The Judges

In a blind tasting, our expert panel of eleven judges, including whisky writers, industry representatives and specialist retailers, selected two finalists from each Whisky Awards category.

Chris CoatesWith a long-standing passion for whisky, Christopher Coates has worked for global drinks and travel media company Paragraph Ltd since 2013. In 2016, he was appointed as Scotch editor for Whisky Magazine and managing editor of the travel and history publication Scotland Magazine. In 2018, he was named as head of their travel division, which publishes titles such as Ireland’s Best, Scotland’s Best, and Traveluxe. He has been a member of the judging panel for the World Whiskies Awards, Independent Bottlers Challenge, and Scottish Hotel Awards since 2016. A keen amateur photographer, Christopher has built up one of the industry’s most comprehensive portfolios of Scotch whisky distillery images, though he also has a passion for landscape and wildlife photography.

Ewan DuigidEuan Duguid is the whisky writer for The Scots Magazine, the oldest magazine in the world.  Founded in 1739, the publication not only celebrates the nation’s rich heritage but promotes the new face of Scotland - and its vibrant future - to a global readership.

Euan’s malt musings blend his love of a good dram with his perennial yearning for a good yarn. He introduces readers to a different whisky (and occasionally gin) each month - as well as the big characters, compelling tales and anecdotes that abound in the industry. With a lifelong instinct for storytelling, honed during his previous role as an intrepid reporter of 12 years for a national newspaper.

In between an array of foreign assignments, ranging from frontline dispatches from Afghanistan, an encounter with a reviled cannibal war lord in deepest Africa, to serious sunburn in the Falklands, Euan could regularly be found embedded in Scotland’s whisky producing regions.

Euan – and The Scots Magazine – are absolutely delighted to be part the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2019 and look forward embarking on another exciting journey of dram discovery.

Penny EllisPenny Ellis, a former Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Director, jointly owns and runs Knockomie Hotel in Forres. With over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, Penny has also worked with whisky brands where she managed the companies’ corporate guests. Penny has developed further her keen interest in whisky through the hotel located near the Western gateway to the Speyside Whisky Trail.

Penny has written many articles about whisky and used to write a regular Whisky Column for the Scots Magazine. She has written a book titled Distinguished Distilleries and regularly hosts whisky tastings at the hotel and other locations.

justineJustine Hazlehurst founded Kask Whisky, a whisky events company based in Edinburgh and recently started the Leith Whisky Trail with walking tours focusing on the history of the brokers, blenders and bottlers in what was once a thriving whisky district, which culminate in a tasting of some ‘blast from the past’ drams all linked to the area. Having worked in Fife for many years before giving up her teaching career to pursue her passion to work in the world of whisky, her love of the Kingdom has led her to set up the Fife Whisky Trail as well as jointly establishing the Fife Whisky Festival. In addition to writing for her own blog, Justine is a regular contributor to Malt, offering honest opinions and reviews of whisky. She is very partial to the many delightful Speyside whiskies and believes that bottles of whisky should be opened, poured, shared and drunk in good company.

Mike Lord BMike Lord is genuinely passionate about whisky which he has always loved and it was a visit to Speyside for Hogmanay that created his real passion for single malt and the region. Mike gave up his career in the City to pursue his love of whisky full time and in 2006 he bought The Whisky Shop Dufftown and has made it a world renowned business. In 2016 he won Whisky Magazine’s Icon of Whisky Award for Best Whisky Shop in Scotland (single outlet) for the second time.  The Whisky Shop Dufftown is one of the largest providers of events to the festival.  The shop also runs its own festival over the last weekend in September.

Like his shop, Mike is truly independent. He loves to bring out the fun and excitement of sampling whisky from the first to the last drop. A visit to Mike’s shop will show you the vast range of whiskies available from Scotland and the amazing variety of flavours in whiskies. The shop hosts tailor-made whisky tastings to explore the world of single malts. Mike will also answer questions from the perspective of an independent whisky ambassador running a small shop with a global reputation. Mike is a Keeper of the Quaich and a lifetime ambassador of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.

nicolaScotch whisky has always been part of Nicola McCart’s life. As a child she remembers visiting the Speyside distillery where her father worked which influenced her to work in the whisky industry and to fall in love with drinking whisky.  However, first Nicola embarked on a career in retail management before working offshore in the oil industry and then taking a job in advertising with Scottish Provincial Press. In early 2017 she finally got the chance to join the whisky industry as brand manager for Whisky Quarterly Magazine. Eventually in 2018 she landed her dream job enabling her to combine all the customer insight, commercial and whisky skills that she had acquired over the years when as Sales Manager for leading whisky magazine website

