Awards & Events

In search of the world's best whiskies

This is the third time we have held the Best of the Best. But as Dominic Roskrow reports, this is the biggest and most ambitious attempt yet to find the world's best whiskies
By Dominic Roskrow
Almost 60 great whiskies tasted blind in five countries by more than 100 tasters over four months... the Best of the Best event in 2005 can rightly claim to be the most ambitious whisky tasting ever held.And the results reflect just how thoroughly we searched for the finest products from America, Ireland, Japan and Scotland... and what an exceptional standard of whisky enthusiasts have been able to enjoy over the last two years.Best of the Best is held every two years, and is a tasting of the finest whiskies scored in Whisky Magazine over the previous 24 months. For the 2005 event, though, some significant changes were made to the event’s structure.Only proprietary bottlings were admitted – a separate independent bottlers’ challenge is to be held later in the year – and we made sure that all the whiskies were widely available with the exception of the flight for fine and rare malts. Atasting in Ireland was added and the tasting was split in to two so that more flights could be added and more whiskies tasted. And instead of just compiling the scores from the regional tastings the whiskies were numbered down even further and a final tasting held in London for the first time.Our judges were made up of distillery representatives, journalists, and retailers, all of whom gave up their time free. They were asked to provide comments , some of which appear on the following pages.How it was doneStage oneThe top scoring whiskies scored by our tasters in the issues between October 2002 and October 2004 were selected and put in to 11 flights (see box). In all 58 whiskies were selected – about 10 per cent of the total we tasted in the magazine, making for an exceptional and exclusive tasting selection from the off.Stage twoFour regional events were held, with American and Irish whiskeys tasted in Dublin and Bardstown, Kentucky, and Japanese and Scottish malts tasted in Tokyo and Glasgow. Scottish blends were tasted in all four territories.Stage threeThe results were aggregated and the top two (or three if there was a tie) from each category went to a final tasting in London. In all just 24 whiskies reached this stage – less than five per cent of the whiskies tasted in the previous two years. The original flights were divided up in to national groupings under five headings – American, Irish, Japanese, Scottish single malt and Scottish blend, with the winner of each winning the title of ‘Best of the Best 2005’.The awardsFive Best of the Best trophies for the winning whisky in each of the final five flights. Six gold medals awarded to the five winners of the original flights who did not top their final flight.Silver medals to the next highest finishers. Bronze medals to the other finalists.American whiskey under 10 years
* Blanton’s
* Evan Williams 1994 Single Barrel
* Four Roses Single Barrel
* Knob Creek
* Old Potrero Old Rye 3 years
* Ridgemont Reserve 1792
* Woodford ReserveAmerican whiskey over 10 years
* Eagle Rare 17 Years old
* Elijah Craig 12 Years Old
* Elijah Craig 18 Years Old
* George T Stagg 16 Years Old
* Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye
* Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old
* Sazerac Rye 18 Years Old
* Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 YearsIrish blends
* Jameson 12 Years Old
* Jameson 18 Years Old
* Kilbeggan
* Midleton Very Rare
* Tullamore Dew 12 Years Old
* Tullamore Dew HeritageIrish single malt/pot still
* Bushmills 16 Years
* Bushmills 21 Years
* Connemara 12 Years Old
* Connemara Cask Strength
* Redbreast 12 Year OldJapanese single malts
* Fujigotenba 18 Years Old
* Karuizawa 15 Years Old
* Miyagikyo 10 Years Old
* Yamazaki Cask StrengthJapanese blends/vatted malts
* Evermore 2004 21 Years
* Hibiki Suntory 17 Years Old
* Hokutu 12 Years Old
