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December 2013

Ten Great Years of Malt Maniacs Awards


"MMA 2013 Unplugged - The Inside Story"




It's that time of year again! Judging is completed, their results have been submitted and our official scorecard published announcing this year's lucky winners so it's time to sit back and relax? Well, not really for me as my next task was to put together my annual 'behind the scenes' report of this year's complete process. It is available as a (pdf) link on our official website Awards Page, but just for a change I'm also putting the whole content online here this year, so welcome to MMA 2013 - Unplugged:




MMA – A little history

The Maniacs first discussed holding an independent, amateur whisky competition back in 2003 which was an era of very few other competitions and certainly no 100% amateur ones of any great scale.

The fundamental rules were to be:

·        No entry fee

·        100% Amateur

·        100% blind

Of course, back in 2003 The Maniacs collective was much smaller than it is today with just twelve members and none were from whisky’s professional ranks but MMA was born and that first year saw 61 entries being submitted with nine judges taking part.

For the record three gold medals were awarded that year to Talisker 21y 1981-2002 OB, Brora 30y OB bottled 2002 and Ardbeg 21y ‘committee bottling’ with the overall Supreme Winner being the Talisker.

Since then our Supreme Winners have been:

·        2003      Talisker (21y, 1981-2002, OB)

·        2004      Brora (30y, bottled 2003, 55.7%, OB)

·        2005      Laphroaig (31y, 1974-2005, 49.7%, OB for LMDW)

·        2006      Yamazaki (1984-2005, 56%, OB)

·        2007      Laphroaig (27y, 1980-2007, 57.4%, OB)

·        2008      Lagavulin (21y, 1985-2007, 56.5%, OB)

·        2009      Karuizawa (1972-2008, 65%, No.1 Drinks)

·        2010      Glendronach (38y, 1972-2010, Cask 700, 49.5%, OB for Taiwan)

·        2011      Glendronach (39y, 1972-2011, Cask 712,Oloroso Sherry Butt,  49.9%, OB)

·        2012      Glendronach (40y, 1972-2012, Cask 713, Oloroso Sherry Butt, 50.2%, OB for LMDW)

Today in 2013 our fundamental rules haven’t changed and even though our collective has grown to 31 members including five professionals, we still uphold our traditional values as entrants pay no entry fee other than having to send us one bottle of each whisky they choose to submit. Our judges are chosen only from our amateur members who each have to pay for their own sample bottles (we use only new glass bottles to prevent any contamination) and their own postage to receive the samples. The competition also remains 100% blind as judges only receive a series of numbered samples and have to rely purely on their noses, palates and eyes without knowing anything about the whiskies, not even abv. We even impose what we call a ‘radio silence’ upon judges as they aren’t allowed to discuss any aspects of MMA or judging during the competition. The benefits of this are that each judge has the ability to work at their own speed, in their own environment and typically spend much more time with each sample than they would in a ‘professional’ competition held centrally at a single location over just a few days.

In 2011 when Malt Maniac Krishna Nukala flew over to Germany to help with the filling weekend he was still enthusing about that 2010 winner; Glendronach 1972 as he commented “That cask 700 was superb, surely they can’t match it and do it again this year?” which indeed they managed with the superb 39y Cask 712. Then 2012 Saw a titanic battle for the Ultra-Premium Supreme Winner with the Glendronach Cask 713 and sister cask to the 2011 winner once again answering Krishna’s question of “Surely they can’t do it again, can they?”

So what about MMA 2013?


As usual our competition is split into three categories based upon typical price of the entries; Daily Drams is for whiskies up to a price of €50. Premium category is for whiskies priced from 51 to €150 and Ultra-Premium category for whiskies over €150. Within each category we offer up to five ‘Awards’ comprising Supreme Winner (the entry with the highest average points total across all judges’ scorecards, then Best Sherried Whisky, Best Peated Whisky, Best Natural Cask and a Thumbs Up award for an entry which we believe deserves a special mention. Now, without further ado welcome to the Award-winning entries of MMA 2013:




Ultra-Premium category

Supreme Winner

Karuizawa 1973-2013, No.1 Drinks, cask No.1607, 67.7%

What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “Wow, taste is so intense. Lots of wood, all the spices and so big on sherry influence. Quite excellent indeed and a pure-bred sherry monster.” 92 points.

