Awards & Events

The voice of the people

The Icons of Whisky mark a step up for Whisky Magazine. Formerly known as the Whisky Academy and decided by an editorial panel, they are now decided by reader votes. Here we present the winners
By Dominic Roskrow
Ask any celebrity which awards mean the most to them and they’ll tell you that it’s the ones decided by the general public. It’s all well and dandy
being chosen for an honour by your peers, they’ll say, but it’s the person who goes out and spends their own money investing in you or your product that really counts.Either that or the award with a great big fat cheque accompanying it.The decision to change the name of the Whisky Academy to the Icons of Whisky and open the categories up to public vote was not taken lightly. Indeed, the decision provoked much debate. What if the awards are dumbed down? What if the winners are the whisky world’s equivalent to Britney Spears? We should be so lucky.Let the people decide, declared the democrats on the editorial panel. No, argued the reactionaries, good taste must prevail. Don’t let the public anywhere near.In the end the panel selected the shortlists and put them on the website for voting. We think the results are both populist and of outstanding quality, our equivalent to Lord of the Rings if you like.Some of the winners have been honoured before, and in one or two cases they have been chosen for the third year in a row. All that shows is that Whisky Magazine’s readers broadly agree with the editorial panel. And that works the other way round, too.We strongly suspect that if we’d sat down and argued for long enough, most of these winners would have been selected anyway. A few things emerged from our voting.Firstly, the large number of people motivated enough to take part. A big thank you to everyone who got involved.Secondly, the vote was widespread. Northern Europe in particular excelled itself and the large number of votes from there brought an added dimension.Thirdly, through nominations from specific regions we have been introduced to a number of new outlets, each of which is excelling itself when it comes to promoting whisky. We look forward to exploring them in more depth and perhaps putting them forward to the vote in years to come.Finally, it’s an old cliché we know, but there can only be one winner in each category. But every one of the nominees was selected on merit and every one attracted strong support, suggesting the panel got its original shortlist spot on.One other point: where a person or company is highly commended it has both finished a close second, and finished well ahead of the other nominees.Distiller of the Year – Sponsored by Andrews ParkeWinner: GlenmorangieIt had to take something special to win this category in such exalted company and indeed, Glenmorangie’s victory caps an outstanding year
for the company.It has always punched above its weight and in recent years its innovatory approach has seen it lead the field for special wood finishes and to be a pioneer in the area of cask-fill bottlings.But the acquisition and restoration of Ardbeg a few years back has guaranteed it messianic status, and in recent months there’s been a growing belief that everything’s coming right for it. This year it has had a major success story with Ardbeg Uigedail, which was Whisky Magazine’s Editor’s choice and deservedly won plaudits from all quarters, proving beyond doubt that the company was capable of giving us truly outstanding expressions of one of Scotland’s best malts.Glenmorangie’s purchase of the Scottish Malt Whisky Society has created some disquiet, and marks yet another adventure for the company. Given the Glenmorangie’s track record as a safe pair of hands, you’d hope that its new purchase will get the same love and attention as
Ardbeg has.Nominated:
Buffalo Trace
Glenmorangie
Morrison Bowmore
Springbank
SuntoryPersonality of the YearWinner: Jim McEwanAnother fiercely contested category, but when you consider exactly what’s being honoured here, Jim McEwan had to be a clear favourite from the outset.Why? Because while all the other nominees would be considered outstanding in their respective fields, Jim has excelled at every level
of the whisky trade and has truly taken on an iconic status. Most recently his role in the resurrection of Bruichladdich, a success story
that found its way in to the business section of the London Sunday Times this year has given him the same sort of affection that the folk at
Glenmorangie have achieved with Ardbeg. But in the last year Jim has continued to play a huge ambassadorial role for Scotch malts globally, Islay malts generally and Bruichladdich particularly.Bruichladdich itself is an inspirational whisky, and this year it has continued to stay in the headlines, either through bizarre stories such
as the American ‘spying’ scandal or innovative ones such as Jim’s online tastings. He celebrated his 40th year in the business in 2003 –
and truly lived up to the title of personality of the year.Nominated:
Iain Banks
Bob Dalgarno
Frank McHardy
Jim McEwan
Richard PatersonVisitor Attraction of the YearWinner: ArdbegGiven the nature of Whisky Magazine’s readership you’d have bet heavily on Ardbeg winning this category and indeed it picked up the biggest vote of any category and scored more votes than the rest of the nominees put together. This is not just because Islay remains the mecca of whisky.Ardbeg remains a relatively new destination, its location is truly idyllic, the staff here present a lengthy 90 minute or so tour with wisdom and wit, and the buildings themselves are suitably impressive. Glenmorangie’s modernisations to bring Ardbeg on line have been sympathetically introduced so you still clamber round a distillery whose steep stairs and nooks and crannies are a throwback to another time. At the end of it there’s the small matter of the peatiest, smokiest and most challenging whisky on the planet.Throw in Jacqui Thomson’s café and the best food on Islay, and how could you not want to visit?NominatedArdbeg
Dewar’s World of Whisky
Famous Grouse Experience
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre
Speyside CooperageRetailer of the Year (one outlet only)Winner: Loch Fyne WhiskiesIt says volumes that the reputation of Loch Fyne Whiskies and its maverick driving force Richard Joynson is known so far and wide. With just one outlet to trade from, Joynson continues to set the standard by which all other retailers must be judged.Apart from laying claim to the most beautiful location for a whisky outlet, Loch Fyne Whiskies has climbed to seemingly unobtainable heights by providing top quality product at the best value and in the shortest time. The philosophy is simple; if you can’t get people to you, you go to the people. So the mail order business is outstanding, and the range of whiskies on offer guaranteed to attract interest. Add to that a unique offering in the form of Richard’s Living Cask and an effervescent newsletter to keep the outlet’s profile up, and the shop’s great success makes total sense.Highly commended: The Whisky ExchangeNominatedLoch Fyne Whiskies
Park Avenue Liquors
The Wee Dram
The Whisky Exchange
The Vintage HouseIndependent Bottler of the Year – Sponsored by the Field GroupWinner: SignatoryThree in a row for Andrew Symington and his highly-respected independent bottling business. Quite an achievement in itself, but made the more so by the fact that his star was shining in full glow a year ago, and it’s hard to hang on to top spot once let alone twice.There was also the other concern; if Andrew really is the sort of bottler who picks his casks by climbing round the warehouse and picking out some hidden gems, how would that work with a distillery to run?Even for a workaholic, surely something had to give didn’t it? Whisky Magazine’s readers clearly don’t think it has, and while this was once again a highly competitive category Andrew is a worth winner. Again.Andrew’s the one wandering round in a blue boiler suit.NominatedGordon & MacPhail
Douglas Laing & Co.
