The Scotch Whisky Masters 2018 results

11th June, 2018 by Amy Hopkins

The Scotch Whisky Masters is always a hotly fought competition, and this year’s was no exception. The Spirits Business reports on a tasting that had an impressive number of entrants, 19 of which went away with the ultimate accolade.

For a spirit that, according to law, can contain nothing more than cereals, water, yeast and caramel colouring, Scotch whisky is incredibly diverse. Factors such as the style of stills, region of production, alcoholic strength, cask type and time of maturation all have an impact on the distinctive character of the final liquid. Producers are exploring the minutiae of the category to innovate even more – yeast and barley strains, fermentation time and cask environment are just a few of the ways they are pushing the boundaries of flavour in Scotch whisky.

As new legal-­drinking­-age consumers become curious about whisky, and as the American, Irish and Asian contingent vie for mindshare, it’s more vital than ever that in addition to having a point of difference, Scotch distillers put only exemplary liquid onto the market. Of course, such a requirement is not reserved for only higher-­end expressions – drinkers demand quality across the board.

It was the mission of The Scotch Whisky Masters 2018 to assess drams spanning all regions, varieties, ages and prices on the quality of the liquid alone. A group of judges gathered at Boisdale in Canary Wharf, London, to take part in a blind tasting that resulted in 19 coveted Master medals being awarded.

The first round of the day, Blended – No Age Statement, was an impressive one, resulting in two Master winners from the same label: Ballantine’s Hard Fired and Ballantine’s Limited. It was judged by a panel chaired by Karen Taylor, founder and writer, Whisky For Everyone, and consisting of: Nick Bell, retail general manager, Amathus Drinks; Jason B. Standing, whisky influencer and events organiser; and Elise Craft, coordinator, Whisky Squad.

The panel described both Ballantine’s Master winners as “classy” whiskies that demonstrated “the ideal standard of this category”. Individual tasting notes for Ballantine’s Hard Fired included “fudge and nougat”, while Ballantine’s Limited was praised for its flavour of “toffee, milk chocolate and praline”. A further seven Golds were awarded in the flight, along with five Silvers, making it one of the day’s strongest.

Attention then turned to age­-statement blends, starting with those aged up to 12 years. This flight was assessed by: chair Billy Abbott, content and training manager, The Whisky Exchange; Nagesh Balusu, general manager, Salt Whisky Bar and Dining Room; and Jolyon Dunn, fine and rare broker, Milroy’s of Soho. The tasters were impressed by the “variation and different styles in the category”, awarding three Golds and four Silvers. The Gold medallists were: Scots Gold 12 Year Old (said to have flavours of treacle and mahogany); Chivas Regal 12 Year Old (boiled sweets and pears); and Aldi’s own-label Highland Black 8 Year Old Scotch Whisky (heather, strawberry leaf, lemon oil). “We had a few stand­outs, especially regarding balance of flavour,” said Dunn.

Moving into older territory, the next round to be assessed was Blended – Aged 13­-18 Years, which came under the scrutiny of Taylor’s team. Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years walked away with a Gold after winning plaudits for its “complex and well balanced” character, while fellow Gold medallist Ballantine’s 17 Year Old was deemed “sweet and floral”, with notes of “orchard fruit”. Chivas Regal 18 Year Old also impressed and bagged Silver. “It’s easy to get obsessed by single malts, but this is a great place to experience a range of flavours,” Taylor said of the blended entrants.

Success followed in the next age-­statement bracket for the blends, with one Gold bestowed on Blended Whisky #3 23 Year Old by That Boutique­y Whisky Company (TBWC) and one Silver awarded to Ballantine’s 30 Year Old. The whiskies were assessed by a panel chaired by Tobias Gorn, wine, whisky and cigar buyer at Boisdale; with Gary Kelly, from the Gap Whisky Society; Derek Millar, retired whisky retailer; and Jamie Dimock, whisky blogger.

In the final age-­statement flight for blended Scotch whiskies, another Master­-worthy dram was discovered: Blended Whisky #1 50 Year Old – Batch 7 by TBWC. “A danger with these kind of whiskies is a loss of depth of flavour, becoming light on the palate. This one was robust and intense but married together very well,” said Dunn, who judged the expression on Abbott’s panel. “It does everything you’d want for a whisky of this kind,” added Abbott.

