So, the Malt Maniacs Awards for 2013 were announced today. These are, as most whisky geeks would agree, the best by far in what is a rather dubious genre. The whiskies are tasted and evaluated (more or less*) blind by a large number of the Malt Maniacs (with none of the professionals in the group participating) and the scores averaged. Those above 90 points on average are given “Gold Medal” status, those between 85 and 90 points are given “Silver Medal” status and those between 80 and 85 points are given “Bronze Medal” status.
In the past I’ve criticized the number of entrants that receive medals but I’ve come to see–courtesy discussion on the Malt Manics Facebook group–that this was based on a misunderstanding on my part. I read the medals in the sense of the Olympics, say, and from that perspective it seemed odd that such a large fraction of entrants should get medals. But as Serge Valentin and others pointed out to me, the proper frame of reference is an older one for evaluating consumer goods in which these levels merely signify tiers of quality. So, very few complaints from me about these awards per se (at least in this post).
What I was struck by this year while skimming the awards is both the low number of Gold Medals (a trend I wholeheartedly support) and the fact that just as many NAS whiskies got Gold Medals as did very old whiskies. And scanning the entire list quickly it seemed to me that there were some interesting and perhaps unexpected correlations between age and awards. So, here’s a quick rundown (it was compiled during breaks at a workshop I was attending so there may be some errors–please forgive or excoriate me for them as it pleases you):
Total Medals: 159
Gold Medals: 4 (2.5%)
Silver Medals: 64 (40.3%)
Bronze Medals: 91 (57.2%)
Now, let’s place the whiskies into three groups: Young (NAS-10 yo); teenaged; older than 20yo.
This is the breakdown of medals per age group:
Young: 1 Gold, 1.5%, 23 Silver, 35%, 42 Bronze, 63.5% (66 total awards)
Teenaged: 1 Gold, 2%, 17 Silver, 33.3%, 33 Bronze, 64.7% (51 total awards)
Old: 2 Gold, 4.7%, 24 Silver, 57%, 16 Bronze, 38% (42 total awards)
What jumps out is that very young to young whiskies are on par with whiskies from twelve up to 20 years old. This is already quite striking. But it gets more striking still if we drill down a little further and make five groups: NAS, age stated less than 12 yo, 12-20 yo, 20-30 yo, and older than 30 yo.
Now, this is how they break down by medal category:
NAS: 2.2% Gold, 24.4% Silver, 73.3% Bronze (total awards: 45)
<12yo: 0% Gold, 57.1% Silver, 42.9% Bronze (total awards: 21)
12-20yo: 2% Gold, 33.3% Silver, 64.7% Bronze (total awards: 51)
20-30 yo: 3.7% Gold, 57.6% Silver, 40.7% Bronze (total awards: 27)
>30 yo: 6.7% Gold, 60% Silver, 33.3% Bronze (total awards: 15)
I have no idea, of course, what the total of all entrants was or how the remainder broke down by age group. With that caveat in mind, this seems really striking to me as the performance of whiskies <12 yo (not including NAS) is on par with that of whiskies from 20-30 yo and better than that of whiskies from 12-20 yo.
1. Blind tasting is great!
2. At least when tasting blind, the Malt Maniacs cannot be accused of rewarding age over all else. Not sure how this maps onto their non-blind scores though. That is to say, do younger whiskies do worse relative to older ones on the Monitor when they’re not being tasted blind?
3. There’s a lot of good young whisky out there.
Thoughts? Have I made any huge howlers? I will freely acknowledge that I have no training in statistics. And again, I have no idea what the age breakdown among whiskies that did not receive any medals was.
*More or less because it appears that some fraction of the judging panel may be involved in packaging and labeling the samples for distribution to the jury each year. This seems like an unavoidable problem but still worth noting.
[Note: Post edited an hour or so after it was first made and put out there.]