The time has come again when whisky experts huddle around and rile off notes of peppercorn and sweet honey, uncorking the very intricacies of the spirit in fantastic detail. This year, the International Whisky Competition saw a professional tasting panel made up of whisky, beer, and wine experts blind tasting a number of the world’s best drams and ranking them using a 100-point scale system. This time around, it was a Scottish icon that sealed the victory, with the Uigeadail release from Islay favourite Ardberg claiming the top spot this year, followed by a host of big-name distillers.
International Whisky Competition 2021
An annual event that generally takes place in Chicago, the International Whisky Competition sees whiskies blind tasted and rated by a professional tasting panel, the results of which are then used to produce tasting notes for an International Whisky Guide. Under the International Whisky Competition 2021 guidelines, judges blind-tasted, judged and scored each whisky individually for eight minutes based on a select series of criteria. These included:
- Sight: Color (0 points), Visual Appeal (5 points)
- Nose: Intensity and Complexity (15 points), Distinctiveness of Aromas (10 points), Balance of Aromas (10 points)
- Taste/Mouth Feel: Palate and Balance (10 points), Alcohol, Body and Complexity (10 points), Distinctiveness of Flavours (10 points), Balance Between Flavours (10 points)
- Finish: Length and Finish (10 points), Quality of Finish (10 points)
As mentioned, Ardbeg Uigeadail came away with the Whisky of the Year award, scoring an industry-leading 95.9 out of 100. Adding to the victory, Ardberg chief Bill Lumsden was named Master Distiller of the Year, with the Scottish icon also walking away as the winner of the Golden Barrel Trophy. Interestingly enough, last year’s surprising winner of the World’s Best Whisky, Dewar’s Double Double 32-Year-Old slipped in the placings, falling to third, just behind Glenmorangie Vintage 1997. While no Australian release managed to crack the top 15, in a separate acknowledgment, Morris Muscat Barrel Australian Single Malt Whisky was named the nation’s best, with a score of 90.3.
Best Whiskies for 2021
Held in Estes Park, Colorado outside of its regular Chicago homeland, the International Whisky Competition judged a number of big-name releases from the spirits community. After a bling tasting and judging process, the panel of experts named the top-ranking drams for this year. Here is a list of the top 15 whiskies for 2021, according to the International Whisky Competition.
1. Ardbeg Uigeadail – 95.9 Pts (Islay, Scotland)
Named for the loch that Ardbeg sources its pure water from, Uigeadail is a strong, peat driven whiskey with notes of smoke, leather, dried fruits and walnut oil. Courtesy of maturation in both old bourbon and sherry casks, the Ardbeg Uigeadail has a flavour of Christmas pudding, glazed smoked ham with a burst of clove-driven spice on the finish.
2. Glenmorangie Vintage 1997 – 95.1 Pts (Highland, Scotland)
The seventh release in the limited edition The Bond House No. 1 Collection, Glenmorangie Vintage 1997 has spent about 10 years in ex-bourbon casks before a portion was transferred to Château Montrose red wine casks, from the Saint-Estèphe appellation of Bordeaux. It is bottled at 43% ABV and is available as of June, 2021.
3. Dewar’s Double Double 32 Year Old – 95 Pts (Scotland)
Last year’s winner in this very competition, Dewar’s Double Double 32-Year-Old proved it wasn’t a fluke, finishing in third spot for the Best Whisky 2021 category. This blended whisky is finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, bringing rich, ripe treacle notes with a hint of smokiness and a silky smooth finish.
4. Kavalan Artist Series: Paul Chiang Peated Malt Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky – 94.6 Pts (Taiwan)
The first of many Kavalan whiskies to make the top 15, this release is rather artsy. According to the brand, this peated whisky from Taiwan bears the fruits of labour for both Kavalan and renowned artist Paul Chiang and the seeds for new growth.
5. King Car 40th Anniversary Selected Wine Cask Matured Single Malt Whisky – 94 Pts (Taiwan)
This single cask whisky was created to celebrate a milestone by Kavalan owners King Car. Aged in ‘Highly Exclusive” red wine casks, this limited edition signifies 40 years of the King Car Company. Matured in a single red wine cask and bottled at 56.3% abv with only, a couple of dozen bottles will be released in Australia.
6. Black Bourbon Society’s Maker’s Mark Private Selection: Recipe 2. – 93.8 Pts (Kentucky, USA)
A collaboration between whisky lovers, Black Bourbon Society’s Maker’s Mark Private Selection: Recipe 2 was made through the Maker’s Mark Private Selection program, which allows retail partners to “make their own Maker’s” by finishing fully-matured cask strength Maker’s Mark Bourbon.