Murray McDavid
Scotch Malt Whisky Society
SignatoryBar of the Year – Sponsored by Royal Mile WhiskiesWinner: The Lismore, GlasgowIn the most fiercely competed award of all, The Lismore triumphed with a late surge of support – to the great delight of the Whisky Magazine team. It is a traditional Glasgow pub in the Partick district of the city, it’s known for its great atmosphere, good music and quality drinks including, of course, great whisky. Architecturally impressive, too, retaining all the features of an old Scottish pub and depicting references
to Scotland’s turbulent history.NominatedBar Akkurat
Delilah’s
Helmsdale
The Lismore
LonsdaleHotel of the Year – Sponsored by Hunters and FrankauWinner: The CraigellachieUndisputed winner in this category, with only Ardbeg’s victory more emphatic. It’s no surprise really; situated in the heart of Speyside, the hotel under the stewardship of Duncan Elphick has become an unofficial whisky capital for the region. It is the sort of warm and welcoming hotel that fully lives up to the ideal created by visiting tourists. Its food is always excellent, the wines impressive.But it’s the whisky bar that really stands out. Even the most experienced connoisseurs can’t help to be impressed by the walls lined with bottle after bottle of tempting delights. Duncan’s done his own bottlings in recent years, most recently a Glenlivet. As you’d expect, it was excellent.NominatedThe Athenaeum
Craigellachie Hotel
Drumchork Lodge
Gleneagles
SeelbachInnovator of the YearWinner: BruichladdichIn a category with some very strong claims for the title, Bruichladdich came out as a clear winner.Unsurprising really, because the distillery team here have embraced the best of traditional Islay and given it a remarkably fresh spin. The stylish and modern packaging of the brands, the advertising, the emphasis on Islay (its water, for instance) and the willingness to adapt to the modern world with the use of the internet for online tastings and education is truly impressive.NominatedBruichladdich
Compass Box
The Easy Drinking Whisky Company
Scotch Malt Whisky Society
TullibardineLifetime achievement award – Sponsored by AmorimMichael Jackson
By Dominic RoskrowIt takes a special sort of journalist to be so established in one field that his or her name is forever associated with it. Amazingly, Michael Jackson has achieved the honour not in one area, but two.I first encountered Michael 13 years ago, when the British pub trade was in a state of upheaval caused by changes in the law which restricted
the number of pubs big brewers could own. New pub companies were springing up, and I think it’s true to say that we all got carried away with
marketing speak and gimmicks for a while.Not Michael. He won’t remember, but I went on a press trip with him and listened to him talk inspirationally about specific beers, about
tradition, about maintaining standards.His message: that there is no substitute for quality; that true pedigree would win in the end, no matter what else was marketed at us; that we
should always seek out the best. I never forgot the lesson. Fast forward 12 years and Michael is being interviewed by German television. It’s my first day in this job. They ask him what his favourite whisky is.“That’s impossible to say,” he says. “I mean if I’ve had a lovely day on Islay, it’s windy and I’m sitting on a hill looking out over the sea, then a
single malt from Islay would be my favourite. But if I’m in Kentucky on a hot day and having a drink with my friend Jimmy Russell, then his Wild
Turkey 101 is my favourite ...”And in the next five minutes he gives more valuable information than you’ll get from a month’s reading. That’s the thing about Michael: he’s not
only knowledgeable, he can communicate his sheer love of the grain – in whatever guise it’s in – like no one else.Brought up in the Northern English county of Yorkshire on a diet of ‘proper’ beer and rugby league – the blood and sweat version of the game
once played by colliery workers and as tough a game as there was before the marketing people got hold of it –Michael is what we would describe as from the ‘old school.’ He discovered whisky at 18, and has championed it ever since. His work in the area was ground-breaking and given how many distillery gates were closed to him back then, he must often smile to himself now when he sees how mainstream drinks writing has gone. Not that you’d ever catch him doing it; he’s far too nice and modest for that.He is an inspiration for anyone who has heard him speak and he has achieved almost iconic status. You can joke about the name, but watch him at one of his ‘gigs’ signing books and surrounded by fans, and he really is the nearest thing whisky will ever have to its own pop star.For all that though, he’s still the one at the front on any distillery tour he goes on, notebook in hand, bombarding the poor guide with questions. I once asked him why he still bothered, given that he must have been round the place 10 times beforehand known all the answers.“Oh no,” he said, “there is always something new to learn.”He is a true inspiration, a great writer, a charming and affable man and a wonderful ambassador for both the worlds of beer and whisky.Or as Dave Broom puts it: “He’s the guv’nor.” Dead right. And long may he continue to be.