The year is new, but the spirits game remains the same: crowded. With more brands on shelves than ever before, distillers desire ways to stand out. Award medals have emerged as a dependable way to demonstrate worth. As a result, we’re now seeing competitions cropping up in every corner of the globe. Or, in the case of the United Nations of Craft Spirits, a single show straddling all edges of the earth.
Since 2013, the event has been held in a different country each year. In 2017 it came to Chile, 2018 was broadcast from Bulgaria, before popping up in China in 2019. The most recent tasting was held in Brussels, Belgium at the end of October. There, a panel of expert judges shocked the spirits world by awarding a French whisky top honors. Bellevoye Noir blended malt from Les Bienheureux, in Cognac, bested all entries from the traditional whisky-producing regions of Scotland, Ireland, and the US.
The 80-proof liquid is a fusion of three single malts sourced from the Brittany, Alsace, and Cognac regions of France. The distillates comes together at the Les Bienheureux facility, where they spend between 3 to 8 years maturing in new oak casks. After emerging from the barrel, the whisky retains a burnt amber hue, exuding ripened fruit aromas to counterbalance the oak and spice of its protracted finish. There’s even an ever-so-subtle smokiness to contemplate before the sip fully dissipates on the tongue.
A fine dram, to be sure. And one that’s certainly worth seeking out in American markets, where it currently fetches no more than $35 a bottle
. But world’s best? That’s an assertion far bolder than any of those aforementioned tasting notes. So I sought some verification from one of the only industry professionals I know to have officially reviewed it: Mark Gillespie
. The host of one of the country’s top-rated whisky podcasts
scored the offering at 89 points.
“My grading scale would give anything between 85 and 92 a ‘B’,” he clarifies for Forbes. “It’s a good whisky, but not a great one in my opinion. But without knowing who the judges were in that competition or how they evaluated entries, it’s hard to compare the standards.”
Indeed, the evaluators for this particular contest seem especially smitten by French malts. Sequoia Whisky Single Malt from Distillerie du Vercor as well as Lothaire Tourbé 5 ans from Les Grands Chais de France also took home “Grand Gold” recognition. In their defense, the country has been stepping up its whisky game in recent years. After decades of being one of the top export markets for scotch, les Français have finally started coming around to the notion that merely drinking great whisky isn’t enough.
Whether or not you find these liquids to be world class is, naturally, nobody’s business but your own. They are definitely interesting and—in the case of Bellevoye Noir—readily available. Gillespie just wants to make sure you to consider one last caveat:
“Competition results should be viewed the same as ice in whisky,” he warns. “There are so many whisky competitions now that the universe is so watered down and awards don't have the value they used to have.”