The World Whisky Masters 2023 results
Look away from the traditional whisky-making heartlands and consumers can find an exciting array of expressions, as shown by our annual jaunt around the world.
Interest in whisky being made in countries outside of the traditional nations of Scotland, Ireland, and America is flying high. As consumers face price hikes for well-known brands, and deal with tighter purse strings, there are boundless opportunities for drinkers to explore whiskies being made from Asia, Canada, and South Africa, to European countries such as Wales and Denmark.
Whisky is booming globally, too. It is expected to post an increase of 23% in volume and 29% in value by 2026, according to data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, with an increase in activity particularly in its largest global markets, India and the US.
More positive news for the sector also saw Welsh single malts recently gain geographical indication (GI) status in the UK, while English whisky producers have also joined forces to propose a GI for the category.
Around the globe
We put products from around the globe to the test in The World Whisky Masters, sponsored by closures producer Talis, where medals were bestowed upon the best drams made outside of Ireland, Scotland and the US. Held at Merchant House in London, the first panel comprised: Alan Uresti, head of mixology at Annabel’s Mayfair, London; Nuno Fecha, head bartender at Merchant House; and Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, and chair of The Global Masters Competitions, who chaired the group.
A second team consisted of me, Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business. I 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, was in 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 first category to be put to the test was blended whiskies from Europe, where three Master medallists were discovered.
The first went to Bellevoye Orange, a whisky from France that was matured in rum barrels. It was praised by Gorn for its “nice tropical fruit and vanilla” notes. Greifer enjoyed its hint of “orchard fruits” and “lengthy finish”.
The second Master winner, Nestville Whisky Single Barrel from Slovakia, was lauded for its “strong bold malt flavours, with a lovely hint of spice and fruit at the end” by Greifer. Neotia added: “Toffee apple with cinnamon, clove and dark chocolate dusting. Round, sweet, and smooth.”
Concluding the trio was Forest Whisky from Cheshire in the UK. Gorn described it as “rich and sweet with some lovely toffee apples and floral notes” while Neotia enjoyed its “spicy tingle” and finish of “long-baked apple and walnut”.
Five Gold medals were also given out, including two for Slovakia’s Nestville Whisky. The other Gold winners were: Black Ram Bourbon Whisky, with its “spicy wood notes and sweet nuts”, Old Hunter’s Selection with its “strong stone fruit influence and burnt orange peel”, and Nomad Reserve Triple Cask 10 Years, with its “wood, malt and orchard fruits coming through at the end”.
Next up, the panel assessed single malts being made in Europe, including England, Wales, France and Romania.
Taking the top award was Wire Works Whisky Alter Ego from Derbyshire, UK. Chambers particularly enjoyed this: “Golden syrup and malty nose, drying ashy peat smoke on the palate, nice level of sweetness, golden syrup and milk chocolate, with a hint of cocoa and gingerbread.”
Nineteen Gold medals followed, many of which were awarded to producers from England. Of particular note were seven Golds for English producer The Spirit of Yorkshire, while three were given to the Cotswolds Distillery. Spirit of Yorkshire’s Gold medal-winning Filey Bay Peated Finish #3 was praised for its hint of “candied ginger” and “gentle smoky notes”. Gold winner Penderyn Portwood from Wales was lauded for its “rich wine and Sherry notes and good fruity character”.
Another Gold also went to Romania’s Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Cognac Cask Finish, enjoyed for its “nice maltiness” on the nose and hints of “chocolate, malt, cereal and some red fruits”. Sixteen Silver medals concluded the flight. Uresti was particularly positive about the European single malts: “You can see the whole category has a solid and consistent quality, and we see they’re getting better, replicating things done in Scotland and Ireland in a good way.”
Chambers added: “Some lovely examples but also some that were a little mean and too woody. There also seems to be an obsession with bottling at high ABV. Some of these would benefit from being lower strength.”
Three Golds were awarded in the European rye whisky flight, including two for Denmark’s Stauning and one for Stork Club Full Proof Rye Whiskey. Stauning Rye Maple Syrup Cask Finish was praised for its “classic rye spiciness” and “lingering sweetness” and Stauning Dirty Bastard was praised for its higher ABV, “oak spice and caramel sweetness”. Stork Club Full Proof Rye Whiskey from Germany’s Spreewood Distillers had a “lovely milk chocolate note on the palate” and “nice dried fruits, raisins and apricot”.
The final European flight, New Make, saw two Golds go to two English producers: Spirit of Manchester for its One Point Six, and Ellers Farm for The Bairn.
