The Irish Whiskey Masters 2023 results
Irish whiskey has become a forceful player on the global stage, with various categories offering impressive expressions.
As the world began to reopen in 2022 following global lockdowns, Ireland enjoyed an influx of visitors – with many flocking to whiskey distilleries. Whiskey tourism in Ireland spiked by 425% last year, as 677,000 visitors headed to Irish whiskey distilleries – a positive recovery, although still some way off from the peak of 1.02 million seen in 2019.
The rapid rise of Irish whiskey in the past decade has inarguably helped the category increase its popularity worldwide. New distilleries are springing into action both north and south of the border, and new products are being launched regularly.
With so much choice on the market, creating an award-winning brand name is one way to ensure consumers pay attention to what you have to offer.
A day of tasting
So, to put the category to the test, judges gathered at Merchant House in London for a day of tasting. Alan Uresti, head of mixology at Annabel’s Mayfair, London, sat on the first panel alongside Nuno Fecha, head bartender at Merchant House. They were joined by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business and chair of The Global Masters Competitions (GSMC), who chaired the group.
A second team consisted of Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business. She chaired spirits educator Antony Moss and Claire Filer, of Ginesthesia.
Evan Prousaefs, head bartender at London’s Sexy Fish, led a panel that included Mark Jennings, marketer and whisky writer, and Nick Larsson-Bell, senior buyer – spirits and beer at Harvey Nichols.
Toshio Ueno, vice-president and executive instructor at Sake School of America formed a panel with Joyce Chou, WSET translation project manager, and Marie Cheong Thong, food-and-beverage educator, who chaired the group.
Tobias Gorn, co-founder and senior partner at the International Drinks Specialists, chaired a fifth panel. Judging alongside him were Dan Greifer, manager of The Proofing Room, and Ruchira Neotia, drinks experience consultant for Darjeeling Express in London.
Matt Chambers, whisky and spirits writer, and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog, chaired a team consisting of: Renata Ma, of Grain & Glass, and a whisky specialist; and Herchelle Perez Terrado, founder of Drinks Partnership.
The final team was made up of David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo, who chaired Keegan Menezes, independent rum consultant, and Julia Nourney, independent spirits consultant.
The tasting began with a flight of Blended – Standard whiskeys, priced up to £30 (US$39). A trio of Gold medals were celebrated: “approachable with gentle spice and sweetness” Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition; “bold and big with lovely texture” Powers Gold Label; and “savoury, herbal and easy to drink” Ha’Penny Four Cask. Eight Silver medals made for a strong start to the competition. Kiely said: “These were good entry-level whiskeys, and decent for the price point.”
The next flight, Blended – Premium (£31-£45), saw a correlation between the increase in price and a distinct rise in quality. Four Master medals were celebrated in this round. The first was awarded to Tullamore Dew Caribbean Rum Cask Finish. Tasting notes included a “floral, fruity nose” leading to a “balanced, fresh palate, with apples and pears, and vanilla custard”.
Pearse Lyons 7 Years Distillers Choice also collected a Master medal, for its “malty, Sherry, caramelised sugar” notes, with a “nutty, bright, zingy finish”.
McConnell’s Irish Whiskey Sherry Cask was found to be deserving of a Master medal, after presenting notes of “autumn forest floor, Sherry, wet casks and a balanced, rounded long finish”. The fourth Master medal went to Teeling Small Batch, which had aromas of “fresh stone fruit and apples” on the nose, with some “chilli and seaweed to freshen the palate”.
Two Gold medals and five Silvers were also dished out in this round.
Teeling continued its Master medal streak in the following Blended – Ultra Premium (£60-plus) round. The whiskey maker’s Teeling Explorers Mugi Shochu secured a Master medal in this flight after the judges enjoyed its “sweet, creamy and fresh” aroma. The palate was described as having tastes of “vanilla and butterscotch with a hint of green apple and peach”.
