Facebook is full of secret whisky associations, and the most secretive of those, with only 104 of the most discerning whisky nuts, is the WFFA. While I can’t say any more about the group, since one can’t ask to join it, and as two of the three rules the group has were taken out of Chuck Palahniuk’s book, and I’m already toeing the line there: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club”. The third rule relates to Fridays and is not important. I will say that there are some serious hitters on there, and people from all walks of life. These are people who own quite a few bottles, belong to whisky clubs, trade samples with each other, and meet at whisky events.
We hear many pundits talk about “best whisky” or “best distillery”, but what do real, serious, maltheads think about the distilleries? Who actually has the hearts of the hard core maltheads?
I can actually answer that, as one of the group’s highlights is the annual “Best Distillery” vote. Each member sends in their top five distilleries, and 30 points are distributed per member. About two thirds of the membership voted (67 out of 104), and the votes were spread over 56 distilleries. The survey was run by our admin, John McDougall. A distillery will score points according to rank among members. Thus, each member assigns 30 points, spread as follows: 10 for the first place vote, 8 for your second, 6 for the third, 4 points for the forth and 2 points are assigned to your fifth place vote.
While Springbank ran away with the vote (it won first place last year too, but this year seems to have gathered many more first place points – 21 first place votes, while fourth place Bruichladdich was next with seven first place votes), the top of the list is very similar to last year’s with the top six distilleries remaining the same. To me, this confirms the status of these six distilleries as favorite malthead distilleries, all of whom got over 100 points, and all of whom kept their places in the top six for the second year: Springbank, GlenDronach, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and Kilchoman.
What can be learned from these results? A few things
- Maltheads like boldly flavored whisky (GlenDronach is the only non peated distillery in the six, and they have bold sherry casks galore).
- No core range presented at 40% and chill filtered made the top of the list. Not even close. In fact, the first one we meet is Laphroaig, at number 10, with one such expression.
- Maltheads appreciate tradition, but also respond to personal marketing (and being part of a “Committee” will gather commitment).
- Even serious groups have buffoons (one voted for Jura, Glenfiddich, Loch Lomond and Fetttircairn, with no fifth distillery given). So if you wondered, as I did, how Jura got into 22nd place, there’s your answer).
- Mild distillery character is a disadvantage with maltheads.
- Non Scotch whisky is noticed, but not in a significant enough way (this is true for both American and East Asian whisky). Could this be the primarily European composition of the group? Could be. I’d love to see what results an identical survey would bring in Malt Maniacs and Friends, Facebook’s primary whisky group.
So with no further ado, I’ll give you the full list, next to each distillery you’ll find the total number of points, as well as the total number of members that voted for it. It’s interesting to note that had there not been a weighted system to the voting, the top six would have remained the same, and Bunnahabhain would have come in at seventh place.
Top 20 Places in the 2016 WFFA Favorite Distillery Poll
- Springbank 376 points (48 votes)
- Glendronach 178 points (28 votes)
- Ardbeg 148 points (23 votes)
- Bruichladdich 144 points (23 votes)
- Lagavulin 142 points (21 votes)
- Kilchoman 108 points (19 votes)
- Kilkerran 76 points (11 votes)
- Arran 68 points (9 votes)
- Bunnahabhain 62 points (13 votes)
- Laphroaig 60 points (10 votes)
- Clynelish 54 points (7 votes)
- Caol Ila 48 points (10 votes)
- Benromach 38 points (8 votes)
Highland Park 38 points (9 votes)
- Glenfarclas 34 points (7 votes)
- Aberlour 30 points (6 votes)
Buffalo Trace 30 points (5 votes)
- Yoichi 26 points (5 votes)
- Kavalan 22 points (3 votes)
- Mackmyra 18 points (5 votes)
Yamazaki 18 points (3 votes)
- BenRiach 16 points (2 votes)
Jura* 16 points (2 votes, including buffoon vote)
- Balblair 14 points (3 votes)
Balvenie 14 points (4 votes)
Tobermory 14 points (3 votes)
What does this vote mean? Nothing. Just like any other award, prize, medal or honorable mention.
What it can tell us, though, is what the core of maltheads seek, which can serve as a guide to anybody looking to market to (or produce for) this segment of the market.
It also shows that there are still some gems of distilleries out there that even hardened maltheads don’t think of when they talk about their favorite distilleries, secrets perhaps best left untold 😉
Nothing wrong with a good Loch Lomond
Agreed, Simon. The problem, indeed, is finding a good one….
Slightly surprised that Talisker didn’t make the list. Guessing that’s due to the lack of good, new products or strong vintage releases?
Yes, indeed. The way to this list does not pass through a string of uninspired NAS releases…
Hmm, looks like a Speyside wipe out. Also, Glendronach seems out of place amongst the peat heads though it is certainly one of my favorites. Surprised that Ardbeg made the top 5 cut but maybe they placed that high more on what they’ve previously made rather than what they are currently making if you know what I mean – dodged the same bullet that took out Talisker
Charlie, I fully agree on Ardbeg. I think at this point it’s more the personal and guerrilla type marketing than the actual liquid. I think it will carry them onward a bit more, but eventually repeating the same boring NAS expressions will hit them too. The Speyside wipeout isn’t surprising for a region known for mildness, I think if anything is clear from the list is that bold flavors are the thing for anoraks…