Krishna Nukala “….. Leaves with stunning burst of fire crackers!” 92 points.

Keith Wood “I love the mixture of solid, rich aromas and flavours, a great” 90 points.

Overall MMA score; 91 points



Ultra-Premium; Best Sherried Whisky

Glenfarclas Family Casks, 1989-2012, cask No.11046, 56.6% abv, OB for TSMC Taiwan to celebrate the 176th Anniversary of Glenfarclas distillery


What some of our judges said:

Krishna Nukala “Lots of complexity, very smooth and spicy long finish” 91 points.

Robert Karlsson “Really big and bad sherry monster here. Well not so bad, absolutely no off notes. Excellent stuff.” 91 points.

Keith Wood “Delightful on nose and palate. Nothing out of place, rich, dark, slightly dry.” 91 points.


Overall MMA score; 90 points




Ultra-Premium; Best Natural Cask Whisky

Karuizawa 1983-2012, No.1 Drinks for LMDW “Cocktail Series”, Hogshead, cask No.8597, 62.1%abv


What some of our judges said:

Krishna Nukala “Brilliant palate; a sugar volcano explosion” 92 points.

Robert Karlsson “Very powerful, strong! Wonderful fruits and so intense. This is a seriously good dram.” 92 points.

Keith Wood “Deliciously intense” 91 points.

Tim Puett “Tons of fire here, it’s a hot one with some citrus” 86 points.

Overall MMA score; 88 points



Ultra-Premium; Best Peated Whisky

BenRiach 1985-2012, 27y, (OB), Peated / Virgin American Oak, cask No.7188, 48.9%abv


What some of our judges said:

Tim Puett “Finish just keeps on going, very nice.” 92 points.

Krishna Nukala “Ah! Now something very interesting! Rich fruits, lovely floral notes like gardenia in the rear. Succulent sweetish honey notes” 89 points.

Keith Wood “Was that really dandelion & burdock towards the end? Certainly mildly herbal, I Love it.” 89 points.

Robert Karlsson “Needs a little time to open up and does so rather well.” 87 points.

Overall MMA score; 87 points



Ultra-Premium; Thumbs-Up Award

Teeling Whiskey Company, 21y Vintage Reserve, single malt Irish whiskey, 46% abv


What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “This is a really special (and tasty) whisky. Wonder what it can be. I want a case!” 92 points.

Oliver Klimek “Wonderfully fruity but also light and fragrant. The finish is enormously long.” 90 points.

Keith Wood “Aromatic, floral, gentle & smooth on nose, then again on palate. A real star.” 89 points.

Krishna Nukala “Phenolic and fruit combination. Very sweet and more phenols on palate. Lovely spicy and sweet finish.” 87 points.

Tim Puett “Smells like biting into a gumdrop. Finish introduces herbal and grassy notes.” 86 points.

Overall MMA score; 87 points.



Premium category

Supreme Winner


Kavalan Solist, Sherry cask No. S060821049, 57.8%abv


What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “Taste is also, wow! What on earth is this? Huge complexity on so many things, leather, coffee, dried fruits, cherry kernels, still round and attractive. So special. What an experience to drink this one. I love it.” 94 points.

Krishna Nukala “Brilliant, delicious and spicy” 93 points.

Keith Wood “Heavy, rich, massive, dry, toasted, earthy. Just enormous.” 87 points.


Overall MMA score; 91 points



Premium; Best Sherried Whisky

Glendronach, 1994-2012, 18y, Oloroso sherry butt, Cask No.68, 56.6%, OB for Kenny Hsu Taiwan


What some of our judges said:

Krishna Nukala “On the palate it’s like a rich dessert, loooong sweet finish.” 92 points.

Robert Karlsson “Thick sherry inspired taste here. Orangey, rich. Dates, raisins. Some spent matches in the aftertaste also. Big whisky for sure.” 89 points.

