The Whisky Exchange once again invited whisky fans from far and wide to become the judges for the internationally recognised award, Whisky of the Year 2021, which saw the peated Islay Scotch come away with the title.
‘Whisky of the Year’ Competition
It’s easy to judge a book by its cover, or a whisky by its label. The Whisky Exchange once again invited whisky fans to step into the unknown with its blind tasting and select this year’s best whisky from one of six unlabelled Whisky of the Year 2021 finalists. Those wishing to put on their judging hat were able to purchase a Perfect Measure Tasting Set online and in-store (£24.95), sip away at their own leisure and vote online for their favourite. The whiskies were labelled A to F so that they could be judged blind (well, blind-ish, as the colour will still be visible).
Port Charlotte 10 triumphed at The Whisky Exchange annual tasting, taking the top spot in the only official blind whisky judging undertaken by members of the public. As this year’s winning whisky, it will be given a dedicated landing page on The Whisky Exchange for the year to showcase the distillery and the bottling, whilst customers who didn’t get a chance to blind test the finalists can grab their very own ‘Of The Year’ tasting set here.
On the subject of the victor, Sukhinder Singh (co-founder of The Whisky Exchange) comments,
“This year’s winner, Port Charlotte is a superb rich and smoky whisky with a maritime tang – a worthy winner of the title.”
Port Charlotte 10
Hailing from Islay’s much-loved and independently-minded Bruichladdich Distillery, Port Charlotte 10 is a 10-year-old, well peated (40ppm) expression that harnesses the island’s rich smoke character and recalls the bracing sea breeze that buffets the coastal distillery’s warehouses.
Made with 42% Islay grown barley (the rest from mainland Scotland), it is aged in ex-American-whiskey and French wine casks and bottled on the island.
The smoke is present but unlike some Islay whiskies (such as Bruichladdich’s Octomore range) it doesn’t blow your head off, instead being quelled by the cooling, saline and lightly kelpy maritime influence. Toffee, vanilla custard and raisins make for a delightfully rich and fruity nose. The peat is dry and earthy, with some nuttiness, orchard fruits and hints of coconut, ginger, nutmeg and clove coming through. Citrus notes such as clementine and confected lemon flit around in the background, along with gently swirling herbs.
On the palate, it is creamy and coating, with sweet, dry peat taking on a more tea-like character and throwing up dried herbs such as sage, oregano, dill and wild mountain thyme. Wasabi peas, soy, green peas, German salami, worn leather, smokey bacon peat, gunpowder and flint play with pineapple, mango, toffee banana, lemon oil, clementines and apricots in a delicious cacophony, with vanilla custard, baked salt, boiled sweets and sweet oak following. It’s a brilliant expression that has enough smoke to keep peat heads happy, but not too much to scare off those otherwise inclined.
SPECIAL OFFER: Weighing in at just £45.95 (reduced for the occasion from £49.95), this award-winner is pretty darn affordable, with enough complexity of flavour to keep you guessing, and enough smoky richness to make it an excellent winter warmer.
Whisky of the Year 2021 Virtual Tasting with Sukhinder and Dawn
We were lucky enough to join The Whisky Exchange co-founder, Sukhinder Singh and head buyer, Dawn Davies, for a special Whisky of the Year 2021 Zoom tasting, where ten or so fellow drinks writers and professionals sipped along with the pair as they talked through and re-tasted the whiskies they’d picked as this year’s finalists.
Sukhinder kicked off the tasting by explaining how the Whisky of the Year award came about. He felt that even though there were a lot of competitions around, they weren’t consumer friendly.
“Half of them were more trade-led and the other half had too many awards where it was all about how many gold medals they could deliver. Most importantly, you had to pay to enter, so then you automatically restricted [the award scheme] in terms of who could enter. Of course, a lot of the “Big Boys” enter. They have a lot of products so they choose what they’re going to enter and sadly some of the smaller brands who can’t afford to put five or ten products in, get left out.
“So for us, I wanted something which was for everybody. It was more for entry level, so we put in some very simple but sensible criteria, one was it has to be below a certain price-point. We started this competition in 2014 and every year we review the rules, and have to move them slightly because the price of whisky has gone up. Today it’s ‘Under £65, non-cask strength, non-limited-edition, something that is not on allocation.’”
We then set about getting ready to taste these carefully selected finalists. Whilst Sukhinder and Dawn naturally know which whisky is which, Dawn asks us not to try and guess.