The former had a “fruity, slightly nutty aroma with japaleño and chilli notes”, while the latter offered “pear drops” on the nose with a “deliciously fruity palate”.
A lone entry from Japan, Small Batch Pure Malt Hatozaki, secured the top Master accolade. Chou found notes of “oat, bread, toast, porridge, raisin, plum, and vanilla”, with a “good balance of sweetness and spiciness” on the palate, and a “rich and rounded texture”.
A Gold winner was found in the next flight, India, for Indri Dru Single Malt Indian Whisky. One judge found it to be on “the sweet side, with a good spicy chilli heat, nutmeg, Sichuan pepper, and cinnamon”.
Excluding Japan and India, judges turned their attention to single malts from Asia. Twelve Golds and one Silver were dished out, all to Taiwan’s Kavalan Distillery. Among the Gold medallists were Kavalan Podium Single Malt Whisky with its “tropical fruit-led nose” and “toffee sweetness”, Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish Single Malt Whisky, described as “woody and earthy on the nose, with plenty of charred oak, bitter chocolate and orange”, and Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, which impressed with its “vanilla and toffee aromas, milk chocolate, espresso and caramelised bananas”.
Perez Terrado offered some insight: “The flight showed the huge quality in the category, and there was plenty of oak influence and interesting maturation in warm climates. It shows good diversity and plenty of boldness on show.”
Three Australian producers were successful in the Australasia Blended flight, with Golds given to Hybrid Whisk(e)y, Starward Two-Fold, and Symphony No.1. The first was enjoyed for its “lime oil, apples, and some apricot stone notes”, while Starward’s bottling had “fresh green sugarcane” and a “chilli heat”. Symphony No.1 from Lark Distillery had a “lovely midpalate of cereal and warm black pepper”.
The most acclaimed flight of the competition was Australasia single malts, in which seven Master medals were given out, including two to Starward and Lark.
Filer said of Starward Fortis: “Caramelised ripe banana and oak on the nose. A sweet palate opening with some fresh apple syrup, a touch of citrus and plenty of pepper.” Stablemate Starward Nova also impressed Filer, who found: “Toasted grain on the nose, dry grass and some poached pear. Warming and smooth mouthfeel, dry and toasted on the palate with some sweeter floral notes, orchard blossoms, and a touch of saline mid-palate.”
Dark Lark 2023 had a “round and sweet palate, with a nice walnut and cinnamon note and silky tannins”, while the brand’s Tasmania Peated was “big and powerful, with a lovely edge of spices, and crisp fruit and citrus zest”.
It wasn’t just Australian whiskies that took home the top gong. New Zealand’s Scapegrace Distilling Co won a Master for its Scapegrace Fortitude V, with its “light smoke on the nose and complexity” and “smooth palate with hints of smoke and sweetness”.
Australia’s Waubs Harbour Distillery took a Master for Port Storm. One judge said: “Quite smooth for the higher ABV. Woody and wine notes present with heat on the aftertaste.” Master medallist Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Muscat Barrel 48% ABV was lauded for its “vanilla, spices and complexity on the nose” and vanilla and wine notes on the palate with a “pleasant aftertaste”.
Twenty-two Gold medals were also awarded by the judges, including seven for Lark, five for Starward and four for Copper and Grain Distilling Co. Lark’s Rebellion whisky was described as having “cinnamon and aniseed, with some citrus and apricot compote”, while one judge enjoyed Starward Rum Cask Release IV for its “huge spice and fruitcake notes”.
Lawrenny Estate Distillery won two Golds for its Cellar Collection Sherry Cask and Cellar Collection Bourbon Cask bottlings. The former was enjoyed for its “burnt toffee, fortified wine, plum syrup on the nose”.
Founders Reserve from Waubs Harbour Distillery in Tasmania impressed with its “floral, nutty, matured oak, dried stone fruits, baked pecan cake, and a rounded long layered finish”.
23rd Street Distillery’s Australian Single Malt had a “sweet and complex nose” and was “light bodied and sweet on the aftertaste”. Six Silver medals brought the round to a close.
Filer said of the Australasian whiskies: “On the whole, it was really classy, and these were well-integrated products with some emerging unique characters, but respectful of the style. They paid homage to single malts, but definitely brought character to the table without sweeping everything off. Very pleasant.”
The panels swapped Australasia for North America as Canadian whiskies were sipped next. Two Masters were given to Proximo Spirits for its Pendleton Original and Pendleton Midnight whiskies.
