A journey round Islay, visits to Maker's Mark and Penderyn, and the conclusion to our trip down the Rockies
Following months of debate, scrutiny and several rounds of voting, Whisky Magazine's international judging panel has finally settled on the winners. We reveal who has collected the coveted Icons.
This year we have made one important change to the Icons of Whisky line up. In the past we have honoured members of the industry with a Lifetime Achievement award. We have now evolved this award into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. This is intended to be a permanent tribute honouring those noteworthy individuals who have made a lasting contribution to the world of whisky.
Each year, the Icons is one of the biggest highlights of the whisky calendar and the 2012 competition has lived up to its reputation 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.
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.
Continuing the same format as previous years' events we held voting rounds for companies based 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 from which the global icons are voted on by the judges.
Voting this year was pretty close in many categories, with just a few votes separating the winner from the rest of the nominations.
A seriously excellent year for Irish Distillers; long has it been gently faming the flames of Irish whiskey with its flagship brand Jameson. In the past few years the world has woken up to the delights of Irish whiskey and demand has shot through the roof. Of course IDL has been at the vanguard of re-educating the world's palates.
It made a serious move last year to relight the whiskey touch paper with a bold reinventing of a style it has pretty much kept alive.
Having watched the growth of premium single malt Scotch, the company upped its game and raised the distilling bar by reinvigorating and energising that most Irish of styles, Pot Still whiskey. It increased the offerings to enthusiasts, and also tweaked the recipe of Jameson to give a new, more pot still laden version.
With plans to increase distilling capacity by a serious amount in the coming years, the future is certainly rosy for this Irish Distilling giant.
Balcones Distillery USA
Four Roses Distillery USA
You expect most whisky ambassadors to increase the awareness of their brand, but Ashok has taken this to a new level with Amrut.
Virtually unheard of until 2004, Ashok and Rick Jagdale, his business partner and grandson of Amrut's fouder, worked their way round from bar to bar with this unknown malt, conducting tastings and recording peoples' reactions. In 2004 Ashok and Rick returned to Glasgow to formally launch Amrut.
The pair attended every whisky festival they could, and even led a tasting at the world famous Pot Still pub in Glasgow where jaws dropped when the source of the whisky was revealed to the tasters.
The gamble and all the legwork has paid off for Ashok and Rick, with Amrut establishing its credentials as a serious award winning whisky.
David Blackmore, The Glenmorangie Company
Susan Colville, Wemyss Vintage Malts
Colin Dunn, Diageo
Elmer T. Lee, Buffalo Trace
You wait for a revival and then three expressions come at once.
With Irish whiskey making massive waves around the world, Irish Distillers upped its game and brought a much needed revival to the Pot Still category. This style of whiskey is uniquely Irish and some say provide the backbone of Irish whiskey, certainly contributing to mouthfeel and flavour.
Irish Distllers has kept the flame of pot still alive for many years, with Green Spot and Redbreast, but it positively turned up the gas last year with the release of three superb examples of the style.
Powers John's Lane, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy and the Redbreast 12 Years Old Cask Strength showed a company displaying its distilling talents. But then came the new pot still laden Black Barrel Jameson. A great year for Midleton and astounding whiskeys
Buffalo Trace, USA
Whyte & Mackay, Scotland
Fans of the instantly recognisable square bottle with its stark black and white label treat Lynchburgh and the distillery with an air of reverence normally reserved for ancient buildings and rock stars.
Nearly a quarter of a million devotees make the pilgrimage every year to pay homage at the stills that create one of the world's best selling whiskies.
The distillery also has the honour of being America's oldest registered distillery.
Despite being the location of a major operational distillery, Jack Daniel's home county of Moore is a dry county, so the product is not available for consumption at stores or restaurants within the county. However you can buy a commemorative bottle of whiskey at the distillery's White Rabbit Bottle Shop.
A tour takes you not only to the famous stills, but also the water source in the Hollow. This water flows year-round at 800 gallons per minute at a constant temperature of 56° and is virtually iron free.
Aberlour Distillery, Scotland
The English Whisky Company
The bar for online retailer has just been raised.
Master of Malt has released at least 20 new products during the past year, most whisky related: from the ready made cocktails to the whisky bitters.
From humble beginnings in a retail shop in Royal Tunbridge Wells, the Master of Malt website now provides one of the most expansive ranges of fine and rare malts to be found anywhere in the world.
Combining industry-leading knowledge and experience with a drive and passion for all things whisky-related, the website is easy to navigate and is packed with information and of course products. These include the company's own independent offerings and the excellent ‘try a sample before you buy' service.
The company is clearly committed to helping drinkers make informed decisions about the whisky, and as such present as many independent reviews, opinions and comments as possible from industry-leading experts, and of course from other like-minded users.
Loch Fyne Whiskies Scotland
This retailer has been likened to the great library of Alexandria, with densely stacked shelves to tempt the malt lover.
One of the great single retailers in the world with a very lengthy history. This Aladdin's cave is sandwiched between the shops of Oxford Street and the theatres of Shaftsbury Avenue.
It has become a haven for the capital's malt lovers range of Scotch malt whisky has now grown to more than 1400 lines making Vintage House one of the best places to find rare or unusual malt whisky.
Vintage House has been in business for more than 50 years. The speciality is Scotch malt whisky and the friendly staff are always happy to advise customers what malts to buy for themselves or as presents.
Now the shop has expanded its offerings to include an upstairs club, the Soho Whisky Club. Owner Malcolm Mullins spotted a gap in the market, and with a covered terrace, offers the chance to smoke fine cigars and sample excellent drams.
Federal Wine and Spirits, USA
The Whisky Shop Dufftown, Scotland
Now with five shops in its estate, spanning France, Singapore and the island of La Reunion, La Maison du Whisky is well placed to spread the message of the joys of whisky across the world.Since first setting up shop in 1968 at 20 rue d'Anjou, the shops have become the meeting place for amateurs and connoisseurs eager for new malt discoveries. All the shops offer a vast amount of choice, and if you cannot find something the staff are always happy to help. Scanning the shelves you can choose a single malt Scotch from a single barrel, a Japanese single malt, pure pot still Irish one, a single barrel American Bourbon or even a Breton whiskey made from buckwheat and many other wonders offered in most cases as exclusives by La Maison du Whisky. In 1995, the Maison du Whisky started up a members' club. This now meets monthly with more than 200 members willing to share in their passion for whisky.
Luvians Bottle Shop, Scotland
The Liquor Barn, USA