The World’s Best Whisky Distillery—According To The 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Food & Drink

Last month the San Francisco World Spirits Competition convened in its host city to evaluate thousands upon thousands of entries across all imaginable categories of booze. Each year they whittle that field down to find the highest rated selection of them all, which they ultimately crown the absolute Best In Show. We can’t yet share with you what exact expression is taking the title this year, because we still don’t know. The Tasting Alliance—the organization that runs SFWSC—won’t reveal the winner until an exclusive gala awards show on the evening of June 17th in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, we do have a complete list of all the Bronzes, Silvers, Golds and Double Golds that were meted out by the judges. And from that list some key names emerge. Maybe even some surprising names, for some. The prime example: Loch Lomond Distillery out of the Scottish Highlands. The single malt producer, which is about to celebrate its 60th birthday, took home a staggering 17 medals this year. That’s enough to make it the most awarded distillery of any to enter the competition in 2023. Even more impressive, eight of those accolades were Double Golds—the highest tier of judgment that San Francisco awards.

Top honors were reserved for the brand’s 12 Year Old Inchmurrin; 12 Year Old Inchmoan; Single Grain Coopers Collection; Open Special Edition 2023; Open Course Collection 2023; Loch Lomond 8 Year Old Madeira Wood Finish; Loch Lomond Classic; and 18 Year Old Inchmurrin.

That’s quite the haul, indeed. And for seasoned sippers from the UK it ought not to be too big of a surprise. Loch Lomond enjoys fairly sizable distribution on that side of the pond. As they should, with a capacity of three million liters of malt per annum. The brand’s prominence is further magnified through an admirable duty-free presence, as well as its status as the official spirit of the British Open.

In the United States, however, the brand remains primarily confined to connoisseur communities. Some would even go so far as to say it’s a well-guarded secret. Here’s why those in the know would be inclined to withhold that knowledge…

Although Loch Lomond was physically founded in 1964, the brand enjoys a legacy which extends back far further. The distillery was developed by Duncan Barton, who formerly owned Littlemill Distillery (which had been making whisky in this specific part of Scotland since 1772).

Barton brought with him an innovative style of distillation which you won’t see anywhere else in the country. In addition to the traditional pot stills maintained here, you’ll find pot/column hybrids unique to the site…So much so, that they’re referred to in the industry as Lomond Stills. These vessels can kick off a wide array of distillates ranging from heave and robust, to light, fruity and floral. They empower distillers to work with a whole range of malt—and even grain—whisky styles prior to maturation. And that’s exactly why the Loch Lomond portfolio runs the gamut in terms of flavor offerings.

Beyond the technical points of distinction, however, Loch Lomond whiskies tend to be relatively reasonable priced on American shelves. Which is probably the biggest reason why some enthusiasts are reluctant to broadcast their love of the brand. To wit, a bottle of the Classic that took home Double Gold can easily be found for under $25. 18-Year-Old Loch Lomond is usually under $80 a bottle. Do what you will with that information.

One final note: Loch Lomond’s sister distillery, Glen Scotia, didn’t do too shabby at SFWSC, either. The storied Campbeltown producer recorded another 11 wins, (including five Double Golds) for the Loch Lomond Group.

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