* Karuizawa Master’s Blend 10 Years Old
* Nikka Black 8 Years Old
* Taketsuru 17 Years OldScottish Speyside single malts
* Balvenie 21 Year Old Portwood Finish
* Cragganmore 29 Years Old
* The Glenlivet 16 Years Cask Strength
* Longmorn 15 Years
* The Macallan 15 Years Fine OakScottish mainland (ex Speyside) single malts
* Dalmore Cigar Malt
* Glenmorangie Tain L’Hermitage
* Glenturret 1980Scottish island single malts
* Arran First 1995
* Ardbeg Lord of the Isles
* Ardbeg Uigeadail
* Lagavulin 12 Years Old
* Laphroaig 10 Years Old Cask Strength
* Talisker 20 Years Old Cask StrengthScottish fine and rare single malts
* Balvenie 1973
* Glenfiddich 40 Years
* Glen Elgin 32 YearsScottish blends
* Ballantine’s 21 Years Old
* Chivas Regal Royal Salute 21
* Dewar’s 18 Years Old
* Famous Grouse Cask Strength
* Six Isles Pure IslayTHE TASTERS – LONDON
Sukinder Singh, Whisky Exchange; Alex Turner, IP Bartenders; Arthur Winning, James MacArthur & Co; Thomas Kruger, Krugers Whisky Gallerie; Thierry Benitah, La Maison du Whisky; Mario Groteklaes, SA Corman Collins; Richard Lombard-Chibnall, Lombard Scotch Whisky; Dave Gardener, Nickolls & Perks; David Radcliffe, Potstill Irish Whiskey Specialist; Malcolm Mullin, Vintage House; Andrew Long, Wine Lodge; Antony Edwards, World of Whiskies; Niall Barnes, Albannach; Ricky Christie, Speyside Distillery; Maite Neto; Owen Barstow; Norman Houghton; Kevin Falkener, Adelphi; Doug McIvor, Berry Bros & Rudd; Ewen Mackintosh, Gordon & MacPhail; Alan Toplis, The Wee Dram; and whisky writers Michael Jackson, Richard Jones, Martine Nouet, and Ian WisniewskiBest American whiskey 2005: Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Years Old “Hot, hot, hot, with lots of spicy woodiness, and not too much fruit – great on the palate.” Mario Groteklaes, London
“This whiskey certainly got going. Very good balance of fruit and integrated oak. More-ish with strength not allowed to dominate.” David Gardener, London
“This is exceptional. Very complex with a nice balance of fruits, and a terrific soft and syrupy finish.” Peter Pogue, Bardstown
“Full, dry, fruit, vanilla and a bit of spice. This develops very well on the palate and is very well balanced.” Jarek Urban, Bardstown
“Long strong and rounded finish makes up for an unusual mid palate leaving the overall effect smooth and pleasantly smoky.” Kevin Abrook, DublinGold medal: Four Roses Single Barrel “Aclassic bourbon. Very long, very sweet, very elegant.” Michael Jackson, London
“Big, complex, rewarding and consistent from start to finish.” Owen Barstow, London
“Fruity, green apple and pear, hot and spicy. If you survive the heat at first it gets very nice to the finish.” Michael Veach, Bardstown
“Perfumy, spicy, spearmint, lingering like butter crème candy. Melts in your mouth.” Charles Cowdrey, Bardstown
“Overall, for me the best bourbon tasted. Less aggressive than some of the others and with nice flavours making it very palatable.” Kieran Tobin, DublinSilver medal: Eagle Rare 17 Years Old
Bronze medal: Ridgemont Reserve 1792, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 yearsTHE TASTERS – BARDSTOWN
Jerry Dalton, Jim Beam; Greg Davis, Barton Brands; Ronnie Eddins, Buffalo Trace; Jonathan Goldstein, Park Avenue Liquors; Steve Nally, ex Maker’s Mark; Dave Pickerell, Maker’s Mark, Peter Pogue, Pogue Distillery; Jim Rutledge, Four Roses; Greg Snyder, Wild Turkey; Jota Tanaka, Four Roses; Julian Van Winkle, Van Winkle; Preston Van Winkle, Van Winkle; Jimmy Wickham, Independent Stave; Michael Veach, and whiskey writers Jarek Urban and Chuck CowdreyBest Irish whiskey 2005: Bushmill’s 16 Years Old“Good post dinner whiskey. Nice acidity with a creamy smooth finish. Nice weight.” James Cowan, London
“My favourite Irish. Creamy, lightly toasted and something to get your teeth in to. Chewy.” Ricky Christie, London
“My style of whiskey. Classic and mouth filling, a whiskey for a high backed leather chair, an open fire and Brahms.” Peter Dunne, Dublin
