The Whisky Champs

/, Thoughts and Musings/The Whisky Champs

The Whisky Champs

May Outturn 2022 Feature Article


SMWS Australia’s newest staff member, Adam Ioannidis, recently attended his first ever Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship. Upon returning, he wrote a piece for Unfiltered Magazine, exclusively for members. This is his write-up, as seen in Unfiltered.


Drams, friendship and whisky glory — Adam Ioannidis recounts the epic evening that was The 2022 Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship.

“It’s the biggest event in our calendar”, Matt Bailey would frequently say to me; The Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship — AMWTC — Champs! A glorious gathering of whisky lovers, connoisseurs and appreciators of all levels from across Australia all trying their hand at becoming the next Malt Whisky Tasting Champion of Australia; “It’s the perfect blend of skill and luck”. Originally slated for 2020 in what would have been the Championship’s 30th anniversary, an unexpected global pandemic delayed it twice until on the 26th of March, 2022, over 180 contestants (and about a dozen spectators) flocked to The Art Gallery of NSW to give it their all.


The Dawn of an Unforgettable Evening

The guests funnelled through the entrance single file at 6:30pm, signed in at the front desk and collected their name tags before enjoying light refreshments and catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Shortly after, Branch Director Matt Bailey began his speech accompanied by a visual presentation on various screens around the room. He welcomed and thanked everyone, from the guests to the incredible sponsors.

The speech concluded with a 30-minute timer appearing on the screens signalling the beginning of the competition. The room fell into silence as the competitors perused the answer sheet and removed the dram covers, ready to nose and taste the water of life stowed in the glasses and hoping to identify them correctly; some held their drams up to the light to inspect the colour, optimistic that the hue would reveal some information, whilst others delicately administered drops of water hoping to reveal more distinguishable flavours.

Eight whiskies poured in front of you and an answer sheet with a list of nine — one of them is a red herring.

Not even 15 minutes into the proceedings and arms were silently being raised with yellow pieces of paper in hand — a signal that they were done and ready to hand in their answers. Various staff and friends would weave their way between the circular tables to collect the answers to be transported to the judges in a separate room. As the timer carried on, more and more competitors were finalising their answers and raising their hands until the screens read 00:00. The judges conferred as the competitors mingled amongst each other — comparing their notes and hoping others came to similar conclusions.

The Taste-Offs

“This is for women in whisky”

After a few minutes, Matt Bailey returned to the podium and announced that there would be taste-offs between three competitors — same rules, but with three different whiskies and a five-minute time frame. The result of the taste-offs was a rarity as two of the three competitors would progress into final taste-offs, a sudden-death round in which each competitor must guess a single whisky from a list, ranking them from most likely to least likely on the answer form in three minutes. Vanessa Wilton (who, upon announcement, stoop up, raised her dram and declared “this is for women in whisky”) and Nick Harris sat on a designated taste-off table and were illuminated by the gallery down-lights and digital art towering over them a few metres away, throwing blues and greens into the tasting space.


Revelries, Entertainment and Good Company

Three minutes later and the final taste-off was over; the guests were encouraged to move into the next space for the after-party and award presentations — this is where the night really elevated itself. The gallery’s restaurant was furnished with lounges and seating with floor-to-ceiling windows exhibiting breathtaking nighttime views of Jeremon and Wooloomooloo Bays. Adjacent to the restaurant was an open space boasting similar views but with the added addition of the sponsors’ pop-up bars.

The Balvenie were slinging Old Fashioned’s, Rob Roy’s and pouring drams from their core range, Starward were providing drams as well as Two-Fold and Tonics — incredibly refreshing and perfect for countering any of the humidity that may have snuck in. Manly Spirits, Coastal Stone and The Benriach were present and keeping guests entertained with their tasty drams; Fever-Tree also featured prominently as the official mixer for the evening. Of course, there was also The Society bar which was serving up several delicious single-cask, cask-strength whiskies. The ambience was further enhanced by the Jordan Chung Jazz Trio playing through their sets whilst guests mingled and enjoyed the two open spaces, meeting new people, exchanging details, and forging new and lasting bonds.



To the Victors go the Spoils

It wasn’t very long until the winners were announced and presented with their prizes: in fourth place and the winner of the taste-offs (yep, the taste-offs were to decided fourth place, not any of the top three) there was Vanessa Wilton, third place was taken by Simon Cook and presented by Joshua Fischer from The Oak Barrel (a $750 voucher to The Oak Barrel and a bottle of first release Coastal Stone whisky), second place went to Alex Uziallo and was presented by Ross Blainey from The Balvenie (a bottle of 26-year-old Day of Dark Barley, two handcrafted ceramic cups from designer Milly Dent and the DCS Compendium book hand-signed by David Stewart).


A Perfect Score of 8/8

First place was an impressive feat as, for the first time in the history of Champs, a perfect score of 8/8 had been achieved, an honour that went to Seamus Carroll and was presented by our own SMWS Cellarmaster, Andrew Derbidge. In addition to being crowned The Malt Whisky Tasting Champion of Australia, Seamus also won a round trip for two to The Society Vaults in Scotland and a bottle of Cask 7.234 Appealing Apricot Jamboree, all generously donated by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

With the end of the evening’s formalities, the revelries continued until close to midnight when groups splintered off, deciding which bar to carry on to. The 2022 Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship, The SMWS’ largest event of the year, was a success and well worth the two-year wait. Whilst the glory of being crowned the champion carried the competitors to the event, the experience was a national gathering of enthusiasts and friends, and after two years of uncertain times, it was a well needed and well-received night that will be remembered for years to come.

Champs Will Return…


About the Author:

Adam Ioannidis is SMWS Australia's Marketing Coordinator and general appreciator of whisky, music and cinema.

Register as a Taster!