It's almost becoming an annual tradition. Sullivans Cove won world's best single cask single malt at the World Whiskies Awards overnight in London.
Never before has any distiller won back to back 'world's best' honours. Sullivans Cove is also the only distiller globally to have won three such accolades, having previously won in 2014 and 2018.
The cask in question was Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask TD0217, which first won the 12 Years & Under category in Australia before beating off local competition to win Best Australian Single Cask Single Malt.
That local competition included its own French Oak HH0520, which had won Best Australian Single Cask Single Malt aged 13-20 years.
Olympics of whisky
In order to win world's best, the Sullivans Cove whisky had to outperform ten other country winners, including Tamdhu Distillery from Speyside in Scotland, Japan's Mars Distillery, Taiwan's Kavalan Distillery and Moylan's Distilling Co from the USA.
"It's seriously unbelievable, beyond our wildest dreams," said Sullivans Cove CEO Adam Sable.
"This is one of the younger whiskies that we've bottled, I think it's around ten years old. It just goes to show that older isn't necessarily better."
Sable said most of TD0217 was packaged in 200ml miniature French Oak bottles contained in a gift pack sold to mailing list members last year, with only a handful of full size bottles made available.
"There'll be some pretty happy people out there. I love the idea that it went into the gift pack in the 200ml bottles, because it gives more people a chance to taste it," he said.
The judges' tasting notes for TD0217 suggest its complexity must have given it the edge over the other single cask whiskies.
"Fruity toffee, with a hint of burnt caramel. Leathery touches. Palate is sweet and candied with a rich toffee core. Spiciness and black liquorice build from the middle, along with rich apple sauce. Finish has apple skin, liquorice and sweet cinnamon sugar. The apples linger," they assessed.
But how does Sullivans Cove do it, beyond simply making great whisky?
One answer may be the fact that theirs is primarily a single cask whisky brand, while many of its global competitors have their business models based around vatted expressions.
Last year, Sullivans Cove production manager Heather Tillott revealed the distillery team's painstaking approach to selecting whiskies that are worthy of single cask release.
"To find a barrel that is at its peak of balance, complexity, texture and structure is a feat of nature," she told the Drinks Adventures podcast.
It's just a theory here, but perhaps the Sullivans team has mastered the art of selecting the right barrels when they are at this peak, thanks to their almost singular focus on expressing the character of individual casks.
"Huge congratulations have to go to our whole team, in particular our tasting panel, who check every cask at regular intervals to determine if a particular cask is worthy of our single cask labelling and the optimal time for bottling," said Sable.
Local talent recognised
In other Australian honours at the awards, organised by Whisky Magazine, The McLaren Vale Distillery's John Rochfort was named Distillery Manager of the Year.
And Dan Murphy's picked up Supermarket of the Year in a nod to its whisky retailing chops.
"It all just underpins our thriving and growing industry in Australia, which is awesome," said Sable.
Also on the podium
It was Ireland that took out the global honours for a vatted single malt expression, with Teeling Whiskey's 24 Years Old Single Malt Vintage Reserve winning World's Best Single Malt.
And the results will do nothing to quell global demand for Japanese whisky, with its distillers winning numerous accolades including all three blended whisky categories.
World's Best Blended went to Suntory Hibiki 21, World's Best Blended Limited Release went to Ichiro's Malt & Grain Japanese Blended Whisky Limited Edition, while World's Best Blended Malt went to Nikka's Taketsuru Pure Malt 25 Years Old.
Hear James talk about Sullivans Cove here.