Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is one of the more unique whisky award competitions each year. While selected judges pick a panel of finalists, it’s whisky fans that vote on the winner. This is quite the contrast to the typical whisky award program, where judges are limited to a few (or many) experts in the field, and sessions are often behind closed doors. Spirit of Speyside is among the more accessible whisky award programs, and this year its reach is broadening.
In previous years, voting was limited to those attending the annual Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. This year, they’re expanding the pilot to have satellite locations participate in votes. The event was officially judged in Cologne, Amsterdam, and for the first time, in Fredericton, Canada.
I was thrilled to be invited to attend the Canadian round of votes at The Lunar Rogue Pub. Not only was this an opportunity to taste some of Speyside’s best scotches, it’s an opportunity to hang out with Frank and Jackie Scott, the owners of The Lunar Rogue Pub. Both have taken on prominent roles in the world of whisky. As an example, Frank Scott received the honour of Keeper of the Quaich in 2015. This is an exclusive membership offered to those that demonstrate an exceptional commitment to the scotch whisky industry.
Frank and Jackie are behind NB Spirits Festival, an event attended by thousands each year. Thus, holding a small whisky tasting for seventy or so people was no challenge. Participants arrived casually in the afternoon, and started tasting the three round challenge of whisky. Most hung around to discuss whisky.
In the 12 year old or younger whiskies, it was Aberlour 12-year-old against Cragganmore's 2004 Distiller's Edition. While judging blind, what I thought to be Cragganmore came through with more complex notes. In the No-Age Statement category, two cask-strength monsters went head-to-head: Aberlour A'bunadh versus Tamdhu Batch Strength 002. The A’bunadh was out sherry bombed by the Tamdhu for me, which I found to be a hot tangy mess. I loved both, but Tamdhu received my vote.
In the category of 13 to 20 year old, it was two classics: Glenlivet 18 versus Glenfiddich 15 Solaris Finish. Both were great, but Glenfiddich 15 is one of my all-time favourites for classic smooth but character-forward Speyside notes.
Finally, it was two old monsters: Mannochmore 25-year-old Special Release versus The Macallan 30-year-old Sherry Cask. While Macallan offered some of the expected notes (dried fruit, syrupy sweet, sherry forward), it was the Mannochmore that stood out in this group. The Mannochmore had these beautiful old clove herby herby notes that came through, with sharp tangy tannins, and a balance of oak.
I should note that for all of the above, I took a guess on which pour was which, as the tasting was entirely blind from start to finish. Was there universal agreement at my table? Absolutely not, and that’s what makes this tasting so eye opening. No matter who the final winners are, everyone had their favourites.
Update: The winners were announced, much in line with my guesses: "The winner of the 12-year-old and under category was Aberlour 12, while the title for malts aged 13 to 20 years went to Glenfiddich 15. In the 21-year-old and over category, Mannochmore 25 Special Release topped the poll. In the non-aged statement, Tamdhu Batch Strength 002 took top honours."
My thanks to the Spirit of Speyside for the invite, Frank and Jackie Scott for hosting, and the NB Tourism board for covering my expenses of the trip.