Then, on to the blended whiskies assessed on price, starting with Blended – Standard. These were tasted by a panel chaired by Nicola Thomson, director, Fifteen71, and consisting of: Joe Boxall, group bars manager, Boisdale; and Alessandro Geraci, assistant bar manager, Aqua Shard. Golds were awarded across the board, demonstrating that quality is prevailing at the lower end of the price spectrum. For Boxall, Islay Mist Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky was the “pick of the bunch”, with flavours of “caramel and toffee mixed with iodine and TCP”.

The fifth and final panel of the day was chaired by Melita Kiely, deputy editor of The Spirits Business, and included: Jason Vaswani, whisky YouTuber; and Matt McKay, co-founder of thedramble.com. Their first round was Blended – Premium, where three Golds and two Silvers were discovered. McKay observed that all whiskies in the flight were “quite light and refreshing” but also exemplified “different facets of fruit and wood, smoke”. Judges particularly enjoyed the flavours of “honey, peaches and pears” in Compass Box’s Gold medal winner Great King Street Artist’s Blend.

Inching up the price ladder and Dewar’s 15 Year Old The Monarch bagged Gold in the Blended – Super Premium leg of the competition. Another Master was found in the Blended – Ultra Premium flight, judged by Abbott’s team. The Lost Distilleries Blend – Batch 10 received the top accolade for its “complex nose” and “incredible balance”. Golds were also given to Chivas Regal Mizunara and Dewar’s 18 Year Old The Vintage.

“Ultra­-premium often stays a bit safe, but not all of these did that – the category is a great way of opening up blend drinkers to malts and malt drinkers to blends,” observed Abbott. Rounding off the blends was a diminutive Special Edition flight, where “buttery, creamy” Label 5 Premium Black secured a Gold. Then came the Blended Grains, where Scots Gold Red Label won Gold in the Standard sub­section, and Compass Box’s Hedonism received a Master in the Ultra Premium leg. Judges were won over by its “long, delicate and buttery finish”, which followed bright flavours of “sweet coconut and fresh strawberries”.

The first offering from the Blended Malt contingent proved successful, with three NAS Golds. “This was consistent across the nose and palate, with buttery and creamy wheat and honey notes,” Geraci said of Blended Malt #2 – Batch 2 by TBWC. Thomson said of the wider category: “Blended malts are becoming more popular, and the quality is definitely there. Three strong Golds are testament to the fact that the sector is progressing. They even have the ability to take market share from single malts.”

Success continued in the Blended Malt – Aged up to 12 Years flight, which yielded a Master winner: Exotic Cargo Batch #1 from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). “This is a big showy whisky, but it doesn’t go down the expected easy route of massive berry sweetness and sugars,” said McKay. “There’s a depth to it – tobacco, molasses, with wonderful spice – which mean it has so much more to offer.” Batch #2 of the same expression was awarded Gold, along with Macdonald’s Glencoe 8 Years Old Blended Malt, while the famous Johnnie Walker Black Label bagged Silver. Strength among the Blended Malts continued in the Aged 13-­18 Years section, where Rock Oyster 18 Years Old also secured the top honour. Judges delighted in its “savoury” aroma of “chilli and paprika” and flavour of “baked fennel, sweet sherbet and papaya”.

SUCCESSFUL ENTRANTS

The Blended Malts with age statements proved to be some of the most successful entrants of the day, concluding with a Master medal for Blended Malt #3 19 Year Old by TBWC. “This whisky had subtly sweet flavours of crème brûlée, mascarpone and Dr Pepper, which came through beautifully, despite its high abv,” Taylor said. Judges also enjoyed the Master’s stablemate, Blended Malt #1 23 Year Old, giving it a Gold.

Blended malts divided by price came next, with three Silvers in the Standard leg. Elements of Islay Peat (Pure Islay) – with a “delightful seaside character” – secured Gold in the Premium flight and Master-­winner Compass Box’s Oak Cross stole the show in the Blended Malt – Super Premium flight. The whisky was praised for its “deep complexity” and “excellent cask influence”. Before moving into whiskies produced at just one distillery, Thomson’s panel awarded a final Gold to Nectar Grove, in which judges discovered notes of “orange, aniseed and liquorice”.

