The best whiskeys in the world according to the 2021 International Wine and Spirits Competition
The term “whiskey of the world” is a catch-all category that is used in spirits competitions to describe whiskeys from regions of the world that do not have their own specific category.
The designation includes whiskeys from countries that are not traditional whiskey producers or it may include countries where the number of distilleries, or at least the number of entrants, does not merit a separate category. Irish whiskeys, for example, were often included in the global whiskey category, but now, with 39 distilleries in operation, they have sufficient critical mass to warrant their own category.
In the International Wines & Spirits Competition (IWSC), spirits judging whiskeys from Scotland, the United States and Ireland each get their own category. All other whiskeys are grouped together in the World Whiskey category.
The IWSC is an annual wine and spirits competition. Founded in 1969 by Anton Massel, it has become the largest competition of its kind in the world. Spirits are rated on a 100 point scale and awards are given for outstanding gold (98-100 points), gold (95-97 points), silver (90-94 points) and bronze ( 85-89 points).
The competition employs more than 250 judges, from all over the world, who assess thousands of wines and spirits in 1,500 different categories.
A total of eight outstanding gold medals and 20 gold medals were awarded in the World Whiskey category at the 2021 International Wine and Spirits Competition.
These winners came from 10 different countries and included whiskeys from âtraditionalâ whiskey producing countries like Canada and Japan and expressions from non-traditional producers like Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland. Taiwan is not a traditional whiskey producing country, but it has become a whiskey-making powerhouse in recent years.
Taiwan’s Kavalan Distillery topped the Outstanding Gold category, winning an unprecedented seven of the eight medals awarded. In total, Kavalan won 15 of the 28 Outstanding Gold or Gold Medals awarded in the Global Whiskey Category at the IWSC 2021 Spirits Competition. It’s hard to think of a whiskey brand that has even come close to a also dominant performance.
Kavalan Distillery is located in Yuanshan County, Yilan County, Taiwan. The distillery was opened in 2005, shortly after the Taiwanese government relinquished its monopoly on the production of alcoholic beverages.
Kavalan produced its first spirit in March 2006, and released its first bottle in December 2008. The distillery rose to prominence in January 2012, when one of its expressions beat three Scotch whiskey expressions during a tasting at the blind organized in Leith, Scotland for Burn’s Night. Since then, it has won dozens of awards for its whiskey bottlings. All of his whiskey expressions are double distilled single malts.
The traditional production of whiskey has been centered in countries with a temperate climate. Ireland, Canada and Scotland are classic examples, as is the American Midwest – historically the center of American whiskey production.
Taiwan, on the other hand, is largely subtropical with long, hot, and humid summers. As a whiskey-producing region, it has more in common with the regions of southern Japan, India and Texas than with Scotland or Kentucky.
Warm summer temperatures accelerate the extraction of color and flavor from the wood from the cask, producing deeply colored and flavorful whiskeys. However, they can also produce lopsided whiskeys, lacking the smoothness and texture typical of whiskeys aged longer.
Kavalan has done an excellent job of managing the maturation of their whiskey to produce balanced whiskeys that are both very flavorful and smooth; often by finishing his whiskeys in a range of barrels that previously contained sweet wines. Indeed, these expressions have been among the most remarkable of Kavalan and have been regularly judged among the best whiskeys in the world.
Kavalan’s outstanding gold medalists included:
Kavalan Distillery, Reserve Peaty Cask, Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 51.6% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Podium Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 46% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Artist Series: Paul Chiang Puncheon Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 57.1% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Artist Series: Paul Chiang Virgin Oak Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 52.4% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Reserve Rum Cask Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 57.8%, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Manzanilla Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 57.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Moscatel Sherry Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 57.1% ABV, 750 ml.
The only exception to the Kavalan juggernaut was The Westfalian, Cask 120 Single Malt Whiskey 2016, 5 years, 51.9% ABV, 750 ml. The Westfalian Distillery is a German whiskey producer located in Paderborn in the east of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The company describes itself as a ‘German spirit with a touch of Scotland’. Although he follows a Scotch whiskey pattern in the production of his single malt whiskey, he also makes a variety of other whiskeys more inspired by American mash bills.
The distillery has been repeatedly honored as Germany’s best whiskey distiller and has won numerous gold medals for its whiskeys. All of its single malt bottlings are single cask bottlings. Many of these have been aged in barrels that previously contained whiskeys produced in some of Scotland’s best-known distilleries.
