Top 10 award-winning Scotch whiskiesBy Kate Malczewski
The 2021 Scotch Whisky Masters showcased some top-tier expressions – but which ones left a lasting impression on our judges? We reveal 10 of the best from our recent blind tasting.
While the Scotch whisky category has faced challenges in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic and tariffs over the past year, our blind-tasting competition, held last month (May), demonstrated producers’ unwavering commitment to quality.
In keeping with Covid-19 measures, the tasting was held remotely via Zoom, with samples labelled anonymously and shipped to our judges’ homes by Wine Sorted.
The Spirits Business editor Melita Kiely chaired the competition. She was joined by judges Billy Abbott, ambassador for The Whisky Exchange; and Matt Chambers and Karen Taylor, co‐founders of the Whisky for Everyone blog.
The panel awarded a large number of Master, Gold and Silver medals to worthy whiskies spanning regions, styles and age statements.
Click through to the following pages to discover 10 Scotch whiskies that took home Master medals in our latest blind-tasting competition.
Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old
Price: £360 (US$503.50) per 700ml
Distell turned our judges’ heads with its Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old bottling, scoring a Master medal in the Single Malt: Islay – Aged between 19‐30 Years category and ultimately taking home the coveted Taste Master title.
With a strong Sherry influence, the expression has an ABV of 46.3%. The judging panel applauded its complexity, noting “lots of forest floor rancio and gentle spice”.
The Bunnahabhain distillery was founded in 1881, though it has closed and reopened multiple times in its history, and was acquired by Distell in 2014. Earlier this year, Brendan McCarron was named master distiller of the South African drinks group’s Scotch whisky portfolio.
MacNair’s Lum Reek 21 Years Old
Price: £125 (US$175) per 700ml
GlenAllachie Distillers Company earned top marks in the Blended Malt – Aged between 19‐30 Years category for MacNair’s Lum Reek 21 Years Old.
At 48% ABV, the whisky is a blend of peated Speyside and Islay malts aged in oloroso Sherry, red wine and virgin oak casks.
Our judges praised the expression for its notes of “spiced breads and cake batter with a swirl of apple sauce”.
Abbott commented: “The wonder of a blended malt is the ability to look outside of single characters. This is whisky that does that very well; it brings together different ideas in harmony.”
Tomatin Decades II
Price: £175 (US$245) per 700ml
The sole sample in the Single Malt: Highlands & Islands – Ultra Premium flight, Tomatin Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky’s Decades II expression wowed our panel with its “intriguing nose”, gaining a Master medal.
On the palate, judges found “floral notes on top and rich fruit compote running through the middle”, for an overall “soft and complex” effect.
The 46% ABV single malt brings together whiskies from a selection of ex-Bourbon, ex-Sherry and re-charred French oak casks from the last 50 years, showcasing the ‘historical diversity of the Tomatin portfolio’. Only 3,600 bottles were produced.
Price: £59.10 (US$83) per 700ml
In the Blended Malt – Ultra Premium category of whiskies priced at £51 and over, Douglas Laing & Co was awarded a Master medal for its Big Peat bottling.
Our judging panel found notes of “apple and malt” on the nose and “punchy peat” on the palate, along with “honey, lemon zest, seaweed” and “oat biscuits”.
The 46% ABV spirit contains whiskies from the Bowmore, Coal Ila, Ardbeg and Port Ellen distilleries.
Glen Scotia 25 Years Old
Price: £400 (US$559) per 700ml
Loch Lomond Group secured a Master award for Glen Scotia 25 Years Old among the Single Malt: Campbeltown – Aged between 19‐30 Years category.
On the nose, judges uncovered notes of “honeycomb, malt and gingerbread”. The palate was “delicious” thanks to its flavours of “peach/apricot, golden syrup” and “great oak spices to add balance and late tropical fruits”.
At 48.8% ABV, the single malt was aged in American oak and finished in a first-fill Bourbon cask.
The Glen Scotia distillery was founded in 1832 and acquired by Loch Lomond Group in 2014.
Deanston 18 Years Old
Price: £63 (US$88) per 700ml
Distell rocked the Single Malt: Highlands & Islands – Aged between 13‐18 Years category with Deanston 18 Years Old.
Abbott commented: “This was juicy and fruity on the nose, with a soft and sweet palate. Layers of tropical fruit and custard tart.”
Bottled at 46.3% ABV, the whisky was matured in first-fill Bourbon casks. The expression joined the producer’s range in 2015.
Deanston started its life as a cotton mill, and was converted into a distillery in 1965.
Highland Park 21 Years Old 2020 Release
Price: £230 (US$322) per 700ml
Edrington’s Highland Park 21 Years Old claimed a Master among the whiskies in the Single Malt: Highlands & Islands – Aged between 19-30 Years flight.
Our panel enjoyed its “marzipan” aromas and noted its “rich and voluptuous” palate, which boasted “walnut skin bitterness, heather floral, toffee apples and dried apricot”.
Crafted on Orkney, the 46% ABV release blends spirits from three types of casks: first-fill, Sherry-seasoned hogsheads; refill casks; and Bourbon casks.
53.322 – Carpe Diem
Price: £450 (US$629) per 700ml
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society gained a Master medal among the Single Malt: Islay – Single Cask whiskies for its 53.322 – Carpe Diem expression.
This distinctive release earned praise for its “intense fruitiness, with mint, menthol and medicinal peat”.
Distilled on 18 April 1989, the liquid was aged in an ex-Sherry butt for 30 years before bottling, and comes in at 51.7% ABV.
Glen Marnoch Bourbon Cask Single Malt
Price £24.96 (US$35) per 700ml
In the Single Malt: Speyside – Standard flight, Aldi Australia picked up a Master medal for Glen Marnoch Bourbon Cask Single Malt.
Our panel deemed the supermarket chain’s bottling excellent value for money, and found its palate to be “soft and fruity”, “with a grassy finish”.
The whisky has an ABV of 40%.
The Glenturret 12 Years Old (2020 Maiden Release)
Price: £60 (US$84) per 700ml
The Glenturret scored a Master award among the Single Malt: Highlands & Islands – Super‐Premium whiskies with its 12 Years Old (2020 Maiden Release) bottling.
Aged in European oak, the expression sits at 46% ABV. Our tasters deemed it “rich and bold, with layers of treacle, tropical fruits, sweet baking spices and oaky polish woodiness”.
The Glenturret claims the title of Scotland’s oldest working distillery, and has been in operation for 250 years.