European whisky pretty much splits in to two parts - the countries based around the Germanic speaking regions which have a long history in distilling, but mainly of schnapps and fruit liqueurs; and those from elsewhere who have adopted whisky without any real previous history. Many of the distilleries in the former category are either very small and don't seek or need external coverage or promotion, or only produce whisky spirit for a tiny part of the year. For this reason they are difficult to reach out to and even if I did, you probably wouldn't be able to get their whiskies anyway.
Most of those in the latter are growing in to serious commercial whisky producers and are either in the frontline of the march of New World whisky, or will be some time soon.
This split is a tad simplistic - the likes of Zuidam in The Netherlands have a genever and fruit liqueur history, but its whiskies sit closer In the European category to the second group rather than the first. Nevertheless, most of this year's support for The Wizards came from outside the Germanic regions. Note to self as we look to 2013: talk more to our German friends!
This was a surprisingly lively and difficult category - the range of whiskies was impressively diverse - but the big winner in the Wizards of Whisky European category was Swedish distillery Mackmyra. With outstanding competition from Belgium, France, Wales, Holland and England, Mackmyra picked up four medals and the European Wizard distiller of the year.
Mackmyra is capping a sensational year which saw it move to a new distillery site which operates on a gravitational system and with added wash backs, gives it the capacity to increase capscity to more than 1,000, 000 litres.
See the full feature on Sweden in the next issue.
These are the results of the European Wizards
EUROPEAN WIZARD DISTILLER OF THE YEAR
Four entries, four medals, and judging from the samples I tasted recently, plenty more to come. Talk to Swedes and they're a bit sniffy about Mackmyra, partly one suspects through envy, partly because they're perfectionists and have staunch ideas as to how they'd make whisky, and partially because the early releases from the distillery were not good. But they were released under the banner names Preludium and Privus, clearly indicators that they weren't the done deal. And in the last three years the distillery has got better and better, to the point that a package arriving from the distillery is a cause for considerable excitement. There were very good releases from Glann ar Mor, Belgian Owl, fellow Swedes Spirit of Hven, Penderyn, Armorik and St George's - but Mackmyra was consistently the top Europ[ean Wizard.
EUROPEAN WIZARD WHISKY OF THE YEAR
Millstone 12 Year Old Sherry
Millstone is the whisky brand made by Dutch distillers Zuidam, a company which puts its emphasis on using only the finest ingredients. It makers about 600 spirits and liqueur products and its range of whiskies includes a rye.
The company only entered one whisky this year - a pity, because all of its whiskies are fantastic. But the one it did enter was a total revelation. For a starter, it's 12 years old - how did that happen? - and it's a big sherried whisky which took the judges totally by surprise. Whenever I do world whisky tastings I take care to explain that you should approach world whisky as you would bourbon when looking to compare with Scotch single malt: as a totally different animal. World whiskies are meant to taste different and should be judged in third context.
But not this beauty. This gate-crashes the Scotch whisky party while shouting at the top of its voice. We're in Aberlour A'Bunadh territory and then some. There are many great European whiskies but this is the first to go head to head with Scotland and hold its own. For the first time ever, a European whisky has caught up with the motherland. Wow!
GOLD MEDAL WINNERS
- Mackmyra Skog
- Millstone Sherry 12 year old
SILVER MEDAL WINNERS
- Armorik Doublewood
- Belgian Owl 46%
- Glann ar Mor, France
- Kornog, France
- Mackmyra 1st Edition
- Mackmyra Special No 8
- Spirit of Hven
- St George's Distiller's Elect
BRONZE MEDAL WINNERS
- Belgian Owl Cask Strength
- Telser, Liechtenstein