The Westfalian Cask 120 bottling, for example, was matured in a Sherry cask that previously contained Glendronach single malt Scotch whiskey. Only 534 bottles were produced.
A total of 20 gold medals were awarded in the World Whiskey category. Kavalan won eight of these medals for:
Kavalan Distillery, Oloroso Sherry Oak Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 46% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Select No. 2, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 40% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Concertmaster Port Cask Finish Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 40%, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 56.3% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Porto, Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whiskey, 57.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Earth Silver Wine Cask Matured, Single Cask, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 57.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Artist Series: Paul Chiang French Wine Cask, Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 62.6% ABV, 750 ml.
Also from Taiwan, the Nantou distillery won two gold medals.
Nantou Distillery, Omar Single Malt Peated Whiskey, NAS, 46% ABV, 750 ml.
Nantou Distillery, Omar Single Malt Peated Whiskey, Cask Strength – Virgin Oak, NAS, 56.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Japanese whiskey producers came second in the medal draw, winning five gold medals.
Eigashima Shuzo, Blended Whiskey, Sherry Cask, 100th Anniversary Edition, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml. It is the smallest and oldest whiskey distiller in Japan. It has only five employees and was first licensed in 1919.
Matsui Shuzo, The Kurayoshi Pur Malt Whiskey, 18 years old, 50% ABV, 750 ml. The Kurayoshi distillery has only been distilling its own whiskeys since 2017. The expression 18 years is a blend of sourced whiskeys, mainly from Scotland. The distillery also won a gold medal for its Matsui Shuzo, Kurayoshi pure malt whiskey, NAS, 43% ABV, 750 ml. The origin of this whiskey is unclear.
Kumesen Shuzo, Kujira Ryukyu Whiskey Old Bourbon Barrel, 24 years old, 43% ABV, 750 ml. It is a rice whiskey produced in Okinawa. The island has a hot and humid tropical climate which produces very fragrant whiskeys. Kujira features aromas of herbs with fruity flavors of prune, licorice, vanilla, chocolate and cinnamon spice.
IND Drinks, Shibui Single Grain Virgin White Oak Cask Whiskey, 10 years old, 43% ABV, 750 ml.
Australia had three gold medalists:
Lark Distillery, Chinotto Cask Release Whiskey, NAS, 49% ABV, 750 ml.
Mountain Distilling Company, Mountain Whiskey, 3 years, 58% ABV, 750 ml. It is a peaty whiskey.
Killara Distillery, Tasmanian Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml.
The rest of the gold medalists went to an eclectic mix of winners.
Golden Blue (South Korea), The Summit Blended Whiskey, 20 years old, 36.5% ABV, 750 ml.
Casa Lumbre (Mexico), Abasolo Whiskey, 2 years, 43% ABV, 750 ml. Abasolo is a Mexican whiskey that uses a mash bill made from ancient varieties of corn. These are traditional varieties that preceded the arrival of the Spaniards.
Spiritique (France), Amaethon Single Malt Whiskey, NAS, 45% ABV, 750 ml.
Rugenbrau (Switzerland), Swiss Mountain Single Malt Whiskey, Master Distiller Edition 3, 8 years old, 55.7% ABV, 750 ml.
Beam Suntory, Canadian Club – The Speakeasy, 43, 45% ABV, 750 ml. Distilled in 1977, this 43-year-old whiskey is the oldest Canadian whiskey ever to be released. It is part of the Chronicles series, which has already released a 40-year-old, a 41-year-old, and a 42-year-old. A 44-year-old and a 45-year-old are also expected to come out sequentially in 2022 and 2023.
Spreewood Distillers (Germany), Smoky Rye Whiskey, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml. Rye whiskeys are increasingly popular in Europe. Spreewood was the first German distillery to produce rye whiskey. It is located in Brandenburg, in the heart of the traditional rye growing region in Germany.
Stauning Whiskey (Denmark), Stauning Rye Whiskey, 3 years, 48% ABV, 750 ml is another rye whiskey produced in a traditional rye grain growing region. In this case, the western part of the Jutland peninsula.
World whiskeys are in many ways the most dynamic and exciting part of the whiskey universe. While many are based on historical patterns of whiskey-producing countries, they are also shaped by their particular climates, local sources of grain, and traditional distilling customs and practices. The result is new insight into the complexity and variety that whiskey can offer.