The Best Single Malt Scotch Whiskies According To New York International Spirits Competition
Each spring, the New York International Spirits Competition (NYISC) conducts an annual judging of spirits. The competition is unusual in that it is one of the few competitions that relies entirely on judges drawn exclusively from the beverage trade.
The NYISC is one of 10 different competitions that include, among others, the New York International Wine Competition, the Berlin International Spirits Competition and the Melbourne International Beer Competition.
The competition, as the name suggests, has a strong New York focus. Many of the spirits judged are already being distributed on the East Coast, although according to Levy, the competition has increasingly been used by beverage companies to evaluate the pricing, packaging and positioning of spirit expressions they are planning to introduce into the US market.
This year, there still was a total of 1,400 entrants judged.
The NYISC gives out awards for Distillery of the Year by Scotch producing region. It also gives out awards for best single malts across several age categories and awards medals to the top entrants. The highest medal given out is the Double Gold. This year there were four Scotch whiskies that won Double Gold: Ardbeg Uigeadail, Glenmorangie Signet, Oban 14 YO and Talisker 10 YO.
Ardbeg Uigeadail, NAS, 54% ABV, 750 ml, $79
Uigeadail is a double matured Islay whisky, which according to the company, “marries Ardbeg’s traditional deep, smoky notes with luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry” casks.” The combination of Islay’s traditional smoky whisky and the sweet dried fruit notes obtained from sweet wine casks has always been a winning formula on Islay, and has been replicated in dozens of expressions.
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The official tasting notes of the judging panel described the whisky as a,
… a deep amber liquid with long oily legs. The nose is filled with a hearty mix of tobacco and leather. Peat has a strong presence with hints of sea salt as it lays well on the tongue.
Glenmorangie Signet, NAS, 46% ABV, 750 ml, $250
This is one of the core expressions in the Glenmorangie range. Signet is produced from two different types of malted barley. One portion is a single farm grown barley from Glenmorangie’s Cadboll estate. The second portion undergoes a “chocolate roast,” a higher temperature kilning that imparts flavors of milk chocolate and coffee to the resulting whisky.
The whisky does not carry an age statement, but it includes whiskies up to 40 years old in the blend. This is a superb whisky that combines notes of chocolate, dried fruit, candied citrus peel and bread pudding notes into a layered, complex, absolutely stunning whisky at a very affordable price.
The official tasting notes of the judging panel described the whisky as having:
A dark amber hue signaling its years in the cask. Light floral with dark fruit in the nose followed by a well layered oily presence on the palate with dark sugar on the edges and a full-bodied finish.
Oban, 14 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $75
Oban is one of the few urban distilleries left in Scotland. Once a quaint fishing village on the shores of the Sound of Kerrera, the distillery has found itself in the center of a bustling town and resort community that has grown up around it.
Oban whisky is very different from many of its West Highland kin. It’s only lightly peated, and it undergoes an exceptionally long fermentation. Its seaside maturation imparts a slightly maritime savoriness. The result is a creamy, fruity whisky with hints of smoke and a salty sea breeze.
The official tasting notes from the judging panel described the whisky as,
A well-balanced Highlands Scotch with a light sweetness and smoke in the nose. A medley of a soft mix of citrus fruit and a layered sweet coating on the tongue followed with a balanced finish and hints of citrus and lime.
Talisker, 10 YO, 45.8% ABV, 750 ml, $60
This is a classic whisky from the Island of Skye. It was prominently featured in Diageo’s Classic Malts Collection as a quintessential example of a West Highlands malt. It combines a prominent smoky peat note, with fresh fruit, cooked cereal notes and a tangy salty note. It has a distinctive cracked black pepper note on the nose that is always an unmistakable marker for Talisker.
The official tasting notes from the judging panel described the whisky as offering:
Hints of peak and smokiness on the nose without the impact of an Islay whisky. Spice and the sea are present in your mouth with a spicy medium finish.
In addition to the Double Gold medalists, the NYISC also recognizes outstanding distilleries in some of Scotland’s key producing areas.
Ardbeg was chosen as the Islay Distillery of the Year; Glenkinchie was picked the Lowland Distillery of the year and Glen Moray, received the Speyside honors as Cask Finish Distillery of the Year.
Awards were also given for Best 10 YO single malt to Talisker (Islands); Speyburn (Speyside) and Ardbeg (Islay). As noted above, Talisker also received a Double Gold medal for its 10 YO expression.
The Speyburn 10 was described by the judging panel as:
A fine medley of baked apple and orange on the nose. Dried herbs and a lingering soft sweetness when in the mouth with a light oak finish
There were also several single malts singled out for exceptional quality. The Singleton of Glendullan, 15 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $50 took the award for the Best 15 YO Single Malt. The Singleton is actually three separate brands: The Singleton of Glendullan, the Singleton of Glen Ord, and the Singleton of Dufftown. All three brands are produced at the Singleton distillery in Dufftown, and all three have their own core ranges and special bottlings.