Keith Wood “Wow - intense, lightly toasted, lots of dark fruits, wood, very dark chocolate, maybe even a hint of coffee? This certainly packs a punch.” 87 points.


Overall MMA score; 89 points



Premium; Best Natural Cask Whisky

Clynelish, BBR for LMDW, 1996-2013, Cask No.6421, 57.1%


What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “Complex promising nose. Very special taste here I'd say. ” 90 points.

Krishna Nukala “Excellent palate. Very sweet and spicy.” 88 points.

Tim Puett “Warming all the way to the back of the mouth.” 86 points.

Keith Wood “Nice light fruitiness. Creamy custard? Some pepperiness. Lovely aperitif or summer dram.” 84 points.


Overall MMA score; 85 points



Premium; Best Peated Whisky

Amrut, bottled 2013, Cask No.BA18/2013, Blackadder “Raw Cask”, 63%


What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “Taste immediately on a rather excellent berried smokiness. Round, sweet, sooty and so drinkable.” 91 points.

Tim Puett “Deep smoke and sweet alfalfa hay.” 91 points.

Krishna Nukala “Excellent smoke with phenols.” 88 points.

Keith Wood “Mouth-filling, rich and herbal Exotic fruitiness. Earthy, solid. I like.” 86 points.

Overall MMA score; 89 points



Premium; Thumbs-Up Award

Celtique Connexion, “Islay”, 1999-2013, “Celtic Whisky Compagnie (Jean Donnay), 46%

What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “Intriguing, very interesting and tasty.” 91 points.

Krishna Nukala “Brilliantly smoky with lots of complexities.” 91 points.

Oliver Klimek “A combination of peat and sweet wine that actually works is a rare beast. This one is truly remarkable.“ 90 points.

Keith Wood “Wonderfully deep yet delicate.” 88 points.

Overall MMA score; 88 points

Awarded the Thumbs-Up Medal for excellent quality at a very affordable price.




Daily Drams category

Supreme Winner



Aberlour A’Bunadh, Batch 45, OB, Oloroso sherry butts, 60.2%


What some of our judges said:

Tim Puett “Love it, warm, lingering.” 92 points.

Krishna Nukala “I get that intoxicating floral notes of Naga malli - Cannon Ball Flower.” 90 points.

Robert Karlsson “Wow, quite a mouthful this one. Huge on dark fruits, the whole compote. Faultless and evil, not for the faint of heart.” 87 points.

Keith Wood “Very nice after-dinner treat.” 87 points.


Overall MMA score; 87 points



Daily Drams; Best Sherried Whisky

Glendronach, 2002-2013, 10y, OB for The Whisky Fair, PX Sherry Puncheon, cask No.710, 52.8%


What some of our judges said:

Krishna Nukala “Lovely palate. Full bodied, spicy and sweet. Excellent long and spicy finish with whiff of smoke in the end.” 90 points.

Robert Karlsson “Quite some liquorice in the taste, rather intense spices and mandarins again. Raisins in the aftertaste. Big taste, considerably bigger than the nose I'd say.” 86 points.

Keith Wood “Lovely palate after a slow starting nose. I love the smooth, rich creaminess.” 86 points.

Overall MMA score; 86 points



Daily Drams; Best Natural Cask Whisky

Springbank, 12y Cask Strength, OB, 50.3%


What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “Compact and well-composed, elegant dried fruits, nice fresh malty sweetness. Good clean spices.” 90 points.

Krishna Nukala “Lovely sweet and smooth whisky.” 87 points.

Keith Wood “Peated? Not quite but it is nice and earthy with floral tendencies.” 87 points.

Tim Puett “Jujubes, gumdrops, bubblegum, lingering …..” 86 points.

Overall MMA score; 86 points



Daily Drams; Best Peated Whisky & Thumbs-Up Award

BenRiach, Curiositas, 10y, OB, 46%

What some of our judges said:

Robert Karlsson “Powerful dark sooty taste. Big oomph, fresh citrus fruits in the aftertaste. Seriously tasty beast here.” 91 points.

Oliver Klimek “Extremely complex and medicinal nose, burnt rubber, dry peat and phenols dancing on your palate.” 88 points.

