and distiller. “You get to see those distinct regional styles coming through, and it’s brilliant to see continued development and quality across the international whisky scene.” Here’s a rundown of this year’s stand-outs in regional categories.
Michter’s is known to release some of Kentucky’s highest-quality bourbons, and this category winner illustrates why. Each small batch of Michter’s US 1 is composed of no more than two dozen barrels, and the judges loved Michter’s signature rich caramel, stone fruit and toasted oak characters. “If you’re a bourbon lover, there was a lot to like here,” says judge Sebastian Reaburn, master distiller at Melbourne’s Ned Whisky.
Finalist – Maker’s Mark 46 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
The Maker’s Mark 46 also impressed our expert panel. The judges appreciated the bolder vanilla, cinnamon and espresso flavours – the result of a finishing period in seared French oak staves. Great sipping neat or try it in an Old Fashioned.
The Scottish Highlands is home to some of the world’s top whisky distilleries, and this category didn’t disappoint. “You expect Scottish single malts to be of a high standard, and that’s what we found,” says judge Jarrad Huckshold, Starward Whisky’s head blender.
The Loch Lomond 12 Year Old, produced near the stunning loch north of Glasgow, stood out in a quality field, with the judges praising its subtle fruit characters and hints of smoke.
Finalist – Glenfarclas 12YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky
When reviewing sherry cask whisky, the Glenfarclas single malt range stood tall. The judges highly commended, in particular, the fruit cake and spicy sweetness in the Glenfarclas 12 Year Old
“When you taste an Islay whisky, it really takes you to that place, more so than any other style,” says judge Eddie Brook. He’s a huge fan of the single malts from Islay, the legendary whisky island off the Scottish west coast. Adds judge Jarrad Huckshold: “Spirit-forward and intensely peated, Lagavulin 8 Year Old is an absolute banger. I’m not surprised it won.”
Finalist – Laphroaig 10YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky
The medicinal, iodine sweetness of Laphroaig 10 Year Old is not for everyone. But the seasoned judges warmed to its ashy, coastal, vanilla notes.
Hailing from The Glasgow Distillery, the 1770 Single Malt Whisky was crowned best of the Lowlands whiskies. The distillery was the first single malt whisky producer to be built in Glasgow in 100 years when it was founded in 2014, and the judges enjoyed the pear and honey notes in this refined expression of the Lowlands style.
Finalist – Kirkcowan Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Produced at the Australian-owned Bladnoch Distillery, two hours south of Glasgow, the Kirkcowan single malt was one the judges agreed would be a perfect introduction to Lowland single malts.
The Balvenie Doublewood thoroughly deserved taking out this category, according to the judges. They noted the use of different fortified wine casks in the Scottish whiskies tasted, and The Balvenie is a classic example of this. Matured for 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels and hogsheads, the whisky is then moved to Spanish oak ex-oloroso sherry casks for an additional nine months, adding a bonus layer of nutty sweetness.
Finalist – Tamnavulin Sherry Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky
The pronounced tropical fruit characters of the Tamnavulin Sherry Cask wowed the judging panel. The Tamnavulin Distillery, located next to the River Livet in the heart of Speyside, is a lesser-known producer well worth seeking out.
The Sexton Single Malt topped a quality field to take out the best of the Irish. Triple-distilled and made from 100% Irish malted barley, The Sexton was founded by master blender Alex Thomas in 2017, who meticulously ages Sexton whiskies in second and third-fill oloroso sherry casks. If you’re a fan of rich, sherried, easy-drinking single malts, give this a try.
Finalist – Bushmills 10YO Irish Malt Whiskey
The benchmark triple-distilled Irish single malt, Bushmills 10 Year Old never misses a beat. The judges found a lot to like in this fresh and creamy Irish classic.
“The Japanese whiskies definitely have their style. They’re lighter in profile, but still distinct and different,” says judge Jarrad Huckshold. For him, the Japanese category was one of the highlights of judging. The best Japanese whisky? The fragrant and slightly smoky Hakushu Distillers Reserve, produced in the forest slopes at the foot of Japan’s Southern Alps, was a firm favourite.
Finalist – Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Japanese Whisky
“Another Japanese whisky which has such a floral, malty elegance,” remarks judge Eddie Brook of the Taketsuru Pure Malt, a marriage of Yoichi and Miyagikyo single malts by Nikka Whisky. “All of the Japanese whiskies tasted were fantastic.”
Products featured are available from 17/05/23 to 27/06/23, while stocks last. Some products or varieties featured may not be available in all stores.