Scotch whisky shows its subtle side

Spirit news

Thu 17 Sep 2020

By Adam Lechmere

The IWSC Scotch whisky tastings have produced a raft of Gold Outstanding medals – which show not only that the category is in the most robust health, but also that styles are evolving.

When it comes to top Scotch, gone are the days of dominance by rich, peaty styles, Colin Hampden-White, a member of the judging panel, said. “Those styles, including those with a pronounced sherry influence, don’t stand out to us the way they did. We’re more aware of subtle flavours.”

In the past, the IWSC tastings were sometimes dominated by the big beasts like Laphroaig and Lagavulin. Now, with a plethora of more delicate, reserved styles coming through, “it doesn’t have to be a smoky Islay whisky to be noticed.”

Out of the 10 gold outstanding whiskies only two are peated – the 56-Year-Old from Last Drop Distillers, and the Bunnahabhain 25-Year-Old. Of these, the latter is only “lightly peated.”

Hampden-White says the trend towards subtler styles is a result of much more dialogue between distilleries and whisky aficionadoes. “The distilleries are asking people what they want. In the olden days the distilleries would simply make the whisky in their style and put it on the market, and that’s what you drank.”

He cited a distillery like Glenturret in Perthshire, which offers a wide range of different styles, from a 10-Year-Old peated to an non-age statement, to a 15-Year-Old at 55%. “So it’s a mixed bag, sweet and rounded to heavily peated, to offer whisky lovers.”


A selection of this year's top-rated Scotch whiskies

The IWSC tastings also demonstrate great consistency: the top distilleries are making outstanding bottles year after year.

“This is what most impressed me,” Hampden-White said. “There are whiskies that are consistently brilliant – the Glenfiddich 40-Year-Old for example. And their Solera Finest is wonderful – I wouldn’t have expected such complexity from an no-age statement bottle.”

Other standouts included the Tamnavulin 1973 Single Speyside Malt, from a distillery owned by Whyte & Mackay but which has not had the focussed investment of the giant distiller’s high-profile projects like The Dalmore and Jura. “It hasn’t got a huge reputation, it just carries on what it’s doing, and then suddenly it produces this amazing whisky. We’ll be seeing more it in future I’m sure.”

The trophy winners for Scotch and other spirits will be announced on Monday 21st September. For a listing of all the gold outstanding medal-winning Scotch whiskies, click here.