Ten more medals completed the flight, equally split between Gold and Silver awards. Writers’ Tears Inniskillin Icewine Cask was among the Gold-standard whiskeys, enjoyed for its “tropical fruit, orange peel” notes and “sweet, long finish”. “This was a clear step up from the previous flight, with plenty of chocolate and tropical notes coming through, but there was a clear theme throughout the flight,” said Perez Terrado.
With the blended whiskey rounds done and dusted, it was time to assess the single malts by price point, starting with those priced up to £40. A Gold medal was awarded to “big fruity” Spanish Earl Irish Whiskey.
The premium single malts (£41-£60) delivered four more Gold medals, plus two Master winners. Ballykeefe Single Malt Irish Whiskey was awarded a Master medal for its “lovely texture, delicious spice and caramel sweetness”. Knappogue Castle 14 also secured a Master award for its “lovely depth and complexity”, with “jammy fruits, a little icing sugar sweetness and woody spice”.
In the super-premium contingent, single malts priced between £61 and £90 were assessed – and four entrants were deemed to meet the Gold standard. Gold-worthy Connacht Single Malt Irish Whiskey Distillery Exclusive was found to taste of “toffee, roasted nuts and liquorice”. Cheong Thong said: “Gorgeously complex finish with balanced warm sweetness, and acidity to make this a fantastic experience.”
Teeling took home another Master medal in the top price bracket: Single Malt – Ultra Premium, comprising whiskeys priced at £91 and above. Teeling Rising Reserve 2 delivered a “lovely maltiness” with a “dryness on the palate – quite an unusual point of difference with some citrus notes. A great whiskey that is complex and well balanced.”
Ten Gold medals were also discovered at this price point, including The Irishman 22 Years Old. Tasting notes included “sugary peach and grilled very ripe banana, with a hint of saline/umami”.
As the tasting progressed to single grain Irish whiskeys, starting with a standard flight of whiskeys costing up to £30. Great Earl Irish Whiskey collected a Silver medal with “late warming spice”.
The Single Grain – Premium segment, featuring whiskeys priced between £31 and £45, saw one Master medal, three Gold medals, and a Silver being awarded. The Master medal went to Method and Madness Single Grain. It was praised for notes of “vanilla, sweet muscovado sugar on the nose”, which made way for “stone fruit, juicy peach and apricot, a hint of pineapple and good cereal structure” on the palate.
“It is great to see this category growing. We had some decent examples of grain whiskeys,” said Chambers. “This can only continue, which is great.”
A pair of Gold medals were discovered in the Single Grain – Ultra Premium round, priced from £60 upwards. “Rich, oily” Teeling 15 Years Old Single Grain and “popcorn-forward” Clan Colla 7 Years Old Single Grain Panamanian Rum Finish were the two Gold recipients.
The single pot still styles got the judges particularly excited about what the Irish whiskey category has to offer. A Master medal was awarded to Powers Three Swallow Release in the Single Pot Still – Standard heat (up to £40). Smith noted “bright fruity notes of strawberry or raspberry and cream” on the nose, before discovering “a rich mouthfeel, some tropical fruit notes” on the palate.
The standard only improved as the judges moved up a price point to single pot still whiskey priced from £41-£60 in the premium segment. Green Spot Chateau Montelena made the Master cut, with tastes of “sweet raspberry ripple ice cream, grain, malt and warm spices” and “exceptional texture”.
Skellig Triple Cask Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – Six18 Step Collection also bagged a Master medal. On the nose, the whiskey presented notes of “sweet nectarine and some fresh grains”, with “tart citrus, peach and oak” on the palate.
Redbreast Lustau Edition was also found to be an exceptional dram, with its “full-bodied” palate. “The spirit and the cask shine through brilliantly, a true classic,” Prousaefs enthused.
Eight Gold medals made for a particularly strong round, with medals awarded to the likes of: Powers John’s Lane, with its “warming spice” notes; “well-balanced, sweet and gently spicy” Jameson Single Pot Still; and Teeling Single Pot Still, with notes of “heather honey and spice”.
