That might not be the worlds best whisky

Every few months the newspapers run headlines like : Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly no that Lidl/Aldi/insert £30 supermarket whisky isn’t the best in the world. These articles are at best misleading, and at worst downright dishonest. In each case the issue with the article is a combination of the competency and integrity of the journalist, their need to generate ad revenue, and the deliberately confusing world of whisky awards. There are a few issues to unpick:

There is no best whisky award

Whisky is an incredibly diverse product produced around the globe. While some awards/one man opinion awards (such as Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible) may award a best in category there is no individual, or award panel arguing that that one category wins out over another. Is the best bourbon really better than that single malt? Can you really compare that rye whisky to that grain? We may have a personal preference but if there’s no best category then there cannot be a ‘best whisky in the word’. If we’re talking personal preference then I’d give a shout out to the 37 year old Brora, my personal gold standard, though it costs a wee bit more than £30.

Awards are often price based

This makes perfect sense if you think it through. Can a 6 year old single malt whisky really be compared to a 30 year old single cask? Some awards factor price into an overall score meaning cheaper whiskies earn more points, others separate the whisky into bands. Either way the award in question almost certainly isn’t putting a supermarket single malt against the heavyweights in a distilleries core range, nevermind against the lost gems of closed distilleries.

There are often multiple gold awards per category

While some whisky awards have a best in category a surprising number of these are in fact point based. Under the points system any whisky scoring above a certain threshold will automatically be given a gold or silver award. It’s not unusual for there to be dozens of gold winners per category. This happens for a very simple reason :

Awards are generally pay to pay

If inclusion into an award category requires a brand to pay them the brand included are expecting to get something out of it. Ignoring the fact that the only whiskies being compared are from brands and distilleries willing to pay (and supply bottles for sampling) very few would participate if they had only a 1 in 500 shot of an award.

Should you pay attention to whisky awards?

Despite a lot of noise and numerous problems yes whisky awards are often a great way to discover new whiskies. There are more legitimate awards such as the annual whisky magazine awards, and even one man opinion awards can introduce you to world whiskies that are limited in supply, or new expressions ahead of the curve.

Should I buy supermarket whiskies

Supermarkets such as Lidl & Aldi do from time to time have some superb whiskies, their older whisky expressions are often a fraction of the price of a name brand. They make great everyday whiskies, and from time to time they release something pretty special (usually around Christmas). I’m not ashamed to have more than a few in my collection. Supermarket award winning whiskies are often solid enough when compared purely on price. Don’t believe the headlines though, if you’re drinking a supermarket bottle the only person who really thinks it’s the best whisky in the world is the journalist. Maybe….