In recent months there have been any number of blogs and features about an overdose of awards - with some justification. There are loads of them, many badly supported, interested only in money, and meaningless to everyone except the brands winning gold medals.
The Wizards of Whisky don't fall in to that category. In fact I launched them with the intention of making them the best barometer of what is happening in World whisky outside Scotland. and arrogant as it might sound, I believe I've achieved that in the first year.
Awards are attractive because they are potentially an easy source of income. But they come fraught with problems, and two in particular; one, how do you give them credibility, and how do you balance off the temptation to reward suppliers with awards so they continue to enter them, with the need to maintain high standards so that the medals mean something.
I've judged awards that have included top supermarket entries and have been one of just two judges - both, white middle aged males. How can that be objective? And I've judged awards where I've been strongly influenced in the favour of big magazine advertisers.
Welcome to my world, my Wizards and my awards
To do awards successfully you've got to make sure they are respected, to attract a cross section of big names and interesting and exciting smaller ones, to judge the awards properly and credibly, and to end up with a set of winners that anybody in the know would recognise as the fair and honest judgement of people who know what they are talking about.
Welcome to my world, my Wizards and my awards.
I hope that over eight years I've shown my commitment to world whisky in general, and I hope that the first six issues of World Whisky Review are testament to my love of the topic. I hope my books The World's Best Whiskies, 1001 Whiskies and The Whisky Opus reflect how much I have studied non traditional distilleries, and I hope my continued coverage of world whisky for The Whisky Advocate ticks the credibility box at least.
More than 80 non Scottish brands entered The Wizards in its first year, and about 60 have won medals. Although some categories could have been stronger - I regret that Kavalan was not represented and that South Africa left India's Amrut with a free run in the Asian and African category - overall this has been a tremendous first attempt and I want to thank every producer who supported me.
I think that The Wizards have shown that they are honest and have been conducted with integrity, and they are giving world whisky a depth of credibility it hasn't seen before other than in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible.
The pitfalls of not doing this can be seen in the fuss over the New Zealand Whisky Company and the bizarre Mid West America Olympics in which a New Zealand whisky was quite ridiculously declared the world's best whisky - a decision made even more absurd by the fact that one of the organisers of the event was Greg Ramsay - who owns the NZ Whisky Company.
When Greg, who i know and respect, defended the event, he used my name. I have no problem with that, and you'll see in these awards that the NZ Company has entered and won medals. But these American Olympics are just the sort of thing I'm talking about. When i received a press release making the world's best claim i wrote back and said in no uncertain terms that the claim was both devaluing NZ whisky and holding it up for potential ridicule.
That's not the case here, but now comes there task of choosing the Wizards of Whisky World Distiller of the Year. Not easy, because there are a lot of potential candidates. In particular Europe, Ireland and The American Craft Distlllery categories were fiercely fought.
So I'm going with two highly commended distillers first: Suntory in Japan and Irish Distillers in Ireland. They entered consistently high whiskies, between them contributed the three highest whiskies over the entire Wizards Awards, and set the bar for the rest of the entrants.
But I don't feel they represent the point of The Wizards, which is to champion non traditional whisky producers. They are rightly honoured in The Wizards because while both are huge international companies they are still non-Scotch world producers, and an example for any new world whisky producer.
My World Wizard Whisky Distiller of the Year, though, wins because over four whiskeys it matched the big boys step for step by returning two gold medals, and two silvers. Not only that, but its whiskeys showed great diversity and showed a big improvement from the first time I tasted them more than a year ago.
This may come as a shock - and it did to me - given how hard I champion Australian, Indian and some European whisky - but my winner comes from perhaps the least unexpected territory of all - America.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My World Wizard of Whisky Distiller of the Year is:
Balcones, Texas, USA.
I hope you enjoy the other Awards results. As always, your comments will be gratefully received.