jonny mccormickWhisky writer and photographer Jonny McCormick is Contributing Editor of Whisky Advocate magazine, the top selling whisky periodical published in the United States, and one of their leading whisky reviewers. He joined the magazine in 2006, and sits on the blind tasting panel in New York that selects the Whisky Advocate Top 20 Whiskies of the Year. He is known as a specialist in the field of rare and collectable whiskies, and his prolific writing on the topic has made him an authority on the secondary market. Speyside distilleries are a regular focus of his feature articles, travel writing and auction coverage, helping bring the region to life for whisky lovers in the United States and drawing attention to the region’s many attractions from its distilleries and famous whisky bars, to its excellent restaurants and inviting hotels. McCormick has contributed new essays on whisky to the last seven editions of Ingvar Ronde’s Malt Whisky Yearbook, authored eight books on the descendants of George Urquhart of Gordon & MacPhail to accompany some of the oldest and most prestigious single malt Scotch whiskies ever bottled on Speyside. He is a Keeper of the Quaich and has presented Scotch whisky tastings in Europe, North America, and Asia. 

Sean MurphyDriven by a passion for all things whisky-related, Sean Murphy has written extensively on the subject for The Scotsman. As one of the team behind the Scotsman Food and Drink he helps to run the online blog for the past few years, written articles and reviews, as well as hosting regular tastings for whisky, beer and gin.  A fan of whisky in all of its forms, Sean specialises in Scotch single malts, although he also enjoys everything from single grains and blended malts, to whiskies produced in other countries, particularly those hailing from Japan. 

Before becoming a journalist, he worked behind the bar at the world famous Potstill pub in Glasgow where he learned his trade and still does the occasional guest shift which allows him to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over six years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink.

He's just written his first book, Gin Galore, exploring the stories of the people behind Scotland's other popular spirit. 

gavin smith 2Gavin D Smith is recognised as one of the world’s leading whisky writers and is Contributing Editor Scotland for Whisky Magazine. He edited the first six issues of Fine Expressions magazine and regularly undertakes writing commissions for leading drinks companies. He also produces articles for a wide range of publications, including Whisky Magazine & Fine Spirits (France), Whisky Etc (Netherlands), Whisky & Spirits (Netherlands), Whiskeria, Whisky Quarterly, and the website He is also the lead Scotch single malts reviewer for Whisky Advocate magazine. He is the author and co-author of some 30 books, many devoted to whisky, and recent publications include The Dalmore Presents History in the Making – Richard Paterson 50 Year Anniversary, a new and fully updated edition of Michael Jackson’s Whisky the Definitive World Guide, co-written with Dominic Roskrow, Ardbeg: Heavenly Peated, and The Micro-distillers’ Handbook. He has enjoyed visiting Speyside since the 1970s and is a Keeper of the Quaich.

abcDr. Christopher White worked at the Scotch Whisky Experience as a tour guide whilst a student. His passion soon snowballed, and he is now Editor of Edinburgh Whisky Blog, an award-winning, influential whisky website. This opinion-based blog offers an alternative view point on the industry; providing views on new releases and marketing initiatives, interviews with industry experts, reports on PR events and product launches, and commentary on the wider whisky industry.

Chris has hosted tastings across the globe and has worked in an ambassadorial capacity for several whisky brands. He has previously judged the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards, as well as The Spirits Business’ Global Scotch Masters, and the Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace regional cocktail competitions. He has attended Diageo’s prestigious Malt Advocates Course and will feature on Channel 4’s upcoming ‘Britain at Low Tide’ series where he will discuss the historical roots of today’s commercial whisky industry.

As a member of the Tasting Panel at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Chris is responsible for analysing, reviewing and selecting casks to be bottled and sold by the society. More recently, he founded, and was General Manager of, the award-winning Usquabae Whisky Bar in Edinburgh, which stocks over 450 whiskies. Currently, he is the Auctioneer at Royal Mile Whisky Auctions, an ethical, online whisky auction platform.

ian WAn unexpected assignment from a drinks magazine when he was starting out in journalism steered Ian Wisniewski into the industry where he has remained. His first visit to a malt whisky distillery was a turning point: he found it so fascinating that he decided he had to learn as much about Scotch whisky as he could, and he is still learning, visiting distilleries as often as possible and constantly asking questions. 

Ian is a freelance writer, broadcaster and consultant, focusing on spirits, particularly Scotch whisky, vodka and gin, and contributes regularly to Whisky Magazine (UK and French editions) and Malt Whisky Yearbook, has written three books on whisky, including Classic Malt Whisky, as well as contributing to Michael Jackson’s Encyclopaedia of Whisky. He conducts tutored tastings, classes and courses on various spirits, and has given presentations at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, Craft Expo London and The Worldwide Distilled Spirits Conference, at which he was also the official conference journalist in 2017. He judges spirits in competitions including the Good Taste Awards, and is Chairman of the Vodka judges at the International Spirits Challenge (since 2005). As a regular visitor to distilleries he is always eager to learn more about the production process, which is one of his favourite subjects. He is a Master of the Quaich.

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