“Good for any occasion. Nicely matured, full bodied with a delicate finish – very balanced and very smooth.” Jim Rutledge, Bardstown
“Starts slowly then grows and lingers. Subtle, beautiful and a grower. It’s almost addictive.” Oliver Hughes, Dublin
“Citrus and age co-mingled. Extremely well-balanced between flavour and aroma. Long, peaty and pleasant.” Jerry Dalton, BardstownGold medal: Jameson 18 Years Old“Fresh, hints of sherry, guava, some wood and a touch of pepper. Quite complex.” Martin Campion, London
“Lovely grapefruit tanginess, dryish, with gentle oak. Very easy drinking whiskey.” Sukhinder Singh, London
“Very light bodied but the taste develops well with the finish having dry apricots then spring fruits and flowers. “ Dave Pickerell, Bardstown
“Well made Irish blended whiskey, smooth, cream, pleasant, clean and fruity.” Jota Tanaka, Bardstown
“Big full body which goes on for ages. I like this big whiskey. Everything is in balance from the start and stays thay way for ages.” Billy Leighton, Dublin
“Abit flash – lika smoothie in a Gucci suit. Warm sugared biscuits, a hint of lime, sweet and slightly restrained. “ Ernie Whalley, DublinSilver medal: Midleton Very Rare
Bronze medal: Bushmill’s 21 Years OldTHE TASTERS – DUBLIN
Kevin Abrook, Cantrell & Cockrane International; Ally Alpine, The Celtic Whiskey Store; Peter Dunne, Mitchell & Son; Oliver Hughes, The Porterhouse; Simon Keegan, Four Seasons Hotel; Billy Leighton, Irish Distillers; Kieran Tobin, Irish Disillers; Barry Flanagan, Irish Distillers; Ernie Whalley; Noel Sweeney and whiskey writer David Gordan.Best Japanese whisky 2005: Yamazaki Cask Strength“Lots of lovely peat, coffee, nutty, excellent. Could give Islays a run for their money.” Sukhinder Singh, London
“Very peaty, with long and excellent characteristics. Well balanced.” Shigeki Hirai, Tokyo
“Reminiscent of a young Caol Ila, with smoked fish, tyre rubber, fresh oysters and brine. Very impressive.” Keir Sword, Glasgow
“Smoky, dry and very rich.” Shusaku Osawa, Tokyo
“Beautifully sustained. Smoky, seaweed, resin, Bombay duck. But elegant.” Antony Edwards, London
“Watch out Ardbeg! Summer fruits, creamy, bovine. Immensely smoky. Impressive.” Doug McIvor, GlasgowGold medal: Hibiki Suntory 17 Years Old“Well balanced, rich and very easy. Sweet, spice, vanilla and slight oak.” Alex Turner, London
“Unctuous sweet/spice balance, deep honey and nuts. Bewitching.” Doug McIvor, London
“Alovely balance – lychees, apricots and honey. A beautiful whisky.” Euan Mitchell, Glasgow
“All one would expect from a vatted whisky – mature, fruity, malty, oak aged – an excellent robust spirit very well balanced.” Jim McEwan, Glasgow
“Big and powerful, rich and with big potential.” Ryoji Takata, Tokyo
“Well matured, and the smell is beautiful. Vanilla and sweet.” Shigeo Sato, TokyoSilver medal: Evermore Blend 21 Years Old
Bronze medal: MiyagikyoTHE TASTERS – TOKYO
Yasufumi Miyazato, Nippon Bartenders Association; Hisashi Kishi, Nippon Bartenders Association; Akira Ishihara, Nippon Hotel Barmen’s Association; Shigeo Fukuda, E.S. Japan Ltd; Shigeki Hirai, Diageo Moet Hennessy; Hideaki Kito, Kirin Distillery; Seiichi Koshimizu, Suntory; Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory; Shigeo Sato, Nikka; Junichi Sugimoto, Nikka; Ryoji Takata, Mercian Corporation; Takeshi Nakashima, Musashiya; Shusaku Osawa, Liquors Hasegawa; Tadashi Sato, Wands; Masahiko Nishioka, Shuhan News; Keitaro Takayama, Taru; Toru Suzuki, Bar Mash Tan; Koutaro Hayafune, Bar Hayafune; Masaki Murasawa, Bar Helmsdale; Katsuo Suzuki, Malthouse Islay; Eitaro Furukawa, Malt Connoisseur; Muneyuki Yoshimura, Web M’sBarBest Scotch blended whisky 2005: Chivas Regal Royal Salute 21 Year Old“Crème brulee. Good length. Anice whisky which is full flavoured and smooth.” James Cowan, London
“Sherry, cocoa, toffee, hint of smoke, long, good full-flavoured whisky. Satisfying.” Martin Campion, London
“This is delicious – spicy, malty, woody, astringent… this is excellent stuff.” Pip Hills, Glasgow
