The wait is over. Amid all the chatter of whisky shortages and no-age-statement scandals, the Scots have finally managed to win a major gong, with the Old Pulteney Distillery's 1989 Vintage taking out World's Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards in London last week.
A number of competitions and opinion makers have overlooked the Scottish whisky category in recent years, long the world's dominant premium whisky producer. So with this win, has the whisky world finally returned to order? Or has the malt whisky category changed irrevocably?
Producers from the US, Ireland, Asia and Australia have certainly disrupted the Scottish quo. Disrupted, but by no means overshadowed it. Of course, the Scots have been winning these things for years. They recognise, like most producers, that accolades like this are great for press and brand recognition, but are mainly aimed at making us think about what great whisky tastes like, and where great whisky might come from.
As for the notion that one single whisky can confidently strut around as 'the world's best'? That, I've always found odd. Fun, and great for benchmarking. But odd – surely the human palate is too fallible and too diverse to agree on such a notion.
Breadth, quality and value
Equally odd are the reports that the world is running out of whisky, particularly the Scottish variety. Yes, stocks of market-leading brands are being tested, some age statement whiskies are vanishing, and a few experienced whisky drinkers might successfully argue that Scottish whiskies aren't what they used to be – an expected consequence of the boom and bust cycle of aged spirits.
But one of the strengths of the Scottish whisky industry is still the sheer breadth, quality and value it offers, traits that competitions often fail to countenance. In working with over 600 single malts week-in-week-out, it's this aspect of the Scottish malt whisky world that I'm constantly humbled by (and obviously biased towards).
My humble advice – bypass the hype and accompanying 'investment' bollocks that awards help to enshrine. After all, whisky is made to be drunk, and there are so many fine Scottish malt whiskies out there to be discovered.
To prove my point, scroll through the gallery for a taster of some lesser-known, overlooked Scotch whisky gems well worth seeking out over the holidays.
Or watch this 'Whisky 101' video:
What's your favourite obscure gem? Let us know in the comments section.
A professional barman in one of Australia's most revered whisky establishments, Luke McCarthy has also travelled the world to learn more about the spirits he serves. The result is two parts drinks culture and one part global trends, served with a dash of critical assessment.