Keith Wood “Smoky raspberries. Nice & light with lovely mild peaty smoke.” 86 points.

Krishna Nukala “Smoky, syrupy and lots of spices with green peppers.” 83 points.

Tim Puett “Leaves me wanting more.” 83 points.

Overall MMA score; 86 points

I believe this is the first time one whisky has ever won two awards within the same MMA competition. BenRiach Curiositas was awarded Thumbs Up for exceptional quality at a fantastic price.


MMA should be considered to be two competitions all rolled into one; firstly and primarily we have the actual Awards which I have just detailed above. All except the Thumbs-Up Awards are decided upon highest average scores across all judges within each category. The Supreme Winners are the outright highest scoring whiskies, then Best Sherried, Natural and Peated are the highest scoring entries by cask and whisky type. The scores do play a part in our Thumbs-Up Awards, but perhaps more importantly we consider other parameters like value for money and consistency of quality.

Secondly, we award a series of medals to recognise the overall quality of entries; any entry managing an average score of 90 points or more across all judges will receive a gold medal which means that, in our opinion, these are exceptionally outstanding whiskies. 85-89 Points will receive silver medals which confirm that, again in our opinion, these are excellent and highly recommendable whiskies. Any which gain 80-84 points receive bronze medals and are acknowledged as good everyday drams.

This year we have awarded four Gold Medals which, along with our Silver and Bronze Medals are detailed in our official MMA 2013 Judges’ Scorecard:


Our official scorecard showing all MMA scores and also individual scores from each judge:


Inside MMA 2013; Scoring & judging

I was recently asked if we impose any specific judging method or criteria on our MMA judges, perhaps like the repartition system of, for example a 25/25/25/25 split of scores between attributes like appearance, nose, palate & finish … etc.

We prefer not to impose such criteria, or for that matter any specific judging criteria other than keeping everything totally blind. Each of our judges, although amateur, is highly experienced in whisky tasting and already has their own tried and tested methods of scoring and most have already scored hundreds, if not thousands of whiskies in our online database; The Malt Monitor. Of course this means that there is an emphasis on personal preference, but judging and scoring is always subjective and will vary a little between individuals, so this is exactly why we utilise a panel of 10-12 judges for MMA and take an average score across the board from all those submitted.

Here’s what a couple of our members replied when asked about their own scoring criteria:

"I for one do never use 'repartitions' (such as 25/25/25/25) because I've never managed to find one that would work with all whiskies. I tend to think that 'proportions' between nose and palate, for example, change with styles and, above all, with the whiskies' ages." Serge Valentin.

"Regarding the scores to be allotted to appearance, nose, palate etc... I strongly feel that it will not work out. Scoring for appearance is definitely ruled out for me. Even if points were to be given to each parameter; how many points would you allocate to appearance, how many to nose, how many to palate, how many to finish and the last dimension which is most important for me; how many to overall feeling and impression?" Krishna Nukala.

"I too disagree with the 25/25/25/25 scoring process as to me it so limits the range of scores for particular items. I usually have a first impression of score after the initial nose/taste…..and then I might adjust once I have had a few more noses/tastes. But I usually fall within a few points of my initial impression. If I am at all conflicted, I will mark it for a re-taste. But this is based upon what I recall from what I have liked and disliked before." David Wankel

Finally on this topic, I’m affording the last word to one of our professional members; "Like you, my scores are founded on experience, and based on overall flavour (aroma, taste, mouth-feel, finish); but unlike you, I never publish my scores!" Charles Maclean.

Inside MMA 2013; A few general thoughts

Once scores have been submitted and judges learn what the entries actually were, there is obviously much discussion as the ‘radio silence’ is lifted. Here are just a couple of those comments:

"I scored three young Amruts very high (for me), and it is definitely one I'm going to follow for now on. I really liked those high strength Amrut BA's and the OB! I liked the Kavalans too." Tim Puett.

"Do we see the resurrection of the 'standard' 10, 12 15 or 18y distillery bottlings?" Michel van Meersbergen.

