A journey round Islay, visits to Maker's Mark and Penderyn, and the conclusion to our trip down the Rockies
The Icons have become one of the biggest highlights of the whisky calendar and 2009 has proved itself to be impressive with the number and quality of companies entering the awards.
The Icons are designed to celebrate the people and places behind the great whiskies of the world, with the World Whiskies Awards taking care of the liquid later in the year.
We asked the industry to nominate themselves in the various categories, then based on the evidence an independent editorial panel drew up a shortlist from which the winners were picked.
In a slight change to last year’s event we decided to hold voting rounds for companies in the USA and also in Scotland. Then we opened up the competition to the rest of the world, including Japan, Canada and Ireland.
This gave us a final shortlist, which is a tremendous honour to appear on given the competition. Voting this year was painfully close in many categories, with just a few votes separating the winner from the rest of the nominations. In some cases we have seen smaller companies punching well above their weight to top their bigger rivals in the polls.
It has to be said that to make the final shortlist, given the global nature of these awards and the quality of the entries, is an honour.
We hope that you will join us in congratulating this year’s winners and celebrate the diversity that this worldwide industry has to offer.
Established in 1895, long before the days of supermarkets, instant coffee and refrigerators, Gordon & MacPhail soon became an essential part of the Elgin community.
From as far back as 1895 Gordon & MacPhail has been selecting and buying malt whisky from distilleries throughout all the regions of Scotland, maturing it in its own casks and bottling it, when it consider it to be at its best, for sale under their own labels.
It has been called an Aladdin’s Cave for whisky enthusiasts, who travel from all over the world to browse through the crowded shelves looking for some of the stunning whiskies the company is known for.
Celtic Whisky and Versand, Germany
With 21 stores in the state of Illinois, Binny’s has had a formidable reputation in selling some of the finest whiskies and bourbons in the US since 1947.
The chain has been a regular winner of the Icons of Whisky USA but has been often pipped to the post in the final stages, but this year Binny’s has finally garnered the honours it deserves.
With Brett Pontoni at the helm of the spirits sections, Binny’s is a great example of how to sell whiskies from across the world on a large scale. With its tasting events, the various stores also help to take the malt message to new converts and those looking for something different.
Peckhams and Rye, Scotland
In the last year, this retailer has consolidated its position as the largest, most popular online retailer in the UK, offering the consumer a wealth of whiskies and knowledge.
The website is one of the best places to head for if you are looking for something special, unusual, rare or event just your regular whisky.
The site also features a blog which contains distillery news and new product launches, as well as tasting notes, features and analysis from time to time.
Other impressive features include the gallery with its distillery visit photographs and even a section of whisky related wallpapers you can download for your computer.
Loch Fyne Whiskies, Scotland
Opened in October 2004, the heritage center immediately raised the game for all other visitor facilities along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The attraction has continually educated an increasing number of visitors in its barrel tasting room under the watchful eye of center manager Lynne Grant and offering a wide range of tours to suit novice to expert. It is a beacon for Kentucky Bourbon.
The Bourbon Heritage Center, constructed largely of the main constituent materials used in making Bourbon copper, white oak and limestone, it offers visitors to Heaven Hill a wealth of information and resources on Bourbon history and the process of making Bourbon.
Using interactive exhibits, barrel shaped tasting room and displays the center highlights the Bourbon industry’s role in the history of the Commonwealth and Heaven Hill’s place in that industry.
In 2007 the Bourbon Heritage Center welcomed nearly 50,000 visitors to Bardstown, making it the most visited attraction in the historic Nelson County city.
Ardbeg Distillery Scotland
Dewar’s World of Whisky Scotland
For the second year running this company has scooped the innovator award, no mean feat when you consider the rest of the competition out there.
Last year the judges thought Bill Lumsden and his team had taken bold steps to win the award, but this year they have upped their game significantly to build on their success.
The changes which were put in place seem to have paid off with consumers becoming more educated in the world of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg With some truly innovative products expanding its range and its horizons, The Glenmorangie Company has yet again to left the competition standing releasing some stunning whiskies this year such as Glenmorangie Astar and Signet, and Ardbeg Blasda and Renaissance.
Despite leading the field for continually pushing the boundaries of the taste experience, the quality of the whisky and the heritage built by the original men of Tain and Islay is what lies at the heart of the Glenmorangie Company.
Buffalo Trace Distillery USA
Celtic Whisky Company France
Whisky Magazine decided it was time to honour the upcoming ambassadors who work and travel as hard as their more senior counterparts.
These are the young guns, the life blood of the industry to come, and we decided its was time they were recognised.
