The Malt Maniacs have released the 2014 set of awards last night and it seemed a bit of a whimper rather than the bang associated with single malt whisky awards. Well to be honest I should have expected this and not wait for the grand applause, these guys are serious geeks of malt whisky and have been doing the scuttle act since 2003. 9 judges calling themselves amateurs (I am thinking, taking a cue from my club) have taken over two months to release the names of some of the best malt whiskies that were ever made. So they are not going to do a photo session with the awards plaque nor a jig which would be quite cool!
But what I really like about these awards is that the whiskies that come on stage are those obscure sets which perhaps may never be commercially available or viable for the manufacturer, sans some of the regulars. The awards does cover of reasonable spectrum of whiskies and there are innovative additions every odd year or so.
The “Daily Drams” category is restricted to whiskies that sell at an average of fifty Euros on an average for the bottle. The “Premium” section is for drams that are priced in the range of 51-150 Euros & lastly the “Ultra Premium” is the class where sky is the limit but starting from 151 Euros.
Apart from this, there are awards to recognise the diverse varieties such as the best of sherried whisky, peated whisky, natural cask whiskies etc; in each of the categories mentioned above. The “Thumbs-up” award was introduced in the year 2010-11 if I remember right; this is joined by the “Supreme Winner” award which is the best of the category and one which wins across the board. All the whiskies scoring 80 and above as an average from all the ratings from the judges are also published.
This year the thunder & drum roll before the awards were drowned in the fanatical auction bidding for the Yamazaki Sherry Cask and the attention of the world was already cued on to Asian whiskies thanks to the faith that the whisky world has on a certain ‘whisky bible’.
So the gasps and awe that the announcement of Kavalan ‘Solist’ (57.8%, OB, NAS, Sherry Cask C#S060904031, 516 Bts., 2014*) winning the supreme winner award was missing. Was the man in the Panama hat first to stoke embers on Asian whiskies? Memory rarely serves me right when it comes to whiskies but the same group had awarded the ‘Best Sherried’ whisky to Yamazaki ‘Sherry Cask’ in the year 2011. It was not the first appearance of the Kavalan either, a similar ‘Solist’ (57.8%, OB, NAS, Sherry Cask, C#S06082, 2013*) was the supreme winner last year in the premium category. Well be it the maniacs or the religious bible worshippers; the trend is very clear that whisky being produced this part of the globe is being acknowledged as better by a large section of consumers and experts alike. The Scots are a resilient lot and ‘Scotch’ being accepted as a synonym for whisky itself is something that will take more than a few years of centre stage attention by the new winners.
Returning our attention to the awards from the maniacs this year; Asian whiskies did very well again with winners across the board.
Ultra Premium Category
Yochi grabbed the supreme winner’s award in the Ultra Premium category – Yoichi 1991/2014 (62%, Heavily peated, C#129459) the Karuizawa 34yo 1980/2014 (63%, No.1 Drinks for LMDW, ex-Bourbon Cask C#6476) won the Best Natural Casks award in the same group. I am a very happy man that I had preordered the Glengoyne 25yo (48%, OB, Sherry Casks, 2014*) which won the Thumbs Up Award. Best Peated Whisky was taken by Benriach 29yo 1984/2014 (50.3%, OB, Peated, Tawny Port Finish, C#4051, 267 Bts.) and G&M soaked up the Best Sherried Whisky: Glen Grant 59yo 1955/2014 (60.8%, Gordon & MacPhail Book of Kells for LMDW, 1st Fill Sherry Hogshead C#845)
In the premium section Kavalan dominated with a stellar performance capturing 3 of the 5 awards
Supreme Winner: Kavalan ‘Solist’ (57.8%, OB, NAS, Sherry Cask C#S060904031, 516 Bts., 2014)
Best Sherried Whisky: Kavalan ‘Solist’ (57.8%, OB for LMDW, NAS, Sherry Cask C#S060821047, 497 Bts., 2014
Best Peated Whisky: Kavalan 2007/2014 ‘Peaty Cask’ (55%, OB, Distillery Reserve No. 04459)
Bowmore 13yo 2001/2014 (57.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Hogshead C#20066, 292 Bts.)and Glenrothes 7yo 2007/2014 (66.7%, Adelphi, 1st Fill Sherry Hogshead C#3529, 320 Bts.) took the honors for best natural casks and Thumbs up award respectively
The daily dram section had a few smiles and a few raised brows. This section really matters to me as some of the whiskies are actually available in India and not always a fantasy like the other categories
Lagavulin 16 OB had thumbs up from me for a long time so the award was not a surprise but a smile. The Inchmurrin (54.7%, Boutique-y Whisky Co., NAS, 543 Bts., 2014*) from Loch Lomond was a surprise to me. Smoking Islay (60.5%, Blackadder Raw Cask, NAS, Sherry Finish C#BA2013/452, 325 Bts., 2013) was the best peated daily dram & the supreme winner for this class.All brows were raised for best Sherried Whisky: Nantou 5yo 2009/2014 (58%, OB, Sherry Cask C#852, 246 Bts.) Another surprise from Taiwan!
I was very surprised to see some of the traditional big guns not making the cut, but I guess we will never know. Amrut or Paul John not featuring in the top line was a bit of a disappointment for me, Amrut did have three listings but not a performance that we have started to expect. Like all fanatics I do have a grouse with these set of awards, the most important one for me is the fact that all the entries are not listed, which basically means that we don’t know the winners were up against. Apart from the difference opinion this group has maintained its respectability of being one of the most influential and independent competitions for the year at the same time being extremely diverse.