A remarkable thing happened in the annals of spirits competitions this week. The highly respected Ultimate Spirits Challenge (a part of the Ultimate Beverage Challenge) competition, helmed by F. Paul Pacult in New York, and graced with some notable spirits critics, awarded an unprecedented 100 points to a spirit.
Highland Park 25 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky was awarded the first ever 100 point score from the Spirits Challenge judges, along with the Chairman’s Trophy for Best of Category.
For the entire list of finalist spirits, the Trophy winners, scores, prices, and tasting notes, please go to the Ultimate Spirits Challenge website.
But as impressive as that achievement is, it doesn’t stop there. The Highland Park Distillery, located in the Orkney Islands on the northern edge of Scotland, garnered an additional four Finalist entries in the Trophy Sweepstakes. The Highland Park 30 Year Old was awarded 97 points—Extraordinary Ultimate Recommendation; Highland Park 12 Year Old was awarded 96 points—Extraordinary, Ultimate Recommendation; Highland Park 18 Year Old was awarded 95 points—Extraordinary Recommendation; and Highland Park 15 Year Old was awarded 95 points--Extraordinary Recommendation as well.
While it’s true that competitions are variable, akin to beauty contests, and verify only that a particular spirit was showing particularly well on a given day, it remains a remarkable achievement when a full line-up of spirits from one distillery is showered with so many accolades of excellence by an entire panel of experienced, professional judges.
Highland Park had some worthwhile competition too, going up against such stalwarts as Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Aberlour, BenRiach, Benromach, Ardbeg, Laphroiag and The Macallan Fine Oak. When a distillery can stand out so clearly against that impressive an array of single malt whiskey, the achievement becomes even more remarkable.
Whisky purists (and whiskey purists, for that matter) are perfectly willing to debate endlessly about the relative merits of barrel maturation, pontificating on the elusive “sweet spot” that marks the perfect convergence of spirit, barrel, and time. And on any given day, perhaps….just perhaps…the separate Highland Park whiskies would have varied in point scores and relative standings. But the fact remains that all these whiskies are excellent iterations of type and Highland Park Distillery is successfully turning out amazingly consistent excellence at all levels.
So what’s a dedicated scotch lover to do? Simple: go out and get a bottle of each of these, no matter the price, and taste through them on a regular basis. Make your own decisions and administer your own points if you’ve a mind to. One thing is certain: no matter the points, no matter the expression of maturation, and no matter your own personal sweet point, you’ll be enjoying some fine old single malt whisky.