Chou said of the former: “Toasted oat, stone fruit, citrus peel, leather, coffee, chocolate, very long finish, complex aroma, well balanced, very smooth with a rounded texture.”
Pendelton Midnight was particularly praised by Cheong Thong, who noted: “Apples and stone fruit. Rounded and deliciously fresh. Great complexity, with a long length.”
Bearface Spirits took home two Golds, including one for its Elementally Aged Triple Oak Whisky, enjoyed for “bread dough, maple syrup, toffee, caramel, honey, vanilla” notes, and another for its Whisky Wilderness Series 02 Mitlenatch Island Release.
Other Gold medallists included Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky, with its notes of chocolate, coconut cream and rice pudding, and Signal Hill Whisky, lauded for its “baked almond cake, peanuts, and custard chocolate cream”. Two Silvers were also awarded.
The final flight of the competition, South Africa, saw five Silver medals go to Heineken Beverages for its Bain’s and Three Ships brands. The Silver medallists were: Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, and Three Ships’ Bourbon Cask Whisky, 5 Year Old Premium Select, 6 Year Old Chenin Blanc Cask Finish, 12 Year Old, and 10 Year Old Single Malt.
In total, 14 Master medals were given out during this year’s competition.
The Taste Master award for the most impressive expression in the competition went to an Australian whisky, Starward Fortis, after the judges retasted all of the Master medallists.
Starward Fortis was matured in 100% American oak casks that previously held Australian red wines, mostly from Barossa Valley wineries.
If this year’s contest is anything to go by, we can expect to see whisky producers upping their game when it comes to experimentation with casks, climates, and production methods in the future.
|Europe (Excluding Ireland and Scotland) – Blended|
|Les Bienheureux||Bellevoye Orange||Master|
|BGV||Nestville Whisky Single Barrel||Master|
|Forest Distillery||Forest Whisky||Master|
|BGV||Nestville Whisky Black & White||Gold|
|BGV||Nestville Whisky Blended 12 Year Old||Gold|
|VP Brands International||Black Ram Bourbon Whisky||Gold|
|Palírna U Zeleného Stromu||Old Hunter’s Selection||Gold|
|Gonzalez Byass||Nomad Reserve Triple Cask 10 Years||Gold|
|Europe (excluding Ireland and Scotland) – Single Malt|
|White Peak Distillery||Wire Works Whisky Alter Ego||Master|
|Penderyn Distillery||Penderyn Peated||Gold|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Amarone Cask Finish||Gold|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Ruby Port Cask Finish||Gold|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Cognac Cask Finish||Gold|
|The Spirit of Yorkshire||Filey Bay STR Finish #3||Gold|
|The Spirit of Yorkshire||Filey Bay Moscatel Finish #3||Gold|
|The Spirit of Yorkshire||Filey Bay Port Finish #1||Gold|
|The Spirit of Yorkshire||Filey Bay Sherry Cask Reserve #3||Gold|
|The Spirit of Yorkshire||Filey Bay Double Oak #2||Gold|
|The Spirit of Yorkshire||Filey Bay Peated Finish #3||Gold|
|BGV||Nestville Whisky Single Malt||Gold|
|Cotswolds Distillery||Cotswolds Signature Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Cotswolds Distillery||Cotswolds Founders Choice||Gold|
|Cotswolds Distillery||Cotswolds Oloroso Single Cask||Gold|
|The Spirit of Yorkshire||Filey Bay Flagship||Gold|
|Penderyn Distillery||Penderyn Portwood||Gold|
|White Peak Distillery||Wire Works Whisky Caduro||Gold|
|Samuel Gulliver & Co||Gulliver’s 47 PX Sherry Cask||Gold|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Commandaria Cask Finish||Silver|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Madeira Cask Finish||Silver|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Burgundy Cask Finish||Silver|
|Penderyn Distillery||Penderyn Sherrywood||Silver|
|Maison Boinaud||Heriose Le Classique||Silver|
|Penderyn Distillery||Penderyn Headliner||Silver|
|Lanty Slee Liquor Co||Moss Rigg Single Malt Spirit||Silver|
|Cotswolds Distillery||Cotswolds New Char Virgin Oak single Cask||Silver|
|Cotswolds Distillery||Cotswolds Hearts and Crafts: Banyuls Cask||Silver|
|Berentsens Distillery||Vardberg Born Single Malt Whisky||Silver|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Vradiano Cask Finish||Silver|
|Alexandrion Saber Distilleries 1789||Carpathian Single Malt Whisky Feteasca Neagra Cask Finish||Silver|