Another flight of Gold and Master-deserving single pot still whiskeys followed, each priced between £61 and £90. Blue Spot and Redbreast 12 Cask Strength both secured Master medals, with the former celebrated for “dried fruit and grain, and clever balance”. Redbreast 21 Cask Strength boasted a “powerful” profile while not being “overwhelming”, and offering notes of “baked apple and malt”. The six Gold winners included Garden County Single Pot Still Single Cask #2204, described as “big and grassy with plenty of tropical fruit notes”.
Nourney noted: “While some of these Irish pot still whiskeys might be expensive, sought-after expressions, the scores of this competition speak another language.”
At the top end of the single pot still price tier, ultra-premium (£91 and above) Redbreast 27 Years Old shone, securing not only a Master medal but going on to win the coveted Irish Whiskey Taste Master accolade following a retaste of the Master winners from the day. Chambers was full of praise for the whiskey: “Deliciously fruity and sweet on the nose, red fruits and raisins with a hint of cereal spice. So much depth and complexity, milk chocolate and cocoa, a hint of marzipan and evolving nuttiness – an absolute stunner.” Three Gold medals and a solid Silver were also awarded in this round.
Fruitiness on the palate
Pearse Lyons Distillery submitted its Pearse Lyons Pot Still spirit into the New Make round, receiving a Gold medal for the liquid. The judges liked its “fruity aroma with some bready notes, leading to pear drops and more fruitiness on the palate”.
Being “interestingly fresh with a new-make nose” resulted in a Gold medal for Mad March Hare in the Poitín flight. “Seriously complex with good peppery notes and a clean finish,” added Chou.
In the closing round, Flavoured Irish Whiskey, a Silver medal was bestowed upon Jameson Cold Brew. The judges enjoyed notes of “spent coffee grains” and “soft sweetness, with a touch of bitter cocoa”.
Perez Terrado noted how several flights represented a true “celebration of Irishness, with superb quality”. Looking at the medals awarded in The Irish Whiskey Masters 2023, she’s not wrong.
|Blended – Standard|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Powers Gold Label||Gold|
|Pearse Lyons Distillery||Ha’Penny Four Cask||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Triple Triple||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Irish Whiskey||Silver|
|William Grant & Sons||Tullamore Dew Original||Silver|
|Kinsale Spirits||Red Earl Irish Whiskey||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Powers Rye||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Crested||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition||Silver|
|Reminisce Drinks||Reminisce Irish Blended Whiskey||Silver|
|Blended – Premium|
|William Grant & Sons||Tullamore Dew Caribbean Rum Cask Finish||Master|
|Pearse Lyons Distillery||Pearse Lyons 7 Years Distillers Choice||Master|
|Belfast Distillery Company||McConnell’s Irish Whisky Sherry Cask Finish||Master|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Small Batch||Master|
|Belfast Distillery Company||McConnell’s Irish Whisky||Gold|
|William Grant & Sons||Tullamore Dew 12 Years Old Special Reserve||Gold|
|Sláinte Brands||Slainte Irish Whiskey Smooth Blend||Silver|
|Skellig Distillers||Skellig Small Batch Irish Whiskey PX Sherry Cask Finish||Silver|
|Sláinte Brands||Sláinte Irish Whiskey Smooth Blend||Silver|
|Drinksology Kirker Greer||Kirker Shamrock Whiskey||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Black Barrel||Silver|
|Blended – Ultra Premium|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Explorers Mugi Shochu||Master|
|Walsh Whiskey||Writers’ Tears Inniskillin Icewine Cask||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||The Jameson Anthology 2.0||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Bow Street 18 Years||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Midleton Very Rare 2023||Gold|
|Ahascragh Distillers||Clan Colla 11 Years Old Blend||Gold|
|Walsh Whiskey||Writers’ Tears Japanese Cask Finish||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Method and Madness Rye and Malt||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Method and Madness Oats and Malt||Silver|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson 18 Years||Silver|
