The 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
On June 16 and 17, The Tasting Alliance and Reserve Bar sponsored Top Shelf at Resorts World in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event combined elements of a consumer show, where enthusiasts could taste many top-rated spirits from the 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) and, on the evening of June 17, an Awards Gala dedicated to the Best of Class and Best of Category winners at the 2023 SFWSC.
Historically, the whisky/whiskey category has been the largest category of entries in the competition. This year there were over 1,800 individual whisky submissions from more than three dozen countries. Roughly one-third of the whisky entries were in the bourbon category, compelling proof not only is the revival of the American whiskey industry continuing but also of how the emergence of the craft distilling sector has energised the landscape of American spirits.
The Best in Show Whisky winner and Best Single Malt Scotch Whisky was Tomatin, Highland Single Malt, 36 YO, NCF and 45.1% ABV.
Located about an hour north of Inverness, Tomatin is one of the lesser-known gems of Scotch whisky. Founded in the late 19th century, Tomatin was once one of Scotland's largest Scotch whisky distilleries. Owned since 1986 by two Japanese companies, Takara Shuzo and Okura & Co, the distillery has kept a relatively low profile and is not too well known among American whisky enthusiasts. This Show will open Tomatin up on a global profile, not just the USA.
The SFWSC Judging Panel described Tomatin 36 YO as featuring: Fruity, featuring orchard, stone and tropical fruit aromas, waxy and leather notes, and a bit of vanilla on the nose. Sweet, fruity, and creamy with pronounced apple notes, some cinnamon, and a touch of clove on the palate. Long, sweet, fruity finish. This is an incredibly complex, nuanced whisky that offers up incredible smoothness and layers of flavours. This 36-Year-Old single malt is a really special dram. A marriage of casks, a refill hogshead and an Oloroso sherry butt, gives off a remarkably smooth yet complex whisky that keeps one intrigued with lively top notes which bring vibrancy to this rich and warming expression. Without a doubt, one of the world’s greatest Scotch whiskies.
There are eight separate Best of Awards in the Scotch whisky category. The Best Blended Scotch, No Age Statement, is Johnnie Walker, Blonde, 40% ABV. The expression is a special edition blend from Johnnie Walker that was designed for mixing in cocktails. It’s sweeter than the typical Johnnie Walker whisky with “prominent toffee and fruit notes,” according to Diageo, and is designed to “bring the best from lemonade, cola, and ginger.”
The SFWSC Judging Panel described the Johnnie Walker Blonde as featuring Orchard fruit on the nose with notes of apple and spicy Japanese pear. Sweet on the palate with orchard fruit and a bit of caramel. Long, sweet candied, fruity finish.
The Best Blended Scotch Whisky 16 Years and Older is Dewar’s Double Double 20 YO, 46% ABV. The SFWSC Judging Panel described the Dewar’s Double Double 20 YO as Fruity with cooked cereal notes and a hint of herbaceousness on the nose. Sweet and fruity on the palate, with a hint of spice. Long, sweet, candied, fruity finish with lingering fruit notes.
The Best Distillers Single Malt Scotch, No Age Statement is The Glendronach, Portwood Single Malt Scotch, 46% ABV. Once a little-known brand, The Glendronach has achieved growing recognition for its outstanding single malts – the result of a substantially increased marketing budget from new owner Brown Forman, who has owned the distillery since 2016, and the deft hand of Master Blender Rachel Barrie, who was appointed to that post in 2017.
The SFWSC Judging Panel described The Glendronach Portwood as showing Dried fruits, along with herbal notes and a hint of spice on the nose. Sweet and creamy on the palate. It’s herbal and fruity, with a hint of anise/licorice and a bit of cinnamon. Long, sweet, fruity finish with a touch of pepperiness.
Best Distiller’s Single Malt Scotch Up to 12 Years is Glen Scotia, 10 YO Cask
Strength, 55.3% ABV. The SFWSC panel described the Glen Scotia 10 YO Cask
Strength as expressing Floral, tropical fruits, herbal, cooked cereal, vanilla,
and brown sugar notes on the nose. Sweet and drying on the palate featuring
tropical fruits, spice notes, and a bit of pepperiness. Sweet, dried fruit
finish, along with some herbaceous notes and pepperiness.
The Best Distiller’s Single Malt Scotch 13 to 19 Years was Craigellachie 17 YO Single Cask, 46% ABV. Craigellachie is one of the key component malts in Dewar’s blended Scotch whisky. Under Master Distiller Stephanie Macleod’s, however, it is gaining a reputation as an outstanding Speyside single malt. The SFWSC Judging Panel described Craigellachie, 17 YO, as exhibiting Fruity notes with seasoned oak and a bit of spice on the nose. Sweet and fruity with some tropical and stone fruit notes on the palate, a touch of anise/licorice, and spicy notes. Long, sweet, fruity finish with a touch of anise and a little pepperiness.
The Best Blended Malt Scotch is Dewar’s Double Double 37, 46% ABV. Unlike some other expressions in the Dewar’s Double Double Range, the 37 YO is a blend of single malts and does not include any grain whisky.
THE SFWSC Judging Panel described the Dewar’s Double Double 37 YO as expressing Pronounced tropical fruit notes of mango and melon with a hint of spice and vanilla on the nose. Sweet on the palate with stone and tropical fruit, cinnamon, seasoned wood, a slightly bitter note, and a mild pepperiness on the palate. Long, sweet, fruity finish with lingering tropical fruit notes and a mild but persistent pepperiness.
The Best Independent Merchant Single Malt was The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Cask No 4.346 Savory and Sweet, 62.9% ABV while the Best Single Grain Whisky is Loch Lomond, Cooper’s Collection, 50% ABV.
The Best Irish Whiskey was Keeper’s Heart, 10 YO Irish Single Malt, 43% ABV. Keeper’s Heart also won Best Single Malt Irish Whiskey. The SFWSC Judging Panel described the Keeper’s Heart as exhibiting Very fruity notes on the nose with pronounced aromas of overripe apple and some pear. Smooth, sweet, and fruity on the palate with hints of spice. Long, sweet, fruity finish with lingering apple and pear notes.
The other winners in the Irish Whiskey category were Best Blended Irish Whiskey, Cairlinn Bay, Oak & Coast Blended Irish Whiskey, 46% ABV and Redbreast 15 YO, 46% ABV in the Best Pure Pot Still Whiskey category.
The Best Australian Single Malt Whisky is Callington Mill Distillery, El Sol Tasmanian Single Malt Whiskey, 46% ABV.
The Best Japanese Whisky is Mars Tsunuki, 2022 Single Malt Japanese Whisky, 50% ABV.
The winner of the Best Other Single Malt Whiskey is Kavalan, Solist ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength, 54.7% ABV and the winner in the Best Other Whiskey category is Alfred Giraud, Harmonie Triple Malt, 46.1% ABV.
The 2023 SFWSC judging produced an outstanding set of winners. These 27 whiskies/whiskeys represent the very best of more than 1,800 entries. All of them should be part of your home collection, costs notwithstanding, and they are all absolutely worth a taste at the first opportunity.
A comprehensive list of winners and runners up is at the Tasting Alliance website.