Awards & Events

Industry 'Oscars' honour the heroes of whisky

The Icons of Whisky recognise the people and companies that have made the biggest contribution to the world of whisky. Dominic Roskrow explains how the winners were chosen
By Dominic Roskrow
It’s become something of an annual ritual. At an indeterminate time after the summer and before Christmas, Dave Broom will telephone in a bit of a flap. Have we thought about the voting for Icons? He’ll say. Then we’ll meet up, consume whisky, and debate firstly, what the fairest method of judging should be, and then, who should go on the shortlist.There are three options: one, the ‘democratic’ option: a general vote among all readers of the magazine by email and on the internet; two, the ‘Stalinist’ option: a vote by a small panel of specially selected judges on a shortlist drawn up by a small editorial panel; or the third route: a shortlist drawn up by an editorial panel and then voted on by a largish cross section of the whisky industry.It’s not a straightforward choice: for instance, how do Europe, America and Japan get a look in if 80 per cent of the votes come from Scotland? And if more readers of the magazine go to Scotland than anywhere else, wouldn’t a public vote just pick the same obvious winners each year?Our solution, which we like to think gets more refined with every passing year, was to go for the third, hybrid option. We took soundings from as wide a base as we could before coming up with a short list. And we then invited about 250 people to vote for up to three choices in each award.To make it fairer to non-Scottish entrants we intended to weight votes so that countries where only five or 10 people were asked to vote were given a fairer chance. In the event, however, no such assistance was required.All the short-listed candidates reached the final stages on merit and should be congratulated. But we are proud of the winners and those that have been highly commended, not just because they are all outstanding, but because in choosing such a diverse range of winners the whisky industry has shown itself to be broadminded and forward thinking.This year’s shortlists reflect how dynamic the sector whisky is at the moment, and the fact that exciting things are happening across the world. And all the indications are that it’s going to be just as exciting this year.Distiller of the Year – Buffalo TraceAmerican distillery Buffalo Trace might seem like a surprise winner but it received a large share of the votes in what was a highly competitive category.Its victory is fully deserved. It has always been at the cutting edge of bourbon production, combining traditional ways of making whiskey with innovative ideas. Buffalo Trace has only existed in its present form since 1999, when it was renamed and launched its flagship brand.But there has been distilling on the site it occupies for 225 years, and the distillery still produces whiskey through tried and tested methods. There are no computers used in the production process.But the distillery has always been prepared to move forward. From its stylish and innovative packaging to the promotion of iconic brands such as Eagle Rare and Blanton’s, it has shown that it is prepared to target new drinkers. In recent months it has played a leading role in the promotion of aged bourbons. It has taken Van Winkle under its wing and is working in partnership with the family to produce some of the best whiskeys America has to offer.The current distillery is made up of more than 100 buildings on more than 100 acres and is going from strength to strength No American distillery has received more honours than Buffalo Trace but winning our distillery of the year award is a major achievement.Also short-listed
* Allied Domecq
* Chivas Brothers
* Diageo
* Four Roses
* Gordon & MacPhailRetailer of the Year (single outlet) – Park Avenue LiquorsThree generations of the Goldstein family have presided over this exemplary wine and spirits store, and more than 70 years have gone in to turning it in to one of the best drinks shops in the world.Located in the centre of New York’s Manhattan district, Park Avenue Liquors sells wine and spirits of all descriptions but has built up a reputation for one of the best ranges of Scotch malt whisky outside Scotland.That’s the easy part, though. What makes a shop great is its attention to detail, and the people who work in it. And Park Avenue prides itself on having knowledgeable, attentive and helpful staff. Avery user friendly and helpful website is another bonus. At the time of going to press it was promoting a cask bottling of Highland Park and among its recommendations were a Scapa and an Ardbeg rum cask finish. Very impressive.Highly commended:
* Loch Fyne WhiskiesAlso short-listed:
* BBR Retail
* Just Miniatures
* The Vintage House
* The Wee Dram
* The Whisky ExchangeRetailer of the Year (multiple) – La Maison du WhiskyIt’s hard to describe exactly what La Maison du Whisky is because Thierry Benitah’s business has many fronts. There are the core shops, there is a wholesaling business and there is a network throughout France of shops stocking La Maison du Whisky produce. Suffice to say, though, that when it comes to the business of whisky retailing, Thierry is without equal.La Maison won this category by holding off a fierce challenge from Royal Mile Whiskies, who have held the title for the previous two years, and that in itself shows just how far Thierry’s reputation has spread.As you might expect from such a dedicated operation the shops stock a massive range of whisky from across the world, and in addition to a thoroughly comprehensive selection of Irish, American and Scottish products there are all sorts of interesting rarities and treats. Currently being promoted, for instance, are Glenburgie Straight From The Cask and Compass Box’s latest offering, The Peat Monster.This category was one of the most fiercely contested – but the total number of votes cast for La Maison du Whisky was only bettered in one other category. Highly commended: Royal Mile WhiskiesAlso short-listed