|Egan’s Irish Whiskey||Egan’s Conviction||Silver|
|Single Malt – Standard|
|Kinsale Spirits||Spanish Earl Irish Whiskey||Gold|
|Single Malt – Premium|
|Ballykeefe Distillery||Ballykeefe Single Malt Irish Whiskey||Master|
|Irish Distillers||Knappogue Castle 14||Master|
|Irish Distillers||Knappogue Castle 12||Gold|
|Egan’s Irish Whiskey||Egan’s Endeavour||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Blackpitts Peated Single Malt||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Single Malt||Gold|
|Single Malt – Super Premium|
|Irish Distillers||Method and Madness Single Malt||Gold|
|The Connacht Whiskey Company||Connacht Single Malt Irish Whiskey Distillery Exclusive||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Blackpitts Cask Strength||Gold|
|Pearse Lyons Distillery||Pearse Lyons – Genesis Release||Gold|
|Single Malt – Ultra Premium|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Rising Reserve 2||Master|
|Walsh Whiskey||The Irishman 17 Years Old||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Distillery Exclusive 17 Years Old Single Malt Cognac Cask||Gold|
|Walsh Whiskey||The Irishman 22 Years Old||Gold|
|William Grant & Sons||Tullamore Dew 18 Years Old Single Malt||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Rising Reserve 1||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Knappogue Castle 21||Gold|
|William Grant & Sons||Tullamore Dew 14 Years Old Single Malt||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Knapppogue Castle 16||Gold|
|The Connacht Whiskey Company||Connacht Single Malt Irish Whiskey Spirit of the Atlantic||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Crystal Malt||Gold|
|Single Grain – Standard|
|Kinsale Spirits||Great Earl Irish Whiskey||Silver|
|Single Grain – Premium|
|Irish Distillers||Method and Madness Single Grain||Master|
|Glendalough Distillery||Glendalough Double Barrel||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Single Grain||Gold|
|The Connacht Whiskey Company||Ballyhoo||Gold|
|The Connacht Whiskey Company||Straw Boys||Silver|
|Single Grain – Ultra Premium|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling 15 Years Old Single Grain||Gold|
|Ahascragh Distillers||Clan Colla 7 Years Old Single Grain Panamanian Rum Finish||Gold|
|Single Pot Still – Standard|
|Irish Distillers||Powers Three Swallow Release||Master|
|Single Pot Still – Premium|
|Irish Distillers||Green Spot Chateau Montelena||Master|
|Skellig Distillers||Skellig Triple Cask Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – Six18 Step Collection||Master|
|Irish Distillers||Redbreast Lustau Edition||Master|
|Irish Distillers||Redbreast 12 Years Old||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Green Spot||Gold|
|Glendalough Distillery||Glendalough Pot Still Irish Whiskey||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Green Spot Leoville Barton||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Powers John’s Lane||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Single Pot Still||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Single Pot Still||Gold|
|Ballykeefe Distillery||Ballykeefe Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey||Gold|
|Single Pot Still – Super Premium|
|Irish Distillers||Blue Spot||Master|
|Irish Distillers||Redbreast 12 Cask Strength||Master|
|Garden County Distillery||Garden County Single Pot Still Single Cask #2201||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Redbreast 15 Years Old||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Wonders Of Wood 3||Gold|
|Teeling Whiskey||Teeling Wonders Of Wood 3||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Yellow Spot||Gold|
|Garden County Distillery||Garden County Single Pot Still Single Cask #2204||Gold|
|Single Pot Still – Ultra Premium|
|Irish Distillers||Redbreast 27 Years Old||Master & Taste Master|
|Irish Distillers||Redbreast 21 Years Old||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Red Spot||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Midleton Very Rare Barry Crockett Legacy||Gold|
|Irish Distillers||Method and Madness Garryana Oak||Silver|
|Pearse Lyons Distillery||Pearse Lyons Pot Still||Gold|
|Intrepid Spirits||Mad March Hare||Gold|
|Flavoured Irish Whiskey|
|Irish Distillers||Jameson Cold Brew||Silver|