The criteria was that they had to be under 35 years old.
You could say that Mark has the sort of job others envy as the sales executive for Duncan Taylor. The company distributes whisky across the world from its shop and bottling plant in Huntly. Part of Mark’s job is travelling the world hosting tasting sessions. Pretty much tailor-made for the 28 year old as he was born within the grounds of the Macallan distillery.
He has already visited Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Holland, France, Spain and Sweden and doubtless more countries will follow soon as he raises the profile of Duncan Taylor’s whiskies and the industry in general.
With expert knowledge of hundreds of whiskies at his fingertips, Mark fended off stiff competition for this inaugural award.
Pete Currie Springbank
George Grant Glenfarclas
Stephen Marshall Dewars
Aoife O’Sullivan Cooley
This three man team continues to spread the gospel of bourbon across the USA in new and innovative ways.
Whiskey Professors Steve Cole, Bernie Lubbers and David Mays are a hard team to beat with their passion and knowledge of “America’s Native Spirit” and are unparalleled in their commitment to Knob Creek and all things Bourbon.
The Professors spend their days (and nights) presenting Knob Creek Bourbon to bartenders, bar and restaurant owners, and consumers by teaching label reading classes, guiding tastings across the United States, and spearheading two major initiatives for Beam Global – moderating The Great Whisk(e)y Debates and hosting bourbon dinners.
The merits of Scotch whisky and bourbon whiskey are deliberated at the debates, allowing the audience to choose if the whisk(e)y with or without the “e” is better.
The team also host bourbon dinners across the country at restaurants such as The Palm and Morton’s Steakhouses to educate consumers on bourbon and food pairings.
Tetsuji Hisamitsu Nikka Whisky Distilling Co
Colin Scott Chivas Bros.
David Stewart is the gentle man of blending. Self-effacing to a fault, he has, during 40 plus years at William Grant & Sons, managed to quietly craft a portfolio of whiskies which are not only among the most popular in the world, but are hugely respected by his colleagues in the industry.
He has masterminded a discreet revolution at Glenfiddich which has seen the world’s No.1 single malt brand pick up extra depth in its 12 Years Old expression. He’s innovated with the use of a solera system in the 15 Year Old and peaty barrels in Caoran Reserve as well as building a range which demonstrates that being No.1 does not mean you lack in complexity.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s built Balvenie from the secret love of a few aficionados to a brand in its own right as well as overseeing the building of two new distilleries: Kininvie and the recently opened Ailsa Bay. Stir in the Grant’s blends and Monkey Shoulder and you have a body of work the breadth of which few can rival.
Say that to him and he would undoubtedly just say: ‘Thanks very much,” and immediately try and deflect the praise elsewhere. Not any more.
Dave Broom All master blenders don't view their job in the same way.
Some are restless globe-trotters, clocking an impressive mileage and stepping on all international stages to promote what they have designed in their sample room. Others avoid the spotlights and prefer the comforting twilight of a warehouse. David Stewart belongs to this second category.
Joining William Grant & Sons in 1962, as a whisky stocks clerk, aged 17, David has patiently learned the mysteries of blending, the clerk of yesterday becoming the master blender of today who keeps the records and memory of 770 000 casks stored in 45 warehouses. David is the longest serving master blender in the industry to remain with one distiller. Forty-seven years to watch over William Grant & Son portfolio, for a number of years in total anonymity. If the man is as self-effacing as modest, the talent reveals itself in the bottle.
He has shaped the company's portfolio, bringing Glenfiddich and Balvenie on the highest steps of the podium in international competitions, gaining the admiration and the affection of all his peers in the industry. For David is a nice and charming man and an open mind to innovation too. The Balvenie Double Wood – probably his favourite creation – was the pioneer of finish maturation, now so popular in the industry.
A balanced spirit, with a honeyed tone and gentle charm. Who are we speaking of? Balvenie or David Stewart, the quiet man with an inspired nose? For sure, David Stewart.
This distillery company is one of those small outfits, just 16 employees under the guidance of the master distiller, that has continually punched above its weight during the past few years.
Growing the range from a single 10 Years Old expression, master distiller Billy Walker has revitalised the BenRiach name with more than 20 expressions, covering both peated and unpeated styles.
Output from BenRiach is expected to double and the distillery itself continues to be invested in, with plans afoot for a new filling store and sampling room.
After just four years BenRiach is available in more than 30 markets, and as a result of this continued growth people are now talking enthusiastically about a distillery which, before 2004, many did not know it existed before.
With Glendronach now joining the fold, people can expect big things from Mr Walker and his distillery duo in the coming year.
Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Japan
Heaven Hill Distilleries USA