The San Francisco World Spirits Competition celebrated its 22th iteration back in April, and this time around it was bigger than ever. “With over 5000 entries from 40 countries we are by leaps and bounds the largest and longest running blind judging event [in the world],” according to Amanda Blue, president of the event. “This year cemented our status as the preeminent spirits competition in the world.”
Whether or not you agree with her self-assessment, there’s no denying that booze brands of all sizes are eager to get the stamp of approval from SFWSC. This year they had to wait a little longer for it. Although the actual judging took place during a two week span in spring, the results have been doled out in drips and drabs. We’ve known the winners of certain medals for months, but the competition only delivered a full reveal through a live ceremony that occurred on June 24th in San Francisco. Now that it’s over we can finally share the results of the all-important “Overall Best of Class” recipient. And the winner is…
Benromach 40 Year Old Single Malt Scotch
This Speyside stunner is matured exclusively in first-fill Oloroso Sherry butts and bottled at a cask strength of 57.1% ABV. It is a rich and rounded malt from a 125 year old distillery which is today managed by the talented folks of Gordon & MacPhail—the legendary independent bottler out of Elgin, Scotland.
The genius of this dram begins with the nose: bright and brimming with baking spice and stewed orchard fruit. Following the punchiness is a velvety body which carries caramel and croissant across the palate.
These sorts of tonalities are laudable, for sure. But they can be found in many a malt that doesn’t warrant world-class distinction. The real separator here is in the finish. It yields tobacco, leather, and threads of toffee—all of which just refuses to fade. In fact, it’s one of those rare sipping experiences for which time just seems to slow. You’re left contemplating this liquid for what feels like ages.
And ponder this: you can still actually purchase a bottle for under a $1000. That reads as a bargain for 40-year-old single malt these days. So don’t expect the price to hold much longer after news of this award spreads. The uptick underscores the economic engine driving this newfangled “competition-industrial complex.”
Even though Benromach took home the biggest prize, there were plenty of other winners announced last night. SFWSC will post its full list—including all Best of Class honorees—here.
A notable name on that list is Starward Australian Whisky. The Melbourne-based producer has only been available in US markets for three years and it can already boast of being the world’s most-awarded whisky according to the judges in San Francisco. In total, the brand took home 15 gold medals, including 12 double golds reserved for entries that receive a gold from all judges on a panel. Octave Barrels is a standout expression from the portfolio, with its rich body and raisiny finish. Its flagship Two-Fold remains one of the better entry level whiskies on the market today, an enticing blend of malt and wheat matured in Australian red wine barrels.
Also of note, beyond the world of whisky, SFWSC now awards medals in the rapidly expanding ready-to-drink segment. On June 24th, a total of 14 hard seltzers and canned cocktails notched victories across various categories. The biggest winner was LiveWire, a brand launched by bartender Aaron Polsky to showcase recipes conceived by his colleagues. He collected the Best In Show Cocktail for Rocket Queen, a tropical rum drink created by Erin Hayes.