Imbibe Ice Awards 2008 - Whisky


A dramatic rise in sales of premium scotch globally has resulted in brand owners re-examining their prestige range. New releases, reformulations, new packaging or a shift in emphasis from standard to premium have all gained in pace. Although the UK lags behind the rest of the world in the scotch renaissance, there has been a steady uptake in top-end single malts, which
looks set to continue.

We judged examples of single malts and blends either over 18 years in age or over £50 retail. These were divided into three flights: one for blends, then two for malts: mainland and smoky malts from the islands. The overall standard in terms of spirit quality was agreed to be high. ‘These are all highly complex, well-crafted spirits,’ commented judge Nathan Evans. ‘I enjoyed the examples that were less obviously aged, where the flavour of the distillery showed,’ said Nick Strangeway.

The winners, it was felt, combined both quality of liquid and a look which was eye-catching. ‘The ones which worked took you on a journey in terms of flavour and also had packaging to match: Highland Park, Talisker, The Glenrothes,’ said Chris Losh.

The Judges

Chris Losh – editor, Imbibe, Nathan Evans – operations manager, Boisdale, Nick Strangeway – manager, Hawksmoor, Dave Broom – whisky writer, David Paskins – brand and education, The Gorgeous Group

Unpeated Malts

This, the largest single category, included single malts from across the flavour spectrum, from floral and light (Balblair and Aberfeldy) to soft fruits (Glenmorangie) and heavily sherried (Glengoyne and Glenfarclas). The ICE winners showed an even split in terms of style.

ICE winner


This Speyside distillery, which specialises in small batch ‘vintage’ releases, was widely agreed to show not just great complexity in terms of spirit quality, but came packaged in a quirky and highly distinctive pack which reflected the quality of the spirit. ‘Cloves, fresh fruit, date and raisins; complex,’ commented Paskins. ‘A fascinating balance between the floral and dried fruits with a vanilla undertow,’ agreed Broom.

Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300

ICE runners-up

2nd Balblair 1989

Praised for both its freshness and chic, modern look. ‘Light and delicate. A burst of snowdrops on an icy winter’s morning,’ mused Strangeway.

Inver House Distillers, 01236 769377

3rd Glenfiddich 30 year old

A rich and mature example of the world’s top-selling single malt. The pack shows consistency within the range, with premium cues. ‘Deep, with mushroom and sweet fruits. Classy and poised,’ said Losh.

William Grant & Sons, 020 8332 1188

4th Glenmorangie 25 year old

A new look and taste for Glenmorangie’s top-end expression. Although the packaging came in for some negative comments from some of the judges, the liquid was universally praised. ‘Burnt orange peel, caramel, toasty oak. Smooth and sexy,’ was Evans’ opinion.

Moët Hennessy UK, 020 7235 9411

5th Glenfarclas 30 year old

The family-owned Speyside distillery has long specialised in rich powerful, sherried single malts. And this was no exception. The slightly old-fashioned packaging, however, pulled its overall score down. ‘It’s like walking blindfolded round a country house: oak, leather, resinous. Silky and savoury with lots of oak,’ said Strangeway.

Pol Roger, 01432 262800

Best by Taste

1= The Glenrothes 1985
1= Glenfarclas 30 Year Old
3 Glenfiddich 30 Year Old
4 Glenmorangie 25 Year Old
5 Glenfiddich 21 Year Old

Best by Design

1 Balblair 1989
2 Glenfiddich 21 Year Old
3=  Glenmorangie 18 Year Old
3= Glenmorangie 25 Year Old
5 The Glenrothes 1985

Peated Malts

Smoky whiskies remain the hot sector within single malt. Those tasted here were praised, with all the judges commenting on the balance which had been struck between the dry peatiness and a mid-palate sweetness. These were complex and intriguing drams.

ICE winner

Talisker 25 year old

The 25yo won the battle of the three Taliskers submitted. Skye’s only distillery is a complex, medium-peated malt which combines the aromas of sea and shore. ‘Fresh sea winds, the scent of a burning clipper off shore,’ said Paskins. ‘Huge flavour but the smoke is in perfect symmetry with the sweet core,’ agreed Broom.

Talisker Distillery, 01478 640203

ICE runners-up

2nd Highland Park 25 year old

The Orcadian distillery has a subtle peaty undertow and is aged exclusively in ex-sherry casks giving it an extra richness. ‘Highly complex, mixing heathery smoke and oak. Great structure and fruity depth. Very elegant and complex,’ said Broom.

Maxxium UK, 01786 430500

3rd Talisker 30 year old

This oldest expression of the growing Talisker portfolio had managed to retain a fair bit of its highly distinctive distillery character despite its long sojourn in wood. ‘Diesel and hot brake pads!’ exclaimed Boisdale’s Nathan Evans, ‘then subtle fennel and coriander alongside fruitcake. To quote Deep Purple... ‘Smoke on the Water’.

Talisker Distillery, 01478 640203

Best by Taste

1 Talisker 25 Year Old
2 Highland Park 25 Year Old
3 Talisker 30 Year Old

Best by Design

1 Talisker 30 Year Old
2 Highland Park 25 Year Old
3 Lagavulin Distillers Edition


Although this was the smallest category (perhaps reflecting the state of the blended category in the UK), it was the equal of the peated malts when it came to scoring. The styles ranged from light and complex (Dewar’s Signature) to complex and savoury (Johnnie Walker Blue Label), with the surprise package of the flight, a muscular and deep Rare Auld 38 Year Old from independent bottler, Duncan Taylor.

ICE winner

Royal Salute 21 year old

This Chivas Brothers premium blend is better known in the US, but has been a consistent winner of competitions since it was first blended in the 1950s. The retro packaging appealed to our urbane judges. ‘Dundee cake, toffee, roasted nut, macadamia on the nose. The palate has perfect balance of toffee, malt, prune and date,’ said Paskins. Losh commented: ‘It’s mouth-filling, meaty and quite challenging.’ Strangeway added, ‘Wet moss and gingerbread with a long, dry and spicy finish.’

Chivas Brothers, 020 8250 1801

ICE runners-up

2nd Dewar’s Signature

‘Gentle and honeyed with light waxy notes and layered aromas,’ commented Broom. ‘Luscious, silky and discreet. This is a fantastic demonstration of excellent blending.’

Bacardi-Martini, 02380 318000

2nd Johnnie Walker Blue Label

‘Big and rich nose,’ said Strangeway. ‘Wonderful balance like a taut leopard ready to pounce.’

Diageo, 020 7927 5200

Best by Taste

1 Royal Salute
2 Duncan Taylor Rare Auld 38 Year Old
3= Dewar’s Signature
3= Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Best by Design

1 Royal Salute
2= Dewar’s Signature
2= Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine - January / February 2008

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