"I am impressed by how well Amrut and Kavalan did. They have three bottles each with 87+ points." Oliver Klimek, then Oliver continued by offering a comment about the younger Glendronach entries this year; "these are pretty excellent so we can expect some good later vintages in the future."

Inside MMA 2013; Logistics and timeline

MMA has two defining dates; firstly 1st December, or as near as possible to the 1st which is when we aim to release the results. Secondly what we call the filling weekend which is when we pour the entries into judges’ sample bottles and, by definition this is also the deadline for receipt of entries.

This all sounds easy, right? Well, not quite because we have other considerations too; who will judge this year? Sample bottles need to be ordered, invitations to participate have to be sent out, entries have to be received, stored, catalogued and numbered …. And so on ….

MMA 2013 began for me in late July as I put together our letter of invitation to prospective entrants, but this year things burst into life a wee bit earlier than usual as I was contacted in June by two (new to MMA) distillers wishing to enter this year, in fact I received entries from one before my letter of invitation had even been sent out.

The filling weekend date was set for the last weekend in September so we have our deadline which means by early August the first invitation was mailed out and, as often happens this created the first mini whisky rush with various entries arriving within a few days then, nothing. In those first ten days or so entries quickly reached double figures then everything went quiet. Of course, August is the main holiday season and everyone was enjoying sun, surf and sand rather than sitting at their desks thinking of whisky. What about judges for 2013? There goes another plea; "Dear Maniacs, who’d like to subject their noses, palates and livers to sampling up to 200 whiskies in no more than six weeks?" Yes, that’s what being a judge amounts to. By the time samples have been filled, packed, posted, delivered and received the typical time left for judging is 4-6 weeks depending upon postage times.

Poor Krishna, I thought German customs were difficult, but it seems Mumbai are on another level where everything goes in, but nothing comes out, even after three weeks of waiting!

Speaking of customs, last year our super-efficient and rather over-zealous German customs did their utmost to wreak havoc onto MMA as they showed their expertise with google in attempting to find values of entries so they could charge me what they considered to be the correct Duty. On one occasion they even sent me away whilst they spent 24 hours googling ……. Welcome to 2013 and The Cunning Plan; let’s confuse German Customs by not using them and have non-EU entries sent to a different country with a more relaxed attitude, then forward them to me within the EU. It worked! Not a single Euro cent paid in Duty, except of course (!) for the single parcel which just happened to be the one sent directly to me in Germany as it was a late entry with time constraints. I still think if they hadn’t seen me at all this year they’d probably have sent me a letter asking why.

So, it’s early September, no more entries received, time to send out the post-holiday / vacation reminder which immediately solicited responses with promises for entries…….

But what about the whisky rush?

At this point, sadly, one of our judges had to drop out as his job demanded he volunteer for some extra evening work during November, then another ‘maybe’ judge confirmed his (work) diary was also too full and he wouldn’t be able to make it. So now we have 10 left from our original 12, but it looks like our remaining judges’ livers will have something of a reprieve this year. Now what to do with these …..

It’s mid-September and just two weeks to our filling weekend, we have our 10 judges, sample bottles (and closures) aplenty, poly-chips for packing too ……..

And a grand total of 60 entries received so far, oops sorry, make that 59………

Then it happened; The Whisky Rush, with every ring of the bell I could be heard shouting "there’s whisky in them thar vans" whilst rushing to the door. At one point our tiny cul-de-sac was jammed with three, or was it four vans queuing to deliver.

There followed the most manic, or was it maniacal week ever with 60 (sorry 59) entries hastily rushing towards the 200 mark. MMA 2013 was very much alive and well, maybe too alive and well as we very quickly neared that 200 limit. One which we had to impose after the infamous MMA of 2010 which received 262 entries and, quite literally, took its toll on our judges.

By now with every ring of the bell I could be heard screaming "Noooooo, not more whisky in them thar vans".

Then it arrived; Saturday 28th September, the official MMA 2013 filling weekend.

The doorbell rang, it must be Oliver arriving to help? No, it was a rather haggard-looking delivery man handing me a parcel, saying "another one for you." Remember that broken bottle? Its replacement arrived with just a couple of hours to spare.

