It’s that time of year again, the World Whiskies Awards 2020 winners have just been announced and once again it has been a good year for Japanese whisky, with several brilliant expressions running out as winners in their respective categories. We can’t say we’re overly surprised, as Japanese whiskies have been picking up the top awards at this prestigious competition for years now, but that expectation doesn’t take away from the thrill and excitement we feel when reading this year’s results for the first time.
Today, we’re going to have a look at the big winners, as well as highlighting some bottles from up and coming distilleries that did particularly well in their categories. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Hakushu 25 Year Old Wins World’s Best Single Malt
Let’s start off with the big one – the World’s Best Single Malt category. This is one of the most hotly contested and coveted awards in the entire competition, with many whiskies from the world’s best and most famous distilleries going head to head to impress judges. Japanese whiskies have won this award in the past, with the Yamazaki 25 Year Old winning in 2012 and the Hakushu 25 Year Old winning in 2018.
This year, the Hakushu 25 Year Old picked up the award for an impressive second time, cementing its place as one of the finest single malt whiskies on the planet. It’s not often that this award is picked up by a whisky that has won it before, and this only goes to show the sheer quality and excellence of this fine expression from Suntory.
Given the on-going Japanese whisky shortage, the Hakushu 25 is one that is currently very hard to get hold of, but we have some stock available should you want to get a taste of this multi-award-winning beauty.
Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Wins World’s Best Blended Limited Release
The World’s Best Blended Limited Release category is one that was only introduced in 2016 and since then Ichiro’s Malt & Grain have won three out of the five annual awards with their Japanese Blended Malt Limited Edition expressions. In fact, this is the third year running that the hugely popular brand has won this prize, showcasing their exceptional knowledge and expertise in blending.
This year’s expression wowed judges with its full-body, complex array of notes and lingering smoky hints in the background. They stated that it’s “Rich with slight hints of sulphur. A burst of fresh mint is mixed with slightly peaty notes. A powerful dram”. Strong praise indeed from one of the industry’s most star-studded tasting panels.
Whether Ichiro’s Malt can continue this impressive trend in 2021 remains to be seen, but if they continue to release expressions like those of the past three years, they’re definitely in with a chance.
Fuji Single Grain 30 Year Old Wins World’s Best Grain Whisky
The category of World’s Best Grain Whisky may not be the first one that whisky enthusiasts look to when the results are released, but that could change in years to come as grain whisky continues to grow in popularity and drinkers discover the joys that these whiskies have to offer.
Much like the Blended Limited Release category, this one has been dominated by Japanese expressions in the last few years, and by one distillery in particular. Fuji-Gotemba has now picked up the award in three out of the last four years, with this year’s prize being their second in a row.
Their 25 Year Old Small Batch release picked up the trophy in 2016 and 2017, before the newer edition of the same whisky won again in 2019. This year, they released a 30 Year Old Small Batch expression and the extra five years of ageing seems only to have solidified the judges’ opinions that their whiskies are world class.
“Great depth, gentle, fruity, vanilla beans, woody notes, popcorn, tannin, sherry. Oaky.”, this incredible grain whisky is one that you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to try, given half a chance. Simply delicious.
Japanese Whisky Category Winners
While the three above mentioned whiskies picked up three of the most prestigious awards on the day, there were several other notable mentions that won in the “Japanese Whisky” categories.
They are as follows:
Best Japanese Blended Malt – Amahagan World Malt Edition No.3 Mizunara Wood Finish
A world blended release from the exciting Nagahama distillery that is finished in Mizunara wood. Nagahama have yet to release their first single malt but have been making waves with their World Blended whiskies. Word on the grapevine is that we could see their first single malt release in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled!
Best Japanese Blended Whisky – Hibiki 21 Year Old
There’s not much you can say about the Hibiki 21 Year Old that hasn’t been said before, so I’m not going to try. Multi-award-winning. Unbelievable balance. Majestic. Legendary.
Best Japanese New Make – Kanosuke New Born 2019
Much like Nagahama, the Kanosuke distillery is one of the fastest rising and most exciting craft whisky distilleries in all of Japan. They too are yet to release their first single malt, but their New Born expressions have filled a hole while we wait, with an incredible smoothness and flavour profile not often found in new-make spirit. Another one to look for!
Best Japanese Single Cask Single Malt – Mars Komagatake Single Cask 28 Year Old No.160
Hombo Mars have been releasing a plethora of single cask whiskies over the past few years, we’re guessing that’s their way of tackling the whisky shortage, and each and every one of them has delivered on the nose, palate and finish. This Komagatake 28 Year Old was distilled at Shinshu in 1991 and matured in an American Oak cask. It’s intricate, well-rounded and ultimately delicious and with only 352 bottles produced, it’s also hard to get hold of.
Another Good Year
So 2020 has been another fantastic year for Japanese whisky at the World Whiskies Awards, with three expressions picking up top awards, while a range of others were also noted for their excellence.
The popularity of our beloved spirit just keeps on rising and that’s testament to the hard work, knowledge and expertise of our blenders and distillers, who seem to keep on getting better and better, so hats off to them for making all of this possible!