One of the world’s top-selling whisky brands has tantalised the taste buds of judges in the 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards - being named as a finalist in all three categories in the annual competition. However, the trio of drams from Glenfiddich will still have to find favour among the whisky drinking public before they can be named the region’s top tipple. 

Glenfiddich has been shortlisted in the 12 years and under and non-age statement category and the 13-20 years category with its 12 years old and 18 years old respectively, while the distillery’s 21 year old is a finalist in the category for malts over 21 years. 

Judges deliberated for hours – tasting a huge selection of malts from across the Speyside area – and also named Glen Grant 10 years old, Glen Moray 16 years old and Cragganmore 25 years old 2014 Special Release as contenders.

But now the power of selecting a winner will be handed over to visitors of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in the only awards of its kind which allows the public to determine the overall winners. A series of roving judging sessions will be held as part of the Festival, which takes place from April 28 to May 2.

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival director Laura Sharp, who is responsible for organising the awards, says the experts had no idea what malts they were sampling in the blind taste test.

She adds, “We don’t allow judges to see any packaging or bottles because we don’t want them to be influenced by any brand loyalty or previous tasting sessions. The panel was very surprised to learn that Glenfiddich was a finalist in all three categories, but it is a testament to the quality whisky they are producing.

“I can’t recall a time when any distillery has had a finalist in all three categories, although on several occasions distilleries owned by the same parent company have been shortlisted in two categories. However, it’s all down to the public now as they will ultimately decide which one of our finalists will be crowned overall winners in the judging sessions, which are also in the form of blind taste tests.

“We had some of the country’s top whisky experts on the panel this year, and there was a lot of lively and passionate debate about all of the entries. What came through was that the standard across the board was exceptional, and that the Speyside region continues to produce some of the best quality whisky in the world.”

The whisky awards are sponsored by Forsyths of Rothes – the coppersmiths responsible for building many of the pot stills in which the shortlisted single malts were distilled. The judging session took place at the Knockomie Hotel in Forres. The panel included a range of specialist whisky writers, connoisseurs and retailers.

Becky Paskin, editor of whisky website, joined the panel for the first time. She says, “The traditional perception of Speyside whiskies is that they are all light and fruity in style, but this notion is outdated. If there’s one thing the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards demonstrates, it’s that as well as owning the greatest concentration of whisky distilleries in Scotland, Speyside is also home the broadest palette of flavours. 

"Among the entrants in this year’s awards were heavily Sherried and spicy beauties, sweet yet peaty malts and even some intriguing wine cask finishes, all of which challenge the opinion of how a typical Speyside whisky should taste. If ever there was a whisky category offering something for everyone, this would be it.”

Renowned whisky aficionado and writer Martine Nouet has served on the panel many times in the past, but says she always comes away surprised at the range of malts on offer. “I have taken part in the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards judging since its beginning and every year, I am amazed at the growing diversity of aromatic profiles expressed by the whiskies in competition. 

“This year, I found that the category 12 and under was the most challenging, with many younger whiskies than previously presented and more cask finishes. It is interesting to note that the finalist this year is the longest established single malt in Speyside. Tradition rubs shoulders with innovation, which results in offering whisky lovers a larger choice of styles and aromatic profiles. Wonders never cease,” she says.

Various judging sessions will happen throughout the Festival, at locations across Speyside, giving visitors the opportunity to sample each shortlisted malt in a blind taste test. They will be asked to cast a vote for their favourite in each of the three categories, and the malts with the most votes will be declared winners. The final judging session and awards prize-giving will take place at the Whisky Awards ceilidh on Sunday, May 1.

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is one of the world’s biggest whisky festivals, giving people from across the globe the opportunity to appreciate Scotland’s national drink. The five-day celebration of the amber nectar includes a packed programme of events involving food, music and crafts alongside a wide range of distillery tours and tastings from some of the biggest names in Scotch whisky. 

Tickets for all events in the 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival programme, including the roving judging sessions, can be bought via the website – - from February 2. Keep up-to-date with the Festival on social media - and @spirit_speside on Twitter.

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