IWSC 2024 Spirits Judging. Judges’ deliberations on Scotch Whisky

Spirit news

Tue 14 May 2024

Scotch whisky is one of the biggest and most important categories at the IWSC. We are delighted to see the number and the quality of our whisky entries grow year on year. 2024 became our biggest scotch judging to date with our experts tasked with tasting over 600 entries. The two days of tasting were overseen by the IWSC Spirits Judging Committee member Dawn Davies MW.

“The overall quality of this year’s entries is very high,” said Dawn Davies MW following the tasting. “We saw some very solid whiskies with a couple of beautiful, elegant styles. Normally, we see the big powerful whiskies but it was quite nice to see some of the more delicate ones coming through and getting golds.”

This year’s scotch entries scooped the medals with hardly any whiskies left unawarded.

“The samples have shown a good level of consistency, with particular highlights coming from mature blended scotches and the Highlands single malts,” shared one of the panels awarding a highly coveted gold outstanding medal to a Highland single malt lightly peated 12 YO whisky, praising it for its “rounded palate with viscous texture and appealing aromas of bright tropical fruit.”

Cask-finish whiskies put on a stellar performance with many gold medals awarded to whiskies with various cask finishes, including Madeira, Sherry, Port and wine.

“There were some very nice cask finishes, from the Highlands and Islay in particular, at various age statements. One pleasing aspect was the quality Sherry cask finishes, showing depth and breadth of flavour,” revealed the judges.

Furthermore, the 12 YO whisky flight was “unexpectedly nuanced and the cask finishes were a real showcase of versatility and cask character,” said the judges. One of the 12 YO Highland single malts earned a gold outstanding, the judges admiring its complexity: “Really interesting smoke in here, starting off with white fruits and moving more into white pepper, with an impressive finish.”

Another Highland single malt wowed our judges, who commented on the “bright and juicy palate that aligns superbly with the nose”. It was awarded a gold outstanding, reflecting the overall high quality of this particular region.

The Highlands really stood out across both days, I’m really excited to see the unveiling of some of those names, there’s a few I’ll be watching with interest!” Dawn Davies MW agreed.

Islay was a region that also impressed our panel, particularly the unpeated flight. “Unpeated Islay was overall very good, with some excellent whiskies across ages and styles,” shared the judges. One 35 YO unpeated was awarded a gold outstanding, with the judges praising its “elegant and richness on the nose, wonderful aromas of dried fruit and lime peel, with some hints of eucalyptus too. It was classy and rich on palate.”

The Lowland flights captured the attention of the judges who said there was “A very consistent offering across the board, but very pleasing to see such level of quality in the two flights of Lowland whiskies, seemingly balancing distillate character and cask influence very well indeed.”

Moving on to Speyside, the judges were “pleasantly surprised with the quality of the 3 YO single malts from Speyside. The whiskies were generally consistent from what you expect from the style”.

The flights of 12 YO Speyside whiskies performed “much better than expected, showing excellent balance that worked well with their younger ages, balancing the character of new make and aged spirit,” said the judges. “There was classic whisky making on display, with the majority being very nicely made, and showing more traditional styles.”

As for the older whiskies, they not only lived up to the judges’ expectations, but also surpassed them on many occasions. “They generally didn't show the hallmarks of over ageing, carefully balancing older character with fresher flavours,” said the judges about the older whiskies.

These older Speyside whiskies did exceptionally well with the judges awarding several gold outstanding and a higher than average amount of gold medals to older whisky from this area.

One of these gold outstanding medals went to a 26 YO Speyside single malt: Leafy nose with building woody spice. Spice leads the palate, with cinnamon buns and ginger backed up by stewed apple. Water reveals more orchard fruit and calms down the heat.” detailed our judges.

Similarly, a 22 YO Speyside single malt also won gold outstanding, with the judges praising its “soft and sweet palate, with spiced bread and apple sauce.”

Another panel praised the quality of No Age Stated whisky: “We found the NAS entries were really impressive and a strong category, showing complex whiskies for their youth.”

One of the blended No Age Stated whiskies received a gold outstanding medal, with judges admiring the whisky's Mixed nuts, waxy on the palate, long finish. Lovely kick of smoke on the nose.”

“Blended Peated NAS were also surprisingly good, with lots of well-balanced whiskies showing breadth of peat characteristics and use of casks,” added the judges.

In general the No Age Stated entries impressed and surprised the judges. “To a degree, NAS whiskies perhaps performed better than might be expected, indicating that NAS does not necessarily equate to lesser quality,” one judge shared.

Our experts spoke highly of the single grain category, noting that, “there were a lot of well-made whiskies showing good grain character, which we found pleasantly surprising.”

Overall, the scotch whisky category performed well, with some standout offerings from almost every region across Scotland. Our panel was optimistic about the future of the category, “There were some spirits on the cusp of gold outstanding, which bodes well for the future. The industry is in good shape - the quality really is there. The core ranges are good and solid - people are making great whiskies well and consistently.”