“Marmalade smell, honey – very well balanced.” Yasufumi Miyazato, Tokyo
“Smooth and soft, with clean fruits… a balanced complex adult powerhouse of a whisky.” Tomas Clancy, Dublin
“Makes me think of an oak fire in a massive stone fireplace; wistful memories of warmth and wood. Subtle oak, cherries, and sweet butter.” Jerry O’Dalton, Bardstown
”Genuine finesse and an elegant structure completes this great spirit. Fantastic – a real baby.” Richard Paterson, GlasgowGold medal: Dewar’s 18 Years Old“Like landing on a duck down mattress, fluffy and comforting. ” Ricky Christie, London
“Lovely mint freshness, apples, freshly cut grass. Wonderful balance of fruit and toffee. Give me the bottle please!” David Radcliffe, London
“Rum and butterscotch, sweet oak, a lovely balance of sweetness and spice. This is complex yet refined, with a naggingly persistent finish. Acracking dram.” Euan Mitchell, GlasgowTHE TASTERS – GLASGOW
Jim Cryle, Chivas Brothers: Kai Eidleman, Old Course; St Andrews: James Forbes, Oddbins; George Grant, Glenfarclas; Robin Laing, writer and musician; Regis Lemaitre, Gleneagles Hotel; Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie; Antony Macallum-Caron, Ian MacLeod; Ian McCallum, Morrison Bowmore; Ewen Mackintosh, Gordon & MacPhail; Ian MacMillan, Burn Stewart; Neil Mathieson, Eaux de Vie; Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich; Frank McHardy, J&A Mitchell/Springbank; Doug McIvor, Berry Bros & Rudd; Annabel Meikle, Scotch Malt Whisky Society; Euan Mitchell, Isle of Arran; Fiona Murdoch, Whisky Shop, Dufftown; Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay; David Robertson, Easy Drinking Whisky Company; Maureen Robinson, Diageo; Colin Scott, Chivas Brothers; David Stewart, William Grant & Sons; Keir Sword, Dormant Distillery Co; Willie Tait, Isle of Jura; and whisky writers Ian Buxton and Pip HillsBest Scotch single malt: Laphroaig 10 Years Old Cask Strength“The most distinctive nose on planet whisky. The best medicine on earth. Almost perfect.” Thierry Benitah, London
“Abonfire of a dram. Amassive wraith of flavours here, with lots of smoke, peat and smouldering.” Andrew Jefford, London
“Very good indeed. Apowerful, peaty islander rich and powerful with sweetness, nutty and smoky. Develops amazingly well with water.” Ian Macmillan, Glasgow
“Bloody brilliant. Everything is at the correct level, with a smoky aroma and gentle and warm palate. Abeautiful seasider.” Jim McEwan, GlasgowGold medal: Glenmorangie Tain L’Hermitage“Bursts on the palate with rich sherry, and a long slow burn. Satisfying after-dinner malt.” Martin Campion, London
“Heady sherry, deep treacly. Intense and powerful.” Doug McIvor, London
“Long and sweet, full bodied with heather, soft oak and honey. Arich fruitcake and lovely whisky.” Frank McHardy, Glasgow
“Fruitcake – long satisfying and delightful. Fabulous.” Raymond Davidson, GlasgowGold medal: The Glenlivet 16 Years Old Cask Strength“Great nose, elegant body, apple pie and ice cream. Excellent expansion at the finish.” David Gardener, London
“High alcohol fruit cake. Spicy fruits and good length which holds up well.” Malcolm Mullin, London
“Rich, sweet, great mouthfeel, caramel toffee then a spicy hot finish… this is fabulous.” Fiona Murdoch, Glasgow
“Toffee, honey, fruit and plums … this is Christmas day and Boxing Day rolled in to one.” Willie Tait, GlasgowGold medal: The Balvenie 1973“Great harmony and seduction. Balanced, full, sweet-fruited, rounded. Very fine and long.” Andrew Jefford, London
“Real class. Toffee, butterscotch, sweet and smooth. Wood is present but in a very nice way.” Martine Nouet, London
“Black fruit, pastilles, baked fruity pudding, perhaps baked strawberries in kirch. This is delicious.” Annabel Meikle, Glasgow
“Sweet cinnamon nose, sweet toffee palate, gentle but full finish. This is a spicy wonder with syrup on the tail.” Willie Tait, GlasgowSilver medal: Ardbeg Lord of the Isles, Glenfiddich 40 Years Old
Bronze medal: Dalmore Cigar Malt, Dewar’s 18 Years Old, Glen Elgin 32 Years Old