This Is the Best Scotch of 2021, According to the Ultimate Spirits Challenge

The Islay single malt was the highest-scoring spirit overall in the annual drinks competition

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, the winner of the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge
Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, the winner of the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge

An Islay single malt was the big winner at this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge, with results announced this week.

Held annually since 2010, this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge (USC) saw an increase in entries this year of 30% and entries from 52 nations. The judging, held throughout May and June, determined 56 Chairman’s Trophy winners, 301 Finalists, 208 Great Values and 96 Tried & True Award winners (an explanation on those awards can be found here). Judges included industry pros such as Dale DeGroff, Meaghan Dorman and Ms Franky Marshall.

“Aside from being by far the largest USC ever, this year’s Challenge was likewise the most global, with an impressive array of quality distillates from places as far away from New York as China, Croatia and Chile,” noted USC Co-Founder and Judging Director F. Paul Pacult in a statement. “Virtually all categories saw healthy gains in submissions, most notably gin, Ready-to-Drink cocktails, hard seltzers, craft spirits, mezcal, rum, and all whiskey and brandy categories.”

Preparing flights of spirits at the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge. An Islay single malt won the top score overall.
Preparing flights of spirits at the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge
Daniel Silbert

Some award highlights:

  • The highest scoring spirit overall, garnering a 99 out of 100 from judges, was Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. As the tasting notes suggest, “It pours a bright golden robe in the glass. The initial attack of fragrant peat smoke is followed by balancing aromas of prickly pear, yellow plum, and creme brûlée. The warming and savory finish lingers for minutes after the sip.” And you can find it pretty easily for about $60-$70.
  • Not everything has to be a special edition. A $21 bottle of Tanqueray London Dry Gin was the top-rated gin and scored an impressive 98 out of 100.
  • Hard seltzers and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails are here to stay, and a few racked up impressive scores; AMASS Faerie Fizz and Social Hour Gin & Tonic topped those categories, respectively.
  • A few other notable winners included Mount Gay 1703 Master Blender Collection The Port Cask Expression (aged rum), Calle 23 (blanco tequila), Weller Wheated Bourbon Full Proof (bourbon), Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Rye (American rye) and Redbreast Cask Strength 12 Years Old (Irish whiskey, single pot still).

The USC wasn’t the only award ceremony this week: While final results are coming July 5, The International Wines & Spirits Competition (IWSC) released some preliminary scores and recognized six bottles that garnered 99 out of 100, including some Cognac and baijiu — and the Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits Redemption Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon Whiskey.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.