“We don’t care what the whisky is. All we care about is which product tastes the best. That is your mission, if you choose to accept it. Pick a great product.”
At the time, we dutifully listened, but now have added the unveiled names of the whiskies to each sample.
Whisky A – Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky
Super fruity from the get-go. Apricot and loads of Red Delicious apple. Super buttery, creamy and moreish. Apple custard tart, bananas in cold custard, pear drops, lemon, coconut. Fruit-forward with a gentle wood dryness but a silky, round texture. Whisky writer Douglas Blyde says “banana Nesquik”, which we love!
Whisky C – Kilkerran 12 Year Old
(Dawn had “gone rogue” and changed the order of tasting as she thought this worked better)
Apricot and other soft orchard fruit, along with juicy watermelon. There’s a Matcha tea greenness, a coastal saltiness and seaweed greenery, a lick of smoke and an almost menthol, cooling character. Old cigarette ash rocks up alongside shammy leather and a bit of dried red chilli. Some great minerality. Very direct, lengthy flavour.
Whisky B – Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old
Similar orchard fruit to A but with more redcurrant, plum and Pink Lady apple. Maybe some toffee apple, as well as some fruity confected notes. Something a touch herbal with bay leaf, walnut and almonds. Feels a bit richer than the first two; more of a “leather armchair, Winter whisky” as Sukhinder puts it. Great weight and length – beautifully textural and fatty, languidly spreading across the palate, but being held in check by the brighter fruit notes.
Potpourri, red plum, rhubarb and wild strawberry. Sweet spice, with something reminiscent of Gajar ka Halwa. Grape pith and sweet sandalwood incense with a memory of roasted almond and honey nuts. Dawn “feels like this is very Autumnal […] like I’m walking through a forest where the leaves have fallen on the ground and when you step all these aromas come up and smack you in the face.”
Whisky E – Port Charlotte 10
Toffee and vanilla fudge. Wasabi peas, soy, green peas, German salami, worn leather, smokey bacon peat with gunpowder and flint. Dried herbaceous notes of sage, thyme and dill. A touch of the medicinal with boiled sweet syrup and balanced peat. Still that fruit but more clementine, lemon oil and other citrus.
Whisky F – Lagavulin 16-Year-Old
Seville orange marmalade, Bay leaf, Jasmine tea, Peach ice tea. Roasted pulled pork smoke, end of BBQ coals, cold ashy peat notes and earthy, wet moss. This is darker, colder and heavier than Whisky E’s fruity peat character and goes through waves on the palate.
As we finished Whisky F, Dawn invited us to go back and taste the drams the other way (F to A), flitting between expressions to see what else can be found that wasn’t there on the initial tasting.
Whisky of the Year 2021 Tasting Set
We found the virtual judging to be a fun and involved experience which made us think that, seeing as the weather is getting worse and Tier restrictions are upon us, why not take this as a chance to set a date for your own virtual tasting with some friends? All you’ll each need is a Whisky of the Year 2021 Tasting Set, six glasses (so you can go back and forth between the drams if you wish), an internet link and a comfy seat. You may not agree, but that’s half the fun!
We’d love to hear how you get on or if voted for the Whisky of the Year 2021! Let us know if you did or what you thought of the winning expression on social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @satedonline).
Other ‘Of the Year 2021’ Winners
This year’s winners of other such categories were:
Rum of the Year 2021
There were some serious contenders for this year’s Rum of the Year however, the 2020-release of Mount Gay XO rum came out top (and damn it’s good). This is made with rums matured in a combination of American whiskey, ex-bourbon and ex-Cognac casks for between five and 17 years. The result is a spicy, fruity rum with a creamy, smooth palate.
Gin of the Year 2021
The first bottle to come from Edinburgh’s Port of Leith Distillery, Lind & Lime gin is inspired by history. Paying homage to Dr. J Lind, who discovered the effect of citrus fruits on those suffering from scurvy, Lind & Lime gin uses lime for flavour alongside pink peppercorn and juniper to balance out its strong, fresh citrus notes.
Champagne of the Year 2021
A simply superb non-vintage reserve cuvée from Charles Heidsieck, the most highly-regarded of the Heidsieck houses in terms of quality. As Master of Wine, Dawn Davies puts it, “A Champagne loved by the wine industry for good reason.“
Sadly there is no ‘Of the Year’ finalist tasting test (would be a bit tricky to decant fizz into sample bottles) but happily, a full-size bottle of the winner is available from The Whisky Exchange with a special £5 off, to celebrate it’s victory!