|Maison Boinaud||Heriose Le Petit Tourbé||Silver|
|Rockstar Spirits||Both Barrels||Silver|
|Europe (excluding Ireland and Scotland) – Rye|
|Stauning Whisky||Stauning Rye – Maple Syrup Cask Finish||Gold|
|Stauning Whisky||Stauning Dirty Bastard||Gold|
|Spreewood Distillers||Stork Club Full Proof Rye Whiskey||Gold|
|Europe (excluding Ireland and Scotland) – New Make|
|Spirit of Manchester Distillery||One Point Six||Gold|
|Ellers Farm Distillery||The Bairn||Gold|
|Abingdon Distillery||Abingdon New Make||Silver|
|Kaikyo Distillery||Small Batch Pure Malt Hatozaki||Master|
|Piccadily Agro Industries||Indri Dru Single Malt Indian Whisky||Gold|
|Asia (excluding Japan and India) – Single Malt|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Concertmaster Vinho Barrique Finish Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Solist Port Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Podium Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||King Car Conductor Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Distillery Select No.1 Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Distillery Reserve Madeira Cask Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Concertmaster Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Triple Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Classic Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peated Malt Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Kavalan Distillery||Kavalan Distillery Select No.2 Single Malt Whisky||Silver|
|Australasia – Blended|
|23rd Street Distillery||Hybrid Whisk(e)y||Gold|
|Lark||Symphony No. 1||Gold|
|Australasia – Single Malt|
|Starward||Starward Fortis||Master & Taste Master|
|Lark||Dark Lark 2023||Master|
|Scapegrace Distilling Co||Scapegrace Fortitude V||Master|
|Waubs Harbour Distillery||Port Storm||Master|
|Copper and Grain Distilling Co||Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Muscat Barrel 48% ABV||Master|
|Lark||The Christmas Cask||Gold|
|Lark||Rum Cask Release IV||Gold|
|Lark||Classic Cask – Cask Strength||Gold|
|Lark||Chinotto Cask II Cask Strength||Gold|
|Waubs Harbour Distillery||Waubs Original||Gold|
|Lawrenny Estate Distillery||Lawrenny Cellar Collection Sherry Cask||Gold|
|Lawrenny Estate Distillery||Lawrenny Cellar Collection Bourbon Cask||Gold|
|Copper and Grain Distilling Co||Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Muscat Barrel 46% ABV||Gold|
|Copper and Grain Distilling Co||Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Sherry Barrel 46% ABV||Gold|
|Copper and Grain Distilling Co||Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Tokay Barrel 48% ABV||Gold|
|Copper and Grain Distilling Co||Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Signature 40% ABV||Gold|
|Starward||Starward Tawny Cask||Gold|
|Starward||Starward Stout Cask||Gold|
|Starward||Starward Peated Finish||Gold|
|Waubs Harbour Distillery||Founders Reserve||Gold|
|23rd Street Distillery||Australian Single Malt Whisky||Gold|
|Scapegrace Distilling Co||Scapegrace Fortuna VI||Gold|
|Copper and Grain Distilling Co||Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Signature 44% ABV||Silver|
|Scapegrace Distilling Co||Scapegrace Dimension VIII||Silver|
|Settlers Spirits||Settlers Spirits Port Barrel Whisky||Silver|
|Lark||Whisky Bar Series: Savile Row||Silver|
|Starward||Starward Ginger Beer Cask #7||Silver|
|Proximo Spirits||Pendleton Original||Master|
|Proximo Spirits||Pendleton Midnight||Master|
|Bearface Spirits||Bearface Whisky Wilderness Series 02 Mitlenatch Island Release||Gold|
|Bearface Spirits||Bearface Elementally Aged Triple Oak Whisky||Gold|
|Campari Group||Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky||Gold|
|Signal Hill Spirits||Signal Hill Whisky||Gold|
|Artist in Residence Distillerie||Artist in Residence Distillerie Whisky||Silver|
|Proximo Spirits||Pendleton 1910 Rye||Silver|
|Heineken Beverages||Three Ships Bourbon Cask Whisky||Silver|
|Heineken Beverages||Three Ships Whisky 5 Years Old Premium Select||Silver|
|Heineken Beverages||Three Ships Whisky 6 Years Old Chenin Blanc Cask Finish||Silver|
|Heineken Beverages||Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky||Silver|
|Heineken Beverages||Three Ships 12 Years Old||Silver|