Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards
Getting to The Station Hotel in Rothes this time around should have been a lot easier. Last year, when I was first invited to be a judge for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards, I was still on crutches. Admittedly the cast had been replaced with a rather fetching moonboot but getting to Rothes was still going to be tricky. Luckily the kind Spirit of Speyside folk organised lifts there and back for me and it all went without a hitch.
Which unfortunately wasn’t the case this year. You see, working from home, I don’t get out much and don’t see too many people during the day. So given the opportunity to blether in the car for a few hours, I take it. And blether I did. At one point, when I suggested to my fellow judge and passenger that we should reach Aviemore and the A95 turn off soon, she replied that we’d passed it ages ago. It was at that point that we started the descent into Inverness.
After my lack of attention resulted in a not so wee detour via Elgin, we arrived at The Station Hotel an hour and a quarter later than anticipated. We hurriedly went in to start the judging and were thankfully just the one whisky flight behind schedule. When I say hurriedly, I mean it. When I later went back to the car that evening to collect something, I discovered that I’d left the car door open. Not just unlocked but actually ajar. Thankfully this was Rothes and not Leith.
There has been much talk about whisky awards recently. There are several each year and the question usually arises somewhere on social media as to their legitimacy and whether we really need them. If you have a few minutes, have a read of Phil’s article from August last year over on MALT.
Admittedly, there are some awards which are designed purely for marketing purposes; whisky producers pay to enter them and are guaranteed a medal or award which they can display on their advertising. Which, as a reflection of the spirit’s quality, basically means hee-haw. They are also costly to enter which precludes some of the smaller companies from submitting their, often, excellent whisky or whiskey.
And this is where the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards is different. There’s no fee to enter a whisky into the competition and no guaranteed medal or prize. In addition, it’s the judging panel’s job to simply narrow the choice down through blind tasting whiskies in four categories to arrive at two finalists in each. Over the course of the next six months, it will be whisky drinkers around the world who will make the final decision as to which of the two finalists in each category is the winner.
This, I guess, is the important bit: the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards is a whisky awards where consumers have the final say.
From a total of 41 whiskies entered across all categories, 2020’s finalists for each one are:
12 Years Old and Under: Aberlour 10 Year Old and Cardhu 12 Year Old
13 to 20 Years Old: Benromach 15 Year Old and Glenallachie 15 Year Old
21 Years Old and Over: Glenfiddich Grand Cru 23 Year Old and Glenfarclas 25 Year Old
Non Age Statement: Tamnavulin Sherry Cask Edition and Cardhu Amber Rock
The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival takes place at the end of April next year and the winners will be announced at the opening ceremony. Keep an eye out on Spirit of Speyside’s website and social media for updates on how you can be involved before then.
Huge thanks to the Spirit of Speyside team for inviting me on to the panel once again. After leaving a long career in teaching just over three years ago, when it was often implied by groups of truculent teenagers that I could shove the passé composé up my arse, and without any previous experience of working in the whisky industry, I still have to pinch myself that I’m afforded opportunities such as this.
Full transparency: accommodation at The Station Hotel and meals were provided with transport costs reimbursed.
Images courtesy of Lindsay Robertson Photography.