For those who like "during and after" pictures:


This only left the task of postage to be completed and just over €1000 paid in two days for parcels to be sent world-wide to our judges who were anticipating a rather modest MMA 2013, little did they know.

What about the left-overs?

Our optimum number of MMA judges each year is 10-12 and each judge can choose between 3cl or 6cl samples. You may think choosing 6cl is a no-brainer but when it comes to far-away judges the difference in postage costs can be very significant, as can the attitude of their local Customs officers as we’ve clearly seen with Krishna this year, so a few of our judges opt for 3cl samples. This usually means we do have a few drops, OK maybe a few cl, left over after filling. But what do we do with these drops?

I’m happy to say that none are wasted. Firstly, after judging is completed I refill my own set of sample bottles so I have a complete set of entries for future reference.

My three years (so far) of MMA as getting on for 550 samples now sit in my study and comprise a worthy reference of 2011-2013.

This came in useful earlier this year when fellow Maniac Oliver Klimek and I decided to have an evening of no compromise as we put eight Glendronach expressions, including two MMA Supreme Champions and five Gold Medallists from 2011 & 2012 MMA’s together in a head to head.

Finally, why not have a bit of fun with the remaining drops so welcome again to MMA 2012

From left to right; mostly peated, totally mixed up and mostly sherried.

Empty bottles too?


Now here’s one final thought from me:

Just in case you were wondering about that broken bottle whose replacement arrived with literally just a couple of hours to spare before the deadline on the actual filling weekend?






Kavalan Solist, Cask No. 060821049 erroneously listed as Cask No.S06082 in the scoresheet.

Master of Malt Undeclared Speyside 30y erroneously listed as 35y in the scoresheet.

Craigduff 40y, 1973/2013 erroneously listed as 1973/2005 in the scoresheet.

84 points Bushmills 16y (OB, single malt, bourbon, port & sherry, 2013*) erroneously listed on scoresheet as Bushmills 10 (which achieved 81 points and is listed further down the sheet.)





Recent major features (A full list of all Dram-atics articles may be found in my ToC)  
May 2013 Duelling Drams - Man vs Clipper, Limburg Crooks & Nannies  
April 2013 100 points - Perfect Percy, Eggs-otic Isles Egg & Mug, Sixy bunny  
March 2013 International Whisky Day - Raise a Glass & Raise Awareness  
February 2013 A Horse, A Bow & a Dear, Karui-WOW-Ahhh  
January 2013 Glen-CLASS-augh, Fab Fo(u)rties, Glen-DROOL-nach  
Autumn 2012 The Olympkins, Getting old and Grainy  
July 2012 Motor Maniac meets Malt Maniac, Nosing New Make  
May-Jun 2012 Limburg - Whet Dreams, Dalmore Constellation, Independence? MM 15y Scotland, Blend of Maniacs  
Mar-Apr 2012 Investment grade madness, Glenglassaugh, 5th IWD, 1000th Review, April Fool, Going dotty, age verification  
Feb. 2012 It's a rum old do, Growing old gracefully, Four Imperial sisters  
Jan. 2012 Onwards & Upwards, Canadian Whisky Awards  
Dec. 2011 MMA 2011 Winners, HP 70's Orcadians, Debussy plays Pitaud, Class of 64-65, Elementary my dear Sukhinder  
Sept-Nov 2011 Malt Maniacs Awards 2011 - A weekend in the life of a Postmaster General  
June-Aug 2011 Bits Bytes & Drams, Glen Garioch 1994, Angela D'Orazio - Mackmyra, Trinity of Two Earls, Drams at Dawn
May 2011 Don't bug me with ads, A dram fine evening
April 2011 Cry me a River, Golden Oldies, The Shackleton Legacy, Two Weddings and a Whisky
March 2011 Masters of Photography, Memory and the Middle Cut, Sampling again, Dave Stirk 5, Choosing choice Choices
Feb. 2011 Festival time again, Spam Galore!, Drams & Trams

Jan. 2011

Lookback at 2010, New Job? Three Thirties, ToC, Overdosing on sherry casks






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