Single grain is turning into an increasingly popular and respected category in Scotch, known for its lighter, more approachable character. Judges were excited as they dove nose-­first into the whiskies on offer, and they were not disappointed, with one Master and two Golds bestowed in the Single Grain – Aged 19­-30 Years flight. Again, TBWC came top of the pack with its Port Dundas 25 Year Old bottling.

Taylor’s panel loved its “unexpected fragrant character”, identifying notes of “curry banana leaf – similar to a good Riesling – and parma violets”. Taylor enthused: “This was the best category of the day for me. All the whiskies were of an incredible standard.”

TBWC’s success continued in the section of the competition dedicated to the oldest single grains – Aged over 31 Years – where Caledonian 33 Year Old won Gold. “I really loved the nose of coconut­-cream pie and lemon drizzle cake, which became more honeyed on the palate,” enthused Vaswani. In Single Grain – Super Premium, Old Particular Cameronbridge 26 Year Old received Silver.

One of the most closely scrutinised and exuberantly celebrated areas of Scotch whisky came next: single malt. The Campbeltown entrants were the first to step into the spotlight, and started well, with one Gold for Glen Scotia 18 Year Old in the Aged 13-­18 Years grouping. A Silver for Glen Scotia 25 Year Old followed in the Aged 19­30 Years category, while 93.81 bottled by the SMWS secured Gold in the Single Cask flight. Campbeltown may be the smallest of the Scotch whisky regions, but it is clearly not lacking for quality.

A more comprehensive Highlands and Islands representation followed, with three Golds and two Silvers awarded among the NAS whiskies. In particular, Abbott enjoyed the “lovely savoury nose” of Mcdonald’s Traditional Ben Nevis Malt Whisky.

Age­-statement malts from the Highland and Islands came next, resulting in six Gold medal winners that had been matured for no more than 12 years. In Glen Turner 12 Year Old, Bell found notes of “honey, cereal, lime and kiwi”, while at the other end of the flavour spectrum, Deanston 12 Year Old was described as a “big, creamy whisky” with “lots of oak”.

SEASIDE BRINE

Kiely’s panel tackled the Highlands and Islands entrants Aged 13-­18 Years, which had a solid result of two Golds and two Silvers. McKay said of Ledaig 18 Year Old by TBWC: “I love this style. It has a wonderful combination of seaside brine, but with quite a lot of pungency. It’s layered with engine oils, rubber, tar and beef roasting juices. It shouldn’t work, but it does.”

Judges were delighted to discover a Master-worthy whisky in the final bunch of Highland and Islands drams categorised by age: Loch Lomond Island Collection – Inchmoan Vintage 1992. Gorn’s panel loved the medallist’s “long and complex finish”, along with its bold flavours of “bonfire smoke, burnt Demerara sugar, tropical fruit and damson”.

In the Highland and Islands contingent divided by price, two single malts classed as ‘Standard’ were given Silver medals, and the Silver run continued into the Premium flight, where four medals were awarded in total. The Super Premium leg resulted in one Gold for Balblair 2000 Vintage, the nose and palate of which were highly praised.

However, it was at the very top of the pricing tier that judges found the greatest examples of excellence, awarding two Masters to Old Pulteney 25 Years Old and Balblair 1991 Vintage. The first expression was lauded for its “intoxicating nose” and “oily and rich mouthfeel”, with notes of “fresh petals, bay leaf, tamarind spice, mango and vanilla”. The second was described by Thomson’s panel as “well balanced, with incredible acidity”, displaying an “autumnal” character and flavours of “toffee apple, smoke and fennel”.

Two Golds and three Silvers followed in the Single Cask showing of Highlands and Islands whiskies, in which judges found “interesting, weird and wonderful” flavours. Then, in the region’s Special Edition offering, Deanston 2008 Bordeaux Red Wine Cask Matured secured a Master. “This was incredibly well-balanced,” said Balusu. “We rarely get this kind of whisky these days – a lovely cask.”

Rounding off the Highlands and Islands whiskies was Glengoyne Cask Strength (Batch 5), which won Gold in the Cask Strength flight for its moreish palate of “chocolate, raisins and nougat”.

Judges stepped into the land of peat and assessed single malts distilled in Islay. The NAS offering was strong, with one Master, five Golds and two Silvers. The top prize went to Bunnahabhain Cruach­Mhòna, in which judges found notes of “oil, tar, ash, fishcakes, brine and salt”. “This was a solid flight with some real stand­out examples,” observed McKay.

