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International Spirits Challenge is one of the most prestigious global spirits competitions, and the awards are among the most sought-after ones not only in the world of whisky, but also cognacs, liqueurs, rums, tequilas, etc. The competition is run annually by the specialist magazine Drinks International.
This year’s edition ended several days ago, with the announcement of the winners in the last two categories – Design & Packaging and the most prestigious Trophy Awards. It might be worth a while to have a look at the results and the process of awarding the trophies. And also – which can also be revealing – the number of winners.
The International Spirits Challenge is run in several categories, depending on the type of spirit entered. In each category, the entrants are judged by a different jury, composed of outstanding specialists in the field. In the case of the category we are most interested in here, i.e. everything whisky, the jury included some of the truly outstanding names, such as David Stewart, Ian MacMillan, Richard Paterson and Bill Lumsden. Each entry is judged blind, the jurors have no knowledge of its provenance, age, etc. Each juror judges independently, with the final results calculated on the basis of each score by the category chairman.
The ISC 2017 Tasting Awards were split into the following categories:
Liqueurs and Specialities
In each of the above categories, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were awarded. The winner were announced gradually, category after category, beginning in late March and ending in mid-July when the two more general categories were announced – Design & Packaging and the most prestigious Trophy Awards.
The International Spirits Challenge Trophies were awarded not only to spirits – already awarded gold in the individual categories – but also to industry people, package designers, spirits producers and retailers. Usually there is a short description of what the award is for, although the reasons are most often obvious for those interested.
In this year’s edition of the Challenge, 45 such Trophies were awarded. These are the ones related to whisky:
Invergordon 43 Year Old - Batch 11 (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)
Dewar's 18 Year Old
Master of Malt 40 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
Johnnie Walker Green Label
Glenfiddich 18 Year Old
The Balvenie Thirty
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Hibiki 21 Years Old
The Notch Nantucket Island Single Malt Whisky 12 Years Old
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky
Nikka Coffey Malt
In the case of Hibiki 21yo, it has to be stressed that it got two ISC Trophies – one for the Taste and the other as the Supreme Champion Spirit, a kind of the Best of the Best.
The following other titles were awarded, too:
World Whisky Producer of the Year – Suntory Spirits
Scotch Whisky Producer of the Year – William Grant & Sons
Distiller of the Year – William Grant & Sons
Master Blender/Distiller of the Year – Brian Kinsman (William Grant & Sons
Lifetime Achievement Award – dr Jim Swan
It might come as a surprise to some that the widely known whisky manufacturer Diageo was awarded a Trophy as… Gin Producer of the Year. It is not so surprising after all when you realise Diageo is a manufacturer of so much more than just whisky, for which it is probably best known. Their portfolio does include gin (e.g. Gordon’s and Tanqueray), but also vodka (e.g. Smirnoff), beers (e.g. Guinness and Kilkenny) and numerous other drinks.
It would be a mistake to assume – on seeing a bottle adorned with an “ISC Gold” sticker – that it is actually the whisky that was judged the best in its category. Or if it is an “ISC Silver” – that there was only one better, according to the jurors. In sports competitions that might make sense, but by no means so in the case of International Spirits Challenge. There is definitely more than one “Gold,” “Silver” and Bronze awarded. A lot more than one. In fact, this year there were 68 Golds, 193 Silvers and 13 Bronzes in the Scotch Whisky category alone! Coming across a shop shelf with two, three or even more “ISC Gold” whiskies lined up one next to another should come as no surprise then.