What is unusual about The Singleton is that each of the three brands has a specific geographic area where it’s sold: Glendullan is sold in North America, Dufftown is reserved for Europe and Glen Ord is exclusive to Asia. Diageo, the brand’s owner and the largest Scotch whisky producer on the planet, has announced plans to make The Singleton, in all of its three forms combined, the best-selling single malt whisky in the world.
The official tasting note from the judging panel described the Singleton of Glendullan 15 YO as having:
Citrus and hints of lemon are on the nose. Vanilla and baked fruit lay in the mouth with a light coating of vanilla followed by a balanced finish with lingering vanilla notes.
GlenAllachie, 15 YO, 46% ABV, 750 ml, $95 took similar honors as the Best Single Malt from Speyside. Both distilleries are based in Speyside.
The official tasting note from the judging panel described the GlenAllachie 15 YO as,
Dark color sherry cask finish with toasted nuts and chocolate on the nose. Winter spices with sherry notes and walnut coat the tongue with a balanced finish and hints of the sea.
Aberlour, 16 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $80, another Speyside icon, won the Best 16 YO Speyside single malt. The official tasting notes of the judging panel described it as:
A welcoming amber liquid with raisin and nuts on the nose. Floral and dried dark fruit on the tongue with a balanced long finish with a soft layer of honey.
Lagavulin, 16 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $109 took the award for Best 16 YO Single Malt from Islay. The distillery, among the best known in the world, is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay, although its history of distillation activity reaches much further back than its official start date.
The official tasting notes of the judging panel describe the Lagavulin 16 YO as,
Smoke and peat and iodine fill the nose that reflect its Islay character. Well layered with dark fruit and sherry with a mild oak layering followed by a long smoky peaty finish with a soft presence of vanilla.
Glenmorangie took home the award for The Best 18 YO Single Malt. The Glenmorangie 18 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $109 is part of Glenmorangie’s Prestige Range. This particular expression spends 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels before 30% is transferred to Oloroso Sherry butts. The balance continues maturing in ex-bourbon casks. After 18 years the two liquids are blended together and, after being allowed to marry, are bottled. The result is a “thick, creamy and fruity” single malt whisky.
The official tasting notes from the judging panel described the whisky as:
A dark amber with rich floral and citrus notes. The well bodied liquid with citrus and honey layers lay on the tongue with hints of oak and brown sugar on the long finish.
The award for the Best 20 YO Single Malt went to another legendary Scotch whisky: Mortlach, 20 YO, 43.4% ABV, 750 ml, $250. Mortlach is one of the few distilleries that still operates worm coils instead of the modern clam shell condensers. The distillery has six stills, all of which have a unique shape. In addition, the distillery uses a small still, nicknamed the wee witchy, in which the heads and tails of prior distillation runs are redistilled. Since a portion of the wash is distilled two and a portion is distilled three times, the distillery claims that it distills its whisky exactly 2.81 times.
The use of worm coil condensers limits the amount of copper contact the vapor receives, resulting in notable meaty aromas of bacon fat and raw steak. The result is a robust, powerfully flavored, whisky that noted spirits writer Dave Broom has nicknamed the Beast of Dufftown.
According to the official tasting note submitted by the judging panel, the whisky exhibits:
Whiffs of tobacco and dark chocolate and berries are found in the nose. Orange peel and oak lay on the tongue with winter spices on top of the medium finish.
The Blended Scotch Whisky of the Year was Insurrection Single Grain Scotch, 25 YO, 55% ABV, 750 ml, $299. A single grain Scotch whisky is not a Scotch whisky from a single grain but rather a grain whisky, typically from multiple grains, i.e., a blended whisky, from a single distillery. In this case Insurrection comes from a now closed Lowland distillery.
The name is a reference to the Catholic Insurrection in England in the early sixteenth century that attempted to topple Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with her half-sister, Mary Queen of Scots. The plot failed, Mary was eventually beheaded and Queen Elizabeth endured. A total of 228 bottles were released.
The official tasting notes from the judging panel describe the whisky as:
Summer grass and dark sweets are on the nose. Citrus and dark fruit lay on the mouth with a soft awareness of oak that continues on the balanced finish with a light layering of vanilla
This years NYISC judging highlighted several well-known Scotch whisky expressions. Sometimes the familiar is the hardest to appreciate. All of these whiskies, with the exception of Insurrection, are well known, relatively easy to find and reasonably affordable. If you maintain a whisky bar – all are must have expressions. If it’s been a while since you’ve tasted them, then you owe it to yourself to taste them again for the first time.
Published at Sat, 15 May 2021 12:28:10 +0000