The Devil’s Keep wins Best Irish Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards

The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.

This year’s World Whiskies Awards was a glittering event held at the Honourable Artillery Company in London on Thursday, 24 March. Attended by a veritable who’s-who of the whisk(e)y industry, this annual event is the most highly regarded amongst those in the know, and nerves were at a high; this was the award our founder, Jay Bradley, had set his sights on two years ago when he released The Devil’s Keep. 

While the ultimate crown of the event is to take home the title of ‘World’s Best Whiskey’, as an Irish company we had our hearts set on ‘Best Irish Single Malt’. But then so did many others, and competition was fierce. The Devil’s Keep was up against five other Irish Single Malt whiskeys across five different categories including Knappogue Castle 12 Years Old, Teeling Whiskey Brabazon Series 4, Teeling Whiskey 30 Years Old Single Malt, Clonakilty Distillery O’Hara’s Cask Finish Special Limited Edition and The Irishman 17 Years Old. 

Round One of the World Whiskies Awards

A previous round of the awards had seen The Devil’s Keep beat off competition from Teeling Whiskey Single Malt, Method and Madness Single Malt, The Whistler P.X. I Love You and Writers’ Tears Red Head to win the category of Ireland’s Best Single Malt with no age statement in Round One. As a company which champions the ‘no age statement’ concept with every one of our single malts, this award was an important one. Our belief that age statements have no bearing on a whiskey’s quality isn’t one held by all in the industry. Which is why so many bottles on the shelf or behind the bar will have an age on the label. And while we never hide the age of a bottle – we give the date it was distilled and the date it was bottled – we don’t rely on an age statement as an indicator of quality. 

Why no age statement?

Our research has shown that the journey a whiskey takes is far more important than the time it spends in a barrel. Relying on an age statement makes it easier for a company to simply put a spirit in a barrel and leave it for a set amount of time. But taking a more personalised, intuitive approach means we have to pay closer attention – regular tasting ensures that a whiskey is moved when needed, either into a new barrel or a different area where the humidity is higher or lower, thereby affecting how much flavour is extracted from the barrel. And it’s then bottled when it’s ready – our research has shown that a whiskey’s flavour fluctuates in peaks and troughs during its time in the barrel. It doesn’t simply improve with age, but changes throughout the year. One whiskey we tasted during our research tasted better in January than it did later on in June. Only by paying close attention and tasting regularly are we able to catch the whiskey at the fleeting moment of perfection. 

Crafting The Devil’s Keep

As part of this personalised, tailored approach, our Master Blender, Jay Bradley, is able to build layers of flavour into a whiskey by selecting specific barrels that he knows will deliver the flavour profile he wants. For instance, when creating The Devil’s Keep, he knew he wanted chocolate, leather, tobacco and campfire smoke so set about creating these; he took a whiskey that had been in Bourbon casks, and put it into French Oak casks that had previously held a specific Tawny Port for over seven years. These were from a specific bodega and chosen for the perfect level of sweetness The Devil’s Keep needed. It was tasted regularly during this time and moved to Pedro Ximenez casks for a short while to add the notes of chocolate, raisins, and leather but it was missing the campfire smoke to round out the raisins and chocolate on the mid-palate.Two virgin Hungarian Oak barrels were custom-made and shipped to Ireland to be deep-stave toasted for 59 minutes. To do this, the fire must be at a certain distance to allow it to caramelise the wood sugars and bring a sweet smokiness to the whiskey. 

Daily tasting allowed Jay to catch it at the moment it was ready, after just 14 days. Of course, pulling The Devil’s Keep from its barrels two weeks shy of 30 years isn’t in keeping with the common notion of age statements as an indicator of quality. But when a whiskey is ready, it’s ready. Leaving The Devil’s Keep in the barrel for two more weeks would have meant the smoky notes of the Hungarian Oak would have begun to overpower the other flavours. Waiting for an age statement risks ruining all that time, expense and work, not to mention its chances of becoming the world’s Best Irish Whiskey. 

The Final of the World Whiskies Awards 2022

But the real test of this theory of age statements as having no bearing on quality was to go up against Irish single malts with age statements, including a 30 year old. As the recipient of eight awards since its release in November 2020, we knew The Devil’s Keep was an award-winning Irish whiskey, but with so many expert judges and whiskey aficionados to convince, and such strong competition, it was never going to be easy. We know this rare triple distilled, single malt whiskey is one of the finest whiskeys Ireland has ever created, and our clients know the same. With just 333 bottles released in 2020, The Devil’s Keep sold out in record time and became the most expensive inaugural release to sell at auction when it reached USD $60,000 (almost £46,000 and €51,000 Euros). It was also the oldest triple distilled Irish whiskey in existence, only to be topped by our second release in February 2021 of The Emerald Isle Collection. 

And it’s no stranger to winning the highest honours. Amongst its other awards is a Gold from the world-renowned International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) 2021 and a Gold from the Global Luxury Spirit Masters 2021. The Devil’s Keep also scooped the highest scoring Gold award in the ‘Packaging Design Category’ of the A’ Design Award, Bronze at the Pentawards 2021 and an iLuxury award. It followed a further two awards from 2020; winner of the Luxury Drinks Secondary Pack award at the 2020 Luxury Packaging Awards and Highly Commended under the category of Luxury Drinks Primary Pack at the 2020 Luxury Packaging Awards.

The Devil’s Keep is the World’s Best Irish Single Malt

But to hear The Devil’s Keep announced as the overall winner of Best Irish Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2022 was still a momentous honour. Becoming the world’s best Irish single malt is a true validation of our methods, methods which have ruffled feathers in the more conventional areas of the industry but which have gained staggering results since we launched The Devil’s Keep in 2020.

Speaking after the event, Jay Bradley said “While we didn’t win the World’s Best Whiskey I am ecstatic and equally humbled that The Devil’s Keep was crowned Best Single Malt in Ireland, seeing off some fantastic whiskeys including two from the Teeling stable. For the first whiskey that I’ve ever created to go on to be crowned best whiskey to come out of Ireland that year, that’s unheard of and an amazing achievement. It just reinforces to me that what we are doing is working and that the critics and experts are enjoying what we are creating. We have so much more to do and winning this award makes me hungrier than ever to forge on and keep making phenomenal whiskeys.” 

While the first release has sold out, a limited number of bottles are due to be released in due course – we can’t say when of course, the whiskey will tell us when it’s ready. But there’s no need to wait until then, we’ve now been able to make a select number of the original edition of The Devil’s Keep available exclusively at Selfridges. With only 12 in existence, these will sell out soon, so head to Selfridges now to secure your own bottle of the world’s Best Irish Single Malt. 

Speak with a Craft Specialist to find out more.