There was a total of 14 international whisk(e)y expressions that made the final judging “Sweeps” rounds at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC). These included six Irish whiskies, two Japanese whiskies, three Canadian whiskies and three whiskies in the world category.
Founded in 2000, the SFWSC is the oldest competition in North America and the largest spirits judging in the world. A total of 70 judges from around the world evaluated approximately 5,000 spirits over two weeks in April 2022.
The competition is organized by the Tasting Alliance, an organization founded by Anthony Dias Blue, and in addition to the SFWSC includes spirit competitions in New York and Singapore and wine competitions in San Francisco and New York.
The finalist in the Best of Class Blended Irish Whiskey was Jameson Bow Street 18 YO Irish Whiskey, 55% ABV, 750 ml. Irish Blended Whiskey is a combination of grain whiskey with either pot still whiskey or single malt whiskey or both. Pot still whiskey uses a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley.
Jameson, the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world, with roughly 70% of Irish whiskey sales in the US, is a blend of grain whiskey and single-pot still whiskey.
The whiskey shows tropical fruits on the nose. More dried fruit on the palate, along with caramel and some wood spice followed by a long, sweet, fruity finish.
In the Single Malt Irish Whiskey category two contenders are vying for Best of Class Single Malt Irish Whiskey: The Quite Man, 8 YO, Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40% ABV, 750 ml and Bushmills, 16 YO Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40% ABV, 750 ml.
The Quite Man exhibits pronounced fruity aromas on the nose, along with a creamy, lactic note. It has some licorice and tropical fruit notes on the palate, with a long, smooth, creamy finish.
The Bushmills 16 YO, on the other hand, shows cooked cereal notes on the nose, along with distinctive stone fruit aromas. It’s sweet on the palate, with pronounced stone fruit and tropical fruit notes followed by a long, fruity finish.
Redbreast dominated the Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey category with both finalists in the sweeps round: Redbreast, 27 YO, Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 54.6% ABV, 750 ml and Redbreast, 12 YO Cask Strength Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 57.6% ABV, 750 ml.
The Redbreast 27 YO is one of the great Irish whiskies of all time. It shows:
Dried fruit notes, along with some cooked cereal notes on the nose. It has tropical fruit and stone fruit notes on the palate and a nice long, fruity finish. The alcohol is well integrated, and the whiskey is remarkably smooth for being overproof.
The Redbreast 12 YO is similar but spicier. It exhibits caramel and cinnamon on the nose, followed by dried fruit notes on the palate. The finish is long and sweet, with lingering, dried tropical fruit notes.
Poitin is not technically a whiskey. While it can be made from cereal grains, including barley, any fermentable substance can be used from potatoes to milk. The best way to describe it is as the Irish version of moonshine. It is an unaged spirit.
Poitin has become quite trendy of late and a favorite of mixologists who have been experimenting with it in a range of cocktails. The top Irish Poitin was Mad March Hare, 40% ABV, 750 ml.
Mad March Hare is one of Ireland’s top Poitin brands and is a consistent medalist in international spirit competitions. It shows elements of a classic wet stone minerality, along with licorice on the nose. On the palate, it’s earthy and sweet, with herbal and even more licorice notes. The finish is long and sweet, with lingering licorice notes.
Two expressions are contending for The Best of Class Canadian Whisky: Pike Creek, 10 YO Canadian Whisky, 42.2% ABV, 750 ml and Shelter Point Distillery, Smoke Point, 53% ABV, 750, ml.
The Pike Creek whisky is a small batch, double distilled, blended Canadian whisky produced by the Corby Distillers. It’s sweet and fruity on the nose, with a hint of cooked corn sweetness. It’s creamy and smooth on the palate, with tropical fruit notes and a long, lingering, sweet and fruity finish.
Shelter Point is an artisanal/craft distillery located just outside Campbell River, British Columbia. This is a true grain to glass producer that has also been a consistent medal winner in international competitions.
Its Smoke Point expression exhibits pronounced caramel and butterscotch on the nose, with additional notes of cooked fruit. On the palate, it’s sweet with cooked and dried fruit notes, along with hints of milk chocolate.
The World Whisky category was dominated by Kavalan, a perennial contender, which had two of the three finalists: Kavalan, Podium Single Malt Whisky, 46% ABV, 750 ml and Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, 55.6% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan is one of only a handful of distillers that produce whisky in a tropical environment. The warm temperatures tend to facilitate rapid extraction of flavor elements from the cask wood, resulting in a rich, flavorful whisky, although sometimes this results in whiskies that are slightly unbalanced.
The Kavalan Podium offers up flavors of tropical fruit notes on the nose, along with hints of licorice and dried fruit on the palate. It’s smooth and creamy, with a long, fruity finish.
The Kavalan Solist, on the other hand, offers a lot more complexity, featuring butterscotch and stone fruits on the nose, along with cinnamon aromas. On the palate, it’s sweet, with dried fruits and cinnamon notes and a long, sweet finish.
Starward, Fortis Single Malt Whisky, 50% ABV, 750 ml is the third finalist in the Best of Class, World Whisky category.
The Starward Fortis was the top expression of more than a dozen Australian single malt whiskies that scored Double Gold at the 2022 SFWSC. Australia is becoming a significant producer of world-class whiskies and accumulating an impressive array of gold medals in international competitions.
The Starward Fortis shows fruit on the nose, with hints of caramel. On the palate, there’s caramel and licorice, along with ripe stone fruits. The finish is long, sweet and fruity.
Two Japanese whiskies vied for the Best of Class Japanese Whisky: Mars, Komagatake 2021 Edition Whisky (Nagano) 48% ABV, 750 ml and Kanosuke, 2021 First Edition Single Malt (Kagoshima) 58% ABV, 750 ml.
The Mars Komagatake exhibits dried fruits, with slight cereal notes on the nose. It’s sweet on the palate, with lingering dried fruit notes and a long, sweet, fruity finish.
The Kanosuke is spicier, showing honey and cinnamon on the nose. It’s sweet on the palate, with a pronounced cinnamon note and a bit of fruit, followed by a long finish, with a lingering candied cinnamon note.
See also the dozens of Double Gold medal winners across the various world whisky categories that were chosen at the 2022 SFWSC judging. A complete list is available on the Tasting Alliance website. Stay tuned for the announcement of the Best of Class winners and Best Whisky in June.