The best whisky in the world is “near indescribable genius.” It scores 97.5 marks out of 100. It is also not Scottish.
That's according to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015, a highly regarded ranking of fine global whisky. Specifically, reports the Telegraph, the top title belongs to Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, from Japan’s oldest whiskey distillery, Suntory, founded in 1923.
What's more, for the first time in the 12 years the Whisky Bible has been published, not a single Scottish whisky makes the bible’s top five. If that wasn’t bad enough for Scotland, which along with Ireland is the spiritual home of the drink, the best European whisky in the latest edition is English.
The Whisky Bible describes the winning Yamazaki whisky as “rich and fruity,” with a nose of “exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice.” Just 18,000 bottles were made — it is sold out on the bible’s online shop, and it is available in just a few specialist shops in the U.K. for about $160.
American whiskies take second and third prize, including repeat second-place winner William Larue Weller, a Kentucky bourbon.
So what about auld Scotland? A Scottish whisky — the 19-year-old single malt Glenmorangie Ealanta — took the top spot just last year, also getting 97.5 marks.
But the book’s author, Jim Murray, writes that though hundreds of Scottish whiskies were among the more than 1,000 samples he tried from all around the world this year, they fell flat.
“Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives?,” he wonders, calling this year’s rankings a “wake up call” for Scottish brands.
Ron Taylor, an independent wine and spirit judge and educator, tells TIME it's no surprise that a Japanese whiskey took first place in Murray’s list, since Japanese whiskies regularly win prestigious competitions, even in Scotland.
Still, Taylor also said that rankings often reflect the taster’s personal preferences. Indeed, Taylor describes Japanese single malts as like a Lexus —“beautifully crafted, no vibration, smooth, consistent and always pleasing” — while their Scottish counterparts are more akin to a Maserati.
“The Scottish whiskeys, they’ll knock you around and slap you around the face a little bit," says Taylor, who is from Scotland, but calls himself “a non partisan” drinker.
He also notes that Suntory, which makes the winning Japanese whiskey, also produces whiskey brands around the world — including, in fact, multiple Scottish whiskies.
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