After the final tasting in the Single Malt World Cup, the Swedish High Coast Distillery can title itself world champion in sherry cask-aged whisky. Throughout the year, 117 distillates from 90+ distilleries were blind tested at 25 locations by over 2,000 whiskey tasters in Sweden and Finland. Making it the world’s largest drinks competition by format. Winner in the largest category Malty style is the Irish Midleton Distillery with its pot still whiskey Redbreast. But in the Peated whisky class, Scotch is still at the top. Islay distillery Kilchoman takes its second title in a row.
Single Malt World Cup A dozen malt whiskies from five different countries were blind tested at the Elite Palace Hotel by 140 whiskey tasters. The final in the Single Malt World Cup, organized every four years by the news site Spiritsnews.se, offered several surprises.
Swedish whisky is on the rise. As many as five distilleries advanced from the qualification rounds to semi-finals in the cup. In addition to High Coast Distillery, also Mackmyra, Agitator, Gotland and Nordmarken.
In the final, High Coast, from the north of Sweden, was elected best Sherried whisky, the category for malt whisky matured in wine casks.
– The winner Berg gets its taste from Spanish sherry wood, says World Cup general Henrik Aflodal, editor-in-chief of The Spirits News. This High Coast whisky really made an impression. It has been around since 2019 and has evolved through the years. All elements come together beautifully. A well-balanced high-class whisky.
Assessment is based solely on performance in the glass. The whiskies in the competition are tried by whisky clubs in Sweden and Finland through blind tastings where the identity is revealed afterwards.
– This is proof that Swedish malt whisky has world class qualities, says Henrik Aflodal. Scotch whisky, which usually dominates, is now challenged, based on taste and quality.
For the first time, an Irish whiskey also made it to the final. The rules of the competition state that entries can be maximum 16 years old and not over 50% alcohol.
In addition, the whisky must be made from 100% barley. Pure pot still whiskey has been made in Ireland since the 1790s from a mix of unmalted and malted barley.
Midleton wins the most prestigious category Malty style where the whisky should be aged predominantly in plain oak casks, not having a dominant peaty character.
– That a pot still whiskey excels in the toughest category, with half of the entries, is exciting. The winning concept was deep esters backed by lots of oakiness. Balance and weight at the same time.
Although Scotch whisky is on the defensive, the Scots still makes the best Peated whisky. Ever after Islay whisky made its global breakthrough in the 1990s, other peaty styles of whisky haven’t seriously managed to threaten the small whiskey island’s special status.
The explanation is the microclimate that affects the aging process and creates a peaty iodine-like style that is inimitable, says Henrik Aflodal:
– Islay is still at the top of the peated whisky scene. The island’s newest distillery Kilchoman, which began laying down casks in 2006, has won the title twice in a row with its sherried release Sanaig. Ever so peaty but with an outstanding balance of flavours.
Interestingly, Islay’s legendary 19th-century distilleries with age statements fail to match the newcomer who can be said to have taken the Islay tradition one step further.
Just like other New World distilleries, Kilchoman have had the opportunity to develop, and optimize, their own recipe for a new era.
The whiskey world is changing. In this year’s final, only half of the whisky came from Scotland. Sweden and Ireland made a mark. But the new whisky wave is headed by Asian malt whisky. Japan and India stand out with four distilleries in the final tasting.
Japanese Yoichi made its global breakthrough in the late 1990s when it beat Scotch whisky in a blind tasting organized by a Scottish newspaper.
This particular Japanese also won the premiere edition of the Single Malt World Cup in 2005. And in the 00s there was another stir in the UK when an Indian whisky was ranked highest in yet another blind tasting.
– Asian malts have single-handedly lifted the New World whisky category, explains Henrik Aflodal. A different, more estery quality that beats the Scottish style. Now the rest of the world is pulling weight with Sweden among others.
The rumble of whisky distilleries in the diaspora challenges Scottish hegemony. If you look at the semi-final field in this year’s championships, you sense that something big is about to happen.
Overall, two thirds of all competing whisky come from Scotland. And at the semi-final level, the Scots dominate with three quarters. Yet only one half make it to the final.
– Scotch has never been better in a broader sense. More distillers than ever are positioning themselves as Single Malts instead of just supplying bulk to the blended industry. What the New World players bring to the table are other flavours which stand out.
One wonders why it has taken so long for non-Scotch whisky to catch on. In the final four years ago, 10 out of 12 single malts were Scottish, challenged by a duo from India and Taiwan. Eight whiskeys were also 12-16 years old, only four were NAS (no age statement).
This year, the situation is reversed with eight bottles lacking a number on the label. The perception that whisky should be aged for more than 10 years is being challenged. Have people’s tastes changed?
– It’s not that simple, says Henrik Aflodal. The current generation of whisky drinkers are steeped in 12-year-old Scotch. What is happening now is that the New World distillers are getting better. The methods at a small distillery are constantly evolving. The distillate improves with small tweaks, the many whisky makers start to learn which type of wood works the best for them.
The cleverest distilleries are simply delivering much better quality than they did four years ago. And that is not because the whisky is significantly older, but because they have learned to manage their own whiskey style.
– We whisky drinkers have broadened our horizons in terms of taste but without compromising on quality. A 7-year-old without youth tones tastes fresher and fruitier than a 15-year-old. If anything, advanced whisky drinkers have become more sensitive to oakiness. I find myself being bothered by bitter notes in the aftertaste. You don’t get that in a younger whisky of distinction.
When the Single Malt World Cup is organized in 2026, the outset will be completely different, believes Aflodal. Maybe just 50% Scotch whisky at semi-final level.
But above all, the competition format should be expanded. From barely 120 contributions up to 200. If more of the new distilleries should be included.
– It took High Coast 12 years of hard work to get full dividends. Think what guys like this can achieve after 16-20 years of development. We’ll be there soon. The first pioneer projects of modern times are coming of age. Scotland, watch out!
Final Single Malt World Cup 2022
1. Midleton/Redbreast 15 YO 46% = 31 votes
2. Yoichi Single Malt 45% = 27
3. Piccadilly/Kamet Single Malt 46% = 21
4. Benriach The Twelve 12 YO 46% = 18
5. Deanston 15 YO 46.3% = 16
6. Chichibu Mizunara 46% = 10
1. High Coast Berg 50% = 66 votes
2. Glendronach 15 YO Revival 46% = 47
3. Glen Scotia Double Cask 46% = 15
1. Kilchoman Sanaig 46% = 65 votes
2. Paul John Bold 46% = 41
3. The Ileach 40% = 21