The Master standard continued in the Aged up to 12 Years round, with Port Askaig 8 Year Old taking a Master. Gorn’s panel praised the whisky’s “subtle but assured smoke”. Three Golds followed for expressions from Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman and TBWC.

In the Aged 13­-18 Years Islay representation, three Golds were named, while a Master winner was discovered in the Aged 19­-30 Years bracket – Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old, described by Abbott as “slightly hot” with a “soft and fruity palate” that gave way to a “rancio end”.

The Islay single malts categorised by price opened with a Gold for Aldi’s Glen Marnoch Islay Single Malt and a Silver for Kilchoman Machir Bay. The Masters standard resumed in the Islay Single Cask flight with “fresh and zesty” 3.305 from the SMWS. The society also bagged a Gold and a Silver in the round. “This was a small category but the whiskies had a lot of variation in style and character,” said Abbott. “They went from the new school, with lots of cask manipulation, to the oldschool tropical fruit flavours that are coming back.” The final Islay medallist of the day was Port Askaig 100° Proof, which won Gold in the Cask Strength round.

Judges then turned their attention south for the Lowland contingent, bestowing a Gold on NAS Bladnoch Samsara, Silver on Bladnoch Adela 15 Year Old, Gold on TBWC’s Auchentoshan 25 Year Old, and Gold on 50.96 by the SMWS.

Entrants hailing from Scotch whisky’s most ubiquitous region, Speyside, were saved for the end of the judging process. Chivas Brothers dominated the NAS flight, with three Gold medals for: “spicy and fruity” The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve Small Batch; Longmorn The Distiller’s Choice, with notes of “chopped nuts and muscovado sugar”; and Aberlour A’Bunadh, said to have a flavour of “dried mango and balsamic vinegar”.

(L­-R): Jason Vaswani, Jolyon Dunn, Billy Abbott, Nick Bell, Elise Craft, Gary Kelly, Karen Taylor, Nagesh Balusu, Nicola Thomson, Derek Millar, Alessandro Geraci, Matt McKay, Jamie Dimock, Melita Kiely, Jason B Standing and Tobias Gorn. Not pictured: Joe Boxall

(L­-R): Jason Vaswani, Jolyon Dunn, Billy Abbott, Nick Bell, Elise Craft, Gary Kelly, Karen Taylor, Nagesh Balusu, Nicola Thomson, Derek Millar, Alessandro Geraci, Matt McKay, Jamie Dimock, Melita Kiely, Jason B Standing and Tobias Gorn. Not pictured: Joe Boxall

A Master was given to The Glenlivet 12 Year Old in Speyside Aged up to 12 Years, with judges highlighting its typical Speyside flavours of “vanilla, pear drops, shortbread and orchard fruits”. One Gold and three Silvers were also dished out by Abbott’s team. “Overall this was a good flight, demonstrating what we’d expect from Speyside, with all the traditional characteristics in place,” said Balusu. In Speyside’s higher age brackets, three Golds were named, along with seven Silvers.

Speyside malts segmented according to price followed, kicking off with a Gold for Lidl’s Ben Bracken Speyside Single Malt in the Standard representation. Two Silvers were discovered in the Premium leg, leading to a Master in Super Premium. Old Ballantruan 15 Year Old blew the judges away with its “intriguing nose, balance and complexity”. “This has a big floral nose, with an aroma of violets and fragrant petals,” said Thomson.

Three SMWS whiskies from Speyside took home Golds in the Single Cask leg. The Gold standard continued in the Special Edition round, awarded to Glenfiddich Winter Storm and Tomintoul Five Decades. The final medallist of the day – over the course of which more than 200 whiskies were assessed – was Glenfarclas 105, which took home Gold in the Speyside Cask Strength judging.

In all, the somewhat whisky-­weary judges were heartened by the solid reputation of different regions and prices. “Once again, The Scotch Whisky Masters demonstrated the vast diversity of styles and flavours available in the category,” said Kiely. “But it was also evident that price and age are not necessarily synonymous with ‘better quality’, and it was great to see this reiterated throughout the competition with some delectable, but affordable, whiskies.”

Click through the following pages for the Scotch Whisky Masters 2018 results in full.

One Response to “The Scotch Whisky Masters 2018 results”

  1. julian says:

    interesting results, is there anywhere I can find the full list of entries for classes?

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