Distillery: Maker’s Mark
7. Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky – 93.7 Pts (Taiwan)
Another winning release from Kavalan, Vinho is fully matured in used American oak wine barrels that have been toasted and re-charred in a way that the brand claims brings out fruity vanilla notes from the whisky. Add to that a wood overlaid that matches with a delicate background of complex fruitiness and you’ve got a solid release.
8. Dewar’s Double Double 21-Year-Old – 93.6 Pts (Scotland)
A super-smooth and easy to drink blended whisky, Dewar’s Double Double 21-Year-Old has been finished in Oloroso Sherry casks, giving the whisky “subtle notes of cinnamon and ripe vine fruits with a silky smooth finish”.
9. Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old (Batch 2) – 9.4 Pts (Scotland)
Following up their Best in Show whisky award, Ardberg’s Traigh Bhan 19-Year-Old also scored highly. A permanent addition to the Ardbeg stable, Traigh Bhan is released in much smaller quantities than the rest of the core range, with each batch intended to be slightly different. The 2020 edition continues to focus on ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry matured whiskies, offering notes of “fresh lime, roasted tea leaves and smoked pineapple”.
10. Glenmorangie Signet – 93.1 Pts (Highland, Scotland)
Described as the culmination of a lifetime’s experience of Glenmorangie’s whisky creators, Signet is a fusion of some of the oldest and rarest whiskies from the stable’s archives aged in designer casks. According to Glenmorangie, Signet “tantalises with sizzling spices, before the voluptuous texture of rich chocolate and dark intense aromatic coffee create a veritable velvet explosion of taste”.
11. Kavalan Solist (Oloroso) Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky – 93 Pts (Taiwan)
Another winner, Kavalan Solist Sherry is matured in Oloroso sherry casks in special editions, with each release is bottled by hand at the distillery. Better yet, this Taiwanese whisky is crafted with no colouring or chill-filtration, making it as pure as it gets.
12. Kilchoman Machir Bay – 92.97 Pts (Islay, Scotland)
A favourite from one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, Kilchoman’s Machir Bay is matured in a combination of both Bourbon and Sherry casks, creating a well-balanced combination of rich tropical fruit, peat smoke, light vanilla and intense sweetness.
13. Ardbeg An Oa – 92.87 Pts (Islay, Scotland)
Arberg returns to the winner’s table with An Oa, a whisky that is described as “singularly rounded”, thanks to its time spent in the newly established bespoke oak Gathering Vat. This process allows the spirit to familiarise itself with whiskies from several cask types – including; sweet Pedro Ximenez; spicy virgin charred oak; and intense ex-bourbon casks, amongst others.
14. Aberlour A’Bunadh – 92.73 Pts (Speyside, Scotland)
Aberlour a’bunadh is a single batch single malt that is sourced exclusively from the Speyside region. Straight from the cask without chill-filtration and alcohol reduction, this whisky is heavy-bodied an not for the faint heart.
15. Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 14-Year-Old – 92.67 Pts (Highland, Scotland)
Rounding out the top 15 was another old favourite. Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban 14-year-old is an intense non-filtered single malt is initially matured in Bourbon casks. The spirit is then extra matured or ‘finished’ in Port casks, to create the chocolate, minty notes of The Quinta Ruban.
Alongside the top 15 announcement, the International Whisky Competition also outlined a number of key industry accolades. No surprises here, but Ardberg managed to clean up, securing three of the five major prizes after a stunning year and vintage release. Here is a list of the major award winners from the International Whisky Competition 2021 event.
Whisky of the Year
Ardbeg Uigeadail (95.9 points)
Master Distiller of the Year
Dr Bill Lumsden
Glenmorangie & Ardbeg Distillery
Golden Barrel Trophy
Ardbeg Distillery (Scotland)
Distillery of the Year
Kavalan Distillery (Taiwan)
Master Blender of the Year
John Dewar & Sons
What is the International Whisky Competition?
The International Whisky Competition is an annual event that takes place in Chicago in which whiskies are blind tasted and rated by a professional tasting panel. The results are used to produce tasting notes for an International Whisky Guide.
What is the best whisky in the world for 2021?
At the International Whisky Competition 2021, Ardbeg Uigeadail was named Whisky of the Year, outpacing releases from major distilleries like Glenmorangie and Kilchoman.
Are whiskey and scotch the same?
Whisky, spelled without the e, is also alcohol made from a fermented grain mash made exclusively in Scotland, Japan or Australia. Scotch whisky is a type of whisky made specifically in Scotland.