A Guide to Whisky Competitions and Medals

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone

In it to win it

Something very exciting is on the horizon at Whisky 1901. The company is set to release its first ever single cask single malt bottling in June with a launch event in Scotland.

This inaugural release, which I have been delighted to be part of, will be the first of several such single casks to be bottled. More details will follow very soon.

Time to shine

The company has also been very proactive and entered the new whisky into some of the world’s best whisky competitions. Fingers crossed that there will soon be an impressive set of medals to show off!

But what are these competitions and how do they work? What do you have to do to achieve a medal?

Five of the best

I am fortunate to regularly get asked to judge for such award competitions. The process is simple – brands enter and are judged blind by a panel, and then awarded an overall mark once the panel members have agreed.

This defines which medal a whisky achieves, with criteria set for each level of award. Judging blind and not knowing which company a whisky is from takes away any preconceived bias. And up to 60 whiskies are tasted individually per panel per day at most competitions.

Below are the five competitions that Whisky 1901 has entered its exciting new whisky in. Some have already taken place and results being awaited. Some are happening later in the year.

1. ­­Great Taste Awards

This UK-based competition is for all categories of food and drink, and you have probably spotted their much-coveted badges on anything from jars of chutney and packs of biscuits to traditional charcuterie and cheeses.

The all-encompassing competition is organised by The Guild of Fine Food and judged at its headquarters in London each year. The spirits and liqueurs section forms a vibrant part of the awards with Scotch whisky as a premium UK product at the centre of that.

2. IWSC | International Wine & Spirits Challenge

One of the big international competitions is the IWSC. It is vast and covers both wine and spirits (the clue is in the name!). Over 5,000 wines and 3,000 spirits enter each year and judging takes places around the globe.

The whisky categories are judged in the UK and Kentucky, USA. Medals are Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Gold Outstanding (only 1% of all entries ever achieve this grade). The medals also are some of the most featured on products and you’ve probably seen them on bottles of wine or spirits.

3. San Francisco World Spirits Challenge

Arguably the biggest and most influential spirits competition in the world. Over 3,500 spirits across every category enter annually and an elite panel of judges descend on San Francisco from all around the globe each Spring.

Competition is stiff and the Scotch whisky category is huge with many brands selecting this as their award of choice. The awards also carry significant weight in the drinks industry and for consumers and can make or break a brand. Medals are Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Double Gold.

4. Scotch Whisky Masters

This competition is one of the largest in the UK and is operated by The Spirits Business magazine. It forms part of the wider Global Spirits Masters which sees such judging dates happening regularly throughout the year. It covers all spirits categories including tequila, brandy, gin, vodka, and world whiskey amongst others.

For the Scotch Whisky Masters, over 250 whiskies enter every year. These include blends, blended malts, single grains, and single malts. Medals are Silver, Gold, and Master.

5. World Whisky Awards

This is the third big international whisky competition and is operated by The Whisky Magazine, one of the leading print publications about whisky in the world. Each Autumn a select panel of judges assemble in Norwich, home of The Whisky Magazine’s publishers, and sip their way through nearly 1,000 whiskies from around the world.

Scotch whisky forms a significant part of this and accounts for a third of all entries. They also hold awards for other spirits, beer, cider, and liqueurs. Medals are Bronze, Silver and Gold.


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