On Thursday 4 August, Australia’s top distillers joined at the Melbourne Showgrounds for the 2023 Melbourne Royal Australian Distilled Spirits Awards.

This year’