Of all the events that this job involves, the Best of the Best tasting is among my favourites.This is whisky at the coalface: an ambitious and logistically impressive affair that unites the world of whisky – literally – and really does celebrate all that is great about the spirit.The Best of the Best takes the top 50 or 60 whiskies tasted in the magazine over the previous two years, assembles the leading producers, journalists and retailers to taste them blind, and picks the cream of the cream.This year’s event is even more ambitiousthan before, with a tasting in Dublin as well as Glasgow, Tokyo and Bardstown, Kentucky – and with the best qualifiers from these areas going through to a grand final in London before the results are announced at Whisky Live London in March.In all about 100 tasters take part, and what makes it all so fascinating are the similarities and differences between the attitudes and opinions of tasters in different continents, or in the case of Scotland, within the different regions. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course, because the diversity of whisky is what makes it so stimulating.We thought, for instance, that our Irish tasters would be more at ease with bourbons than the tasters in Scotland traditionally are. But this wasn’t the case – they didn’t take to them at all. In Kentucky, however, our guests scored Irish whiskey in exactly the same order as the Irish had.In Scotland our diehard Speyside aficionados were critical of malts from the islands though, curiously, that wasn’t the case the other way round. And with the exception of the cask strength Glenlivet 16 year old, which they didn’t take to at all, the Japanese tasters mirrored almost exactly the scores from Scotland for all the Scotch whiskies tasted.But what really makes this event special is the way that across the world our tasters have total pride in what they are doing and a respect for what is going on elsewhere. And there’s a great deal of optimism around, too.Indeed, I would argue that whisky finds itself in pretty good shape right now. I’d even go as far as to say that we shouldn’t be in the least bit bothered with the recent figues that show that the gap in Europe between whisky sales and vodka sales is closing and vodka will overtake whisky at some point in the next few years.In Britain, for instance, 1.2 litres of whisky a year is sold per person, compared to 1.0 litre of vodka. Apart from the fact that 1.0 to 1.2 would seem to be a pretty big difference, such figures
say nothing about trends in the premium whisky sector – and that is, of course, where we sit with Best of the Best.The Best of the Best event has meant a great deal of travelling in recent weeks, but I have still found time to travel to Speyside four times in the last three months. It’s an area I’m particularly fond of, and the more time I spend there, the more great whisky I find. Longmorn, Balvenie and Glenrothes are now firm favourites, and I have recently been fortunate enough to discover some great expressions at Glen Moray and Benromach.So I was mortified to hear that in Dufftown they’ve been sharpening their knives, and threatening some decidedly unpleasant inhospitality next time I’m in town.It transpires that our mystery visitor – not me – was critical of Dufftown’s catering standards. And the local folk are not happy, particularly as the town can now boast an award-winning restaurant. Our man of mystery accepts that his opinion in this case was unfair and is happy to retract it.