Translate Caskstrength!

Thursday 13 December 2012

Best In Glass Award 2012 : The Winning Whisky

The world of whisky is littered with awards, medals and trophies. As professionals in the drinks industry, we are honoured and privileged to be judges on a few of these excellent ventures. Indeed, as we type there is an ominously large box of samples waiting for us to ready our noses and palates for the judgement which awaits.

Scoring whisky is not something which we have every felt fully comfortable with. When we started this website, our ethos was (and indeed still is) about bringing you, our readers, entertaining and informative articles with tasting notes woven into the general fabric and architecture of the piece. These tasting notes provide guidance as to the flavour profile of the liquid, with some advice as to the quality of those elements. Thus helping you to make a decision if you'll like it or not. Ergo, not simply telling you if we like it. For example, you may love the light, youthful, peat smoke which is found in the Ardbeg Still Young. If so, then buy that whisky from the tasting notes we provide. If, however, you find that "young", "youthful", "spirit" turns you off and you like "heavy, rich, sherried, peat" then simply don't buy the whisky described.

Within these tasting notes, we'll add an overall section with our thoughts in it which is where we allow ourselves a little more freedom to place the liquid against others in the same category or price point. It's all pretty simple, really.

And keeping things simple really is our motto; we're all about keeping whisky inclusive, not making it exclusive, ring-fencing it for the geek and the wealthy.  If we were were a club, we  wouldn't have a dress code. You're as welcome here in a pair of Nike Air Stabs as you are in a pair of Church's Brogues.

The idea of inclusivity and simplicity was the driver for our yearly Best in Glass Award. Bored of the idea that a whisky, which sold out nine months ago could win a gold medal, or that a trophy was awarded to a whisky issued in a run of just 45 bottles, exclusively for the  ('Insert-typically-cryptic-but-predictably-gaelic-named') Whisky Club and something which the average man in the street will never even see, let alone have a chance to purchase, seemed totally ludicrous and alien to us. Worse still, it seems to enhance the alienation which can preclude so many new, young drinkers in to the category.

As a result, five years ago, we developed our own system. Paying homage the highly successful Mercury Music Prize in the UK, we chose our top ten drams from the year, got a bunch of like-minded drinks professionals together and chose one overall winner. 
The criteria for entry is simple:

-the whisky must be a new release in the calendar year

- the whisky must be commercially available to buy from a retailer (no festival bottlings, no one-off club bottles etc)

- the final ten whiskies are chosen by us at Caskstrength from reviews we've done and other whisky features we've penned, then judged by an independent panel. There is no entry fee as we chose the finalists from the whiskies we've had throughout the year. Often the liquid is provided free by the distilleries for the judging, but often we purchase many of the bottles used.

Once the ten nominations have been chosen by us, we sit in a room, have some lunch and then start the judging, with all the drams tried blind. Every year there is a mix of old and young whisky; peated and unpeated; single malts and blends; world whiskeys and Scotch. If we thought it hit our top ten and meets the criteria above, then it's in.

So this this year, our fifth awards ceremony rolled into town and it turned out to be the most surprising yet. Gathering at the London home of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the 2012 panel was made up of the following:

Lucy Britner - Freelance Drinks Journalist
Ryan Chetiyawardana - Cocktail and Bar Consultant 
Ben Ellefsen - Director, Master of Malt
John Glaser - Compass Box Whisky Company
Alex Huskinson - Manager, The Whisky Exchange Shop, London
Alice Lascelles - Spirits Editor of Imbibe and The Sunday Times Drinks Columnist
Simone Sacco - Bar Manager, Hakkasan
Cat Spencer - Marketing Manager, Master of Malt
Marcin Miller - Number One Drinks Co.
Joe McGirr - Manager, SMWS London
Richard Woodard - Freelance Drinks Journalist and former Editor of The Spirits Business

The ten whiskies which made our finals this year were the following:

Balcones Texas Single Malt

The Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year Old Single Malt 

Cutty Sark Tam 'o Shanter Blended Whisky

Glenmorangie Artein Single Malt 

Johnnie Walker Platinum 18 Year Old Blended Whisky

Kilchoman Machir Bay Single Malt 

The Macallan Gold Single Malt
Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky

Springbank Rundlets & Kilderkins Single Malt
Teelings Hybrid Blended Irish / Scotch Whiskey

After much discussion, the panel whittled down the shortlist to three. From these those, an overall Best in Glass winner was chosen.

The two 'Highly Commended' whiskies were:

  • Teelings Hybrid Blended Irish / Scotch Whiskey
  • Cutty Sark Tam 'o Shanter Blended Whisky

So without further ado, it gives us great pleasure to announce that the overall winner - and this year's Best in Glass goes to:

Balcones Texas Single Malt - 53% - 75cl

Nose: Light orchard fruit notes, with apricot, stewed pears, plums and vanilla and a touch of dessert wine.  With water, the aromas start to really intensify, with more floral notes coming to the fore with a deliciously sweet red apple and hint of anise.  

Palate: Sweet and light, with vanilla, more dried apricot, chopped green apples, a hint of lightly toasted oak and milk chocolate.  The small casks used to mature this (mostly yard seasoned 20 litre American oak casks) have had a huge, but appealing influence to the palate. 

Finish: Short, with lighter fruit notes and a touch of liquorice. 

Overall: A mighty whisky and a triumph for independent distilling.  One thing's for sure, we very much look forward to trying the next few batches of this unique single malt in the years to come. 

So congratulations to the good people at Balcones for their excellent liquid, which the panel agreed stood up very well against some seriously stiff opposition. The panel were surprised and delighted by the Balcones bold flavour profile and balance of maturity.

Join us this time next year for the 6th annual Best in Glass award... who knows what will take the top prize...!


Barley & Water & Yeast & Time.

Just an additional note to mention that our new sister site,, is now up selling our own designs of whisky-related t-shirts, bags and... baby grows. Yes, that's right, Daddy's Wee Dram can enjoy whisky too! With international shipping, these items are all woven from high quality cotton with the chosen design in deep flock print.

The most popular tee so far has been our Barley & Water & Yeast & Time edition (as seen above), echoing the three ingredients which go into single malt whisky and the magical final piece of the jigsaw: time. 

Check it out here: