The best whiskies in the world 2017, Icons of Whisky Global winners and the conclusion to this year's Battle of the Blends
There have been long and exhaustive voting rounds to draw up the Icons of Whisky this year, with much debate over each category.
If truth be told there are only really three things that are important in the whisky business, people, product and place. When you blend these things together you get the passion, craft and history behind every drop of the good stuff.
To celebrate the people and places behind the whiskies you enjoy, the Icons of Whisky was launched six years ago. Down the years there has been a little reshaping of some categories and some have evolved into different competitions. This year we changed the judging process, with regional heats in the United States, Japan, Ireland and Scotland. Each regional heat was voted on by industry members only in that country. Once we had the regional winners, we opened the field for other contenders from the rest of the world, leading to some interesting inclusions recognising the fact that passion for good whisky does not just emanate from the four main producing nations.
The responsibility for selecting the final Icons was handed to an independent editorial panel, and it has to be said that the voting in many categories was painfully close. The debate is bound to rage over who has made the shortlists, well at least until next year, but it is never a perfect system with something that is as subjective as asking the industry to vote on for its preferences. But we hope that you will celebrate the diversity of the industry and congratulate the winners.
It has to be said that given the global nature of this year’s awards to make the shortlists, both regional and final, is a tremendous honour. As in previous years some of the bigger and more established companies have been pushed out of the running by smaller operations showing true promise. Special mention must go to Jean Donnay, whose scored impressively for his first outing in the competition. Every vote was cast with serious thought and after much deliberation.
The outcome of all of this is the continuing reign of some old faces and the emergence of some first timers.
A family owned company based in Franklin County, Kentucky with big ideas that keep pushing the boundaries of bourbon. Its experimental range has challenged many of the preconceptions about what you can do with bourbon. The distillery’s rich tradition dates back to 1787 and has included legends such as E.H. Taylor Jnr, George T Stagg, Albert Blanton, Orville Schupp and Elmer T Lee. With an Antique Collection that exemplifies its standard of quality and range of ages and recipes, this family distiller is consistently punching above its weight
Alberta Distillers, Canada
Cooley Distillery, Ireland
One of the closest final votes in the competition saw Glenfiddich carry off this award. The company was one of the first distilleries to set up a visitor centre. Today the large scale of the distillery is matched by the large number of visitors flowing through it. Don’t let the size of the car park, usually complete with a few coaches, put you off. You’ll find the exceptionally friendly welcome undiminished even at the busiest times, and the many well trained tour guides on hand mean that group size is always reasonable and the distillery never feels unduly crowded.
George Washington’s Distillery, USA
Old Midleton Distillery, Ireland
Yoichi, Nikka Whisky, Japan
A vote too close to call so we decided to award a joint Icon this year. The City Inn has a fantastic modern bar featuring an extensive and eclectic whisky collection including a mix of the rare and more available blended, single malt and single grain Scotch whiskies. The Gleneagles Hotel features more than 120 whiskies in the timeless setting of one of Scotland’s best loved hotels.
Clontarf Castle, Ireland
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo
Seelbach Hilton, USA
Picking up the award for the second year running, this is so much more than a wine merchant, showing a real passion and commitment to whisky. The shop is drenched in history complete with gentlemen’s scales and part of an old real tennis court. Personal service is paramount when you walk through the doors and the helpful and knowledgeable staff are on hand to guide you through the dazzling array of whiskies.
Celtic Whiskey Shop, Ireland
La Maison du Vin, France
Liquors Hasegawa, Japan
Vintage House, London
Retaining its number one spot for the second year running, Royal Mile Whiskies has been no stranger to this category. Providing outstanding service in both its London and Edinburgh shops, it has some of the most gifted staff in the retail world and an impressive range of whiskies to match. Always ready to source even the most difficult whiskies, Royal Mile is the place to indulge yourself in.
La Maison du Whisky, France
Le Comptoir Irlandais, France
Picardi Rebel, South Africa
Head and shoulders above the rest, The Pot Still received almost half the votes making it a clear winner for the second year. The perfect example of what a whisky bar should be, understated and unassuming until you look up behind the bar, at the rest of the walls, to discover a staggering array of whisky.
Bascule, South Africa
Bourbon’s Bistro, USA
Temple Bar, Ireland
Yet another winner keeping their crown from last year’s awards, despite a close round of final voting. Compass Box has continued its creative dynamic streak and helped to develop whisky in new directions with ideas like its Oak Cross and Flaming Heart bottlings. Hopefully we can expect more from this cutting edge company during the year as it continues to test the boundaries.
Alberta Distillers, Canada
Cooley Distillery, Ireland
The role of a whisky man has changed dramatically in recent times. In the past there was a clear line drawn between the people who sold and those who made. The former swanned around the world, leaving their colleagues to craft. Today the boundaries have been blurred as firms realise that sales start with education and the best way to teach the consumer is to call on decades of hands-on experience. Enter the new whisky ambassador. Dr Bill Lumsden is such a person. He somehow manages to balance a vitally important strategic role within Glenmorangie: creating the Ardbeg brand, overseeing the rebirth of Glen Moray and the continuing evolution of Glenmorangie itself, while also travelling around the world spreading the message – and doing so with enviable clarity. There are few communicators in the world of whisky who can put across complex topics with such simplicity. At the same time he also continue his pioneering research into wood management which has benefited not just his firm, but the entire industry. Pioneer, innovator, educator, distiller. A true ambassador for whisky.
Bill Samuels, Maker’s Mark
Jason Duganzich, William Grant International
John Teeling, Cooley Distillery
Seiichi Koshimizu, Suntory
It takes a special person to become the master distiller at Jack Daniel’s. For a starter, there have been only been six since the distillery was founded, including Jack himself and the legendary businessman Lem Motlow. When Jimmy Bedford took on the role in 1988 he was inheriting some legacy. He has not only proved himself worthy of the challenge, but has played a major role in taking his whiskey to greater and greater heights. Jimmy Bedford was brought up on a farm just outside Lynchburg, Tennessee, where the distillery is sited. He started working there in 1968, nearly 40 years ago, and worked in yeasting, fermenting, milling and distillation during the next 20 years, gaining invaluable insider knowledge of the Jackmaking process. His appointment to the master distiller’s job coincided with a phenomenal growth in demand for the whiskey and Jimmy has worked tirelessly both in maintaining the quality of the whiskey and in championing it across the world. It’s not the easiest of jobs. The distillery sits in a dry county a few hours south of the whisky-making heartland of Kentucky. There is no whiskey community to fall back on, and because Jack Daniel’s isn’t a bourbon, the distiller there is treated as a distant relative in every sense. No matter. In the years at the helm Jimmy has earned the respect of the industry by playing major part in taking a strong-tasting brown spirit to iconic status within the drinks world. And his whiskey-making skills have been recognized through the outstanding single barrel Jack Daniel’s releases that he has presided over. Jimmy is a gentleman in the truest Southern sense of the word. He has Jack Daniel’s flowing through his veins. He has given his working life to a whiskey he loves. For that alone I can think of no worthier winner of the Icons of Whisky Lifetime Achievement Award.