The world’s best drinks producers have once again gathered in the Bay Area for the annual spirits showdown, however, a surprise winner has pipped everyone to the post. At the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) awards ceremony earlier this week, little-known Speyside distillery Benromach claimed top honours, beating out hundreds of other entrants to secure the coveted title of ‘Overall Best in Class’ for its incredible Benromach 40-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch. The remarkable feat was all the more impressive when you note that this year’s event was the biggest on record, with more than 5,000 entries submitted. Not a bad result for a family-run Scotch distillery still operating with just one wash and one still.
2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
For spirits producers, the annual event marks a significant date in the awards calendar. One of the largest competitions to be held globally, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition sees thousands of entrants from across the world submit their brightest and best for judging, pitting them against their fellow distillers for brewing supremacy. The 2022 edition marked a renewed focus on international entrants, with border reopening allowing for greater freedom of movement.
“With over 5,000 entries from 40 countries, we are by leaps and bounds the largest and longest-running blind judging event,” Amanda Blue, president of the event told Forbes. “This year cemented our status as the preeminent spirits competition in the world.”
Importantly, it’s been a long time between drinks for entrants. While the actual event was held way back in April, the results have slowly been drip-fed to the public, with only a handful of accolades announced prior to the live ceremony on June 24. With the pomp and prestige now out of the way, the award winners are free to bask in the glory of victory.
How Spirits are Judged
As one of the largest drinks events in the world, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition has refined its judging process to an art form. Over four days, judges participate in a series of highly controlled blind tastings to determine which liquids are medal-worthy. Importantly, SFWSC confirmed that judges do not receive any information on producer or price point, thereby ensuring each spirit is judged fairly, equally, and without bias. From there, award-winners are categorised into five medals, with additional accolades for Best of Class and Best in Show. Here are the definitions of each award according to the SFWSC:
- Platinium – Awarded to the very few entries that receive Double Gold medal for three consecutive years
- Double Gold – Awarded to the entries that receive a Gold medal rating by all members of the judging panel: these are among the finest products in the world
- Gold – Exceptional spirits that are near the pinnacle of achievement; these products set the standard for their categories
- Silver – Outstanding spirits that show refinement, finesse, and complexity; these winners are among the best examples of their categories
- Bronze – Well-crafted spirits that are commercially sound, modestly attractive and free from significant flaws; these winners are excellent examples of their categories
- Best of Class – The best example of each spirit type
- Best in Show (the Competition’s highest honours) – Chosen from the Best of Class winners, these awards highlight the best spirit in each of these five categories: Unaged White Spirit, Aged White Spirit, Whisky/Whiskey, Brandy, and Liqueur
- Distillery of the Year – Recognises the single distiller earning the most points, measured by the number and level of awards won
- Importer of the Year – Recognises the single importer earning the most points, measured by the number and level of awards won
- Director’s Award of Excellence – Honors an outstanding portfolio of quality and diverse spirits
Benromach 40-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
In a result that stunned judges and delighted Scotsmen, the Benromach 40-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch took out the title of ‘Overall Best in Class’ for the whisky category, as reported by Forbes. For those who have been lucky enough to taste the Speyside revelation, however, it came as no surprise. Bottled at a heavy cask strength of 57.1%, the rare single malt has a stunning natural golden/amber colour that immediately shows off his 40-year heritage. According to Benromach, the release was first laid down way back in 1981 and spent four decades maturing in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks, before making its way to the bottling line in June 2020. What you’re left with is an incredible exploration of fine flavours, rich with brown sugar and laden with vibrant herbal notes.
It’s a seriously luxury release from the Speyside family favourite, which is led by a small team of distillers, and it is dressed to match. Displayed in a striking black stained solid oak wooden box with copper-coloured detailing and printed metal plaques, the bespoke Benromach bottle also features a heavily embossed and gold foiled label, evoking an innately premium feel.
For Benromach, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition win validates a lifetime of work. Originally founded in 1898 by Duncan MacCallum and F.W. Brickmann, the distillery has changed hands a few times over the last century, however, it finds itself firmly under the direction of Scottish independent Gordon & MacPhail. The Speyside stalwarts continue to focus solely on small cask numbers, matured in its dunnage warehouses and released annually. Judging by the latest accolade, the strategy is paying off.
Naturally, the victory is certain to swell interest in the Benromach 40-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch, however, the release is already hard to get. In 2021, Benromach confirmed that only 1,047 bottles would hit shelves, each with a solid price tag of £1,500. Throw in the added benefit of being named the world’s best for 2022 and you can expect that figure to rise on the secondary market.
Category: Single Malt
Bottler: Distillery Bottling
Stated Age: 40 years old
Release: 2021 Release
Cask: 1st Fill Oloroso Sherry
Number of bottles: 1047
ABV: 57.1 % Vol.
Size: 700 ml