* Robert Graham & Co
* The Whisky Shop
* World of WhiskiesHotel of the Year – Craigellachie HotelThey used to say that in some of the areas where the British Labour Party was at its strongest they used to weigh the votes rather than count them. So it is with Craigellachie Hotel.The Craig becomes the only person or place to win an Icon in three consecutive years and it was easily the biggest winner this year. Situated in the heart of Speyside, the hotel has become base camp for any whisky enthusiast intending to visit distilleries in the district. For the industry itself it is a meeting place and once you’ve been a few times, chances are you’ll bump in to someone you know.The whisky bar itself stocks more than 500 whiskies and is a daunting experience. The enthusiastic staff, headed in recent years by the irrepressible Duncan Elphick, make learning about whisky here a joy.As of this month the hotel is under new ownership and no one is quite sure what lies in store for it. But the whole whisky industry is praying that the new owners don’t set about changing it too much. For our part we hope that this award is just one more signpost on the hotel’s journey, rather than an epitaph for a great whisky hotel.Also short-listed
* Cape Grace, South Africa
* City Inn, London and Glasgow
* Drumchork Lodge, Scotland
* Grouse Inn, ScotlandVisitor Attraction of the Year – Edradour DistilleryIn the year when many distilleries have developed and improved their visitor centre facilities it is a remarkable achievement for Edradour to win this category.Edradour is one of the smallest distilleries but since Andrew Symington and team bought it, it has gleefully embraced visitors, making the most of its limited space and giving whisky aficionados a truly memorable experience.Also short-listed
* Dewar’s World of Whisky
* Glenfiddich Distillery
* Heaven Hill
* Museum of Cocktails, Las Vegas
* Scotch Whisky Heritage CentreBar/restaurant of the year - The Canny Man’s, Edinburgh & The Pot Still, GlasgowWe couldn’t have organised it better – a dead heat between two outstanding Scottish whisky bars, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. And this was the closest of all categories, because Oran Mor in Glasgow was only a few points off the pace, too.The Pot Still in Hope Street is a bustling and friendly little pub that punches well above its weight. As the name might suggest, malt whisky provides the platform for the business, and the shelves behind the bar are stacked with bottles, attracting lovers of Scotch from far and wide. Make no mistake, though; this is a down to earth and homely pub first and foremost, ably run by Ken and Sandra Storrie, and don’t expect anything very flashy – just Scottish hospitality at its finest and some stunning whisky.If The Pot Still is very Glasgow, then The Canny Man’s is very Edinburgh, located as it is in the upmarket Morningside area. It has a reputation for outstanding food and for being choosy about its clientele, though in truth it is run on traditional lines and to the traditional standards one might expect from a family that have been at the helm for some 130 years.It, too, is something of a magnet for whisky enthusiasts, and both Charlie MacLean and Michael Jackson confess to many educative hours spent perusing its shelves for interesting drams. So a draw then – can’t say fairer than that, can we?Highly commended:
* Oran Mor, GlasgowAlso short-listed
* Brandy Library, New York
* Cayenne, Belfast
* Harbour Inn, Osaka
* Salt, London
* Speyside Way, Tokyo
* The Limestone, Bardstown
* Whiskey Blue, New YorkInnovator of the year – Bob Dalgarno, Edrington GroupOf all of the characters working in the whisky industry, Edrington ‘whisky maker’ Bob Dalgarno is one of the most respected. A master in his field for more than 20 years, he has played a key role in producing outstanding whisky for The Macallan.But just when you thought you recognised the sherry taste of the fine Speyside whisky, he came out this year with the wonderful Fine Oak range, winning the celebrated brand a new dimension and new drinkers.Highly commended:
* Shigeo Sato, master blender at NikkaAlso short-listed
* Allied Domecq
* Easy Drinking Whisky Company
* Edradour
* Reserve BrandsAmbassador of whisky – Jim Cryle, Chivas BrothersWinners don’t come more popular than Jim Cryle, one of the industry’s true gentlemen and a highly popular winner even among the other candidates.Try this from Gregor Cattenach, who contacted us to say how flattered he was to even be short-listed with so many great whisky people: “But if I had to pick someone to win then I hope it’s Jim. I always enjoy a blether with him when I bump in to him at shows. A fine man…”Jim has been championing whisky for just under 40 years now, having worked in most sectors of it. Now, as master distiller of The Glenlivet, he divides his time between producing the finest Speyside whisky he can, selecting the whisky for the world-famous Glenlivet Cellar Collection, and travelling the world to promote Scotch whisky not just from his own company but across the industry as a whole.That he continues to produce fine whisky can be seen by the success of The Glenlivet, most recently with the cask strength 16 year old which did so well in this year’s Best of the Best tasting.In his role as an amabassador for whisky he travels thousands of miles every year, but his enthusiasm and passion for all things whisky remains undiminished. An outstanding winner.Also short-listed
* Gregor Cattenach, Diageo
* Iain Henderson, Edradour
* Alastair McIntosh, Scotch Whisky
* Heritage Centre
* Willie Tait, Whyte & Mackay