Friday, October 8, 2010

Scotch Whisky Medalists - Should You Pay Attention or Ignore?

Let's think about the Olympics for a moment.  How are medals awarded?  Gold for first place.  Just ask Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps.  Silver for second.  Yup!  Keep goin'.  Yes, bronze for third place.  If you place fourth, fifth, etc, well you get nothing.  That's competition right?  Well, maybe in the Olympics and some other competitive sports, but not when it comes to how medals are handed out by the International Wine and Spirits Competition (hereafter referred to as the IWSC). 

Not so, says the IWSC.  This body awards multiple medals in the same category.  Huh?  Multiple medals?  You mean a couple of silvers and bronzes?  Yup!  How can that be if there is only one second place finish and only one third place finish?  I am not sure it can be, but this is what the IWSC are doing.  For example, in the category, 2010 Scotch whisky - Blended - No-Age-Stated, there were the following medalists:

Highland Earl Blended Scottish Whisky - Gold Best in Class

Dewar's White Label - Gold Medal

Clan Gold - Silver Medal
Matisse Old Blended Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Label 5 Classic Black - Silver Medal
Black Bottle - Silver Medal
Scottish Leader Standard - Silver Medal
Scottish Leader Supreme - Silver Medal
Ballantine's Finest - Silver Medal
Grant's Family Reserve - Silver Medal
Co-op Finest Blend Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Black and White Choice Old Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Haig Gold Label Original Blended Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Vat 69 Finest Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Hankey Bannister Blended Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal
Waitrose In Partnership with Blended Malt Scotch Whisky - Silver Medal

William Lawson's - Bronze Medal
Tesco Special Reserve Scotch Whisky - Bronze Medal
Queen Margot Scotch Whisky - Bronze Medal
J & B Rare - Bronze Medal
White Horse Fine Old Blended Scotch Whisky - Bronze Medal

By my count, there were two gold medalists, fourteen silver medalists and five bronze medalists!  Makes no sense to me.  Often 'winners' at the IWSC will make prominent reference to the 'medals' won in their advertising.  I say 'beware.'  When a whisky or scotch is bestowed 'gold,' 'silver' and 'bronze' medals, one should realize that their 'achievement' is not the same as the gold medals of Michael Phelps or Mark Spitz.  Phelps and Spitz had the best times in their competitive swimming.  They were the fastest.  They were the best.  The same cannot be said of a whisky that wins 'gold' while another wins 'double gold' or one whisky is awarded 'silver' while fourteen other 'competitors' also got silver.

Who is the IWSC?
Visit their website and you will read:

"The Competition is backed by a group of vice presidents made up of the most influential men and women in the trade, including Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, Miguel Torres, Marchese Piero Antinori, Robert Drouhin, Robert Mondavi, May de Lencquesaing, Kenneth Graham and Sir Anthony Greener. Frances Horder, Competition Director, explains why the great and the good of the industry support The Competition above all other competitions.

The Competition has the support of many of the world's top wine and spirits producers, because we strive to set the international benchmark for quality. The unique combination of detailed technical analysis and specialist judging panels means that gaining any Competition award is an outstanding achievement. Our focus is to communicate the value of our medals to retailers, restaurateurs and consumers in every major market. Our vice presidents are now working closely with us through our new Advisory Board to bring increasing international awareness."
(emphasis added)

So, I guess we take away fromt the above passage that the IWSC is heavily funded by the wine and spirits producers of the world.  It will also come as no surprise that the same industry heavy weights have representatives who serve as judges.  I should point out that there were some lay judges, but they numbered 20 and there were 164 trade judges.

Bearing all of the above in mind, I think you now can draw your own conclusions about medalists of the IWSC.  So, returning to the question posed by this post, I would say, you would be best served by ignoring any marketing puffery on the part of any distiller or blender declaring to be a medalist of the IWSC.


Jason Debly

P.S.:  Frankly, anybody who would award medals to Ballantine's Finest and J&B Rare, but not to Teacher's Highland Cream  has no credibility with me anyway.  A reader of the blog also pointed out that it is ridiculous for Ballantine's and Dewars White Label to rank higher than White Horse.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Hey Jason!

    White Horse is a blend I have been reading about, a whiskey said to be quite very affordable, and quite good. Have you any plans on reviewing that particular spirit? I have heard it to be an "Islay blend", yet have also heard it has a Talisker component (which, unless I'm nuts, is certainly not an Islay malt...)

  2. Hello Yochanan, yes, White Horse is a good blended scotch. My understanding is that years ago it had a fair bit of Lagavulin in it, but in the last few years it has been more Caol Ila.

    White Horse is a smoke and peat blend with nice touches of sherry.

    I do not have a bottle to review as it is not sold in Canada. Ouch! Have to wait till I go to the states sometime.

  3. Hey, thanks for this info! I was originally thinking it was legit, and getting annoyed because I can't buy this in Australia. But if it's just a bogus industry award, then I'm not going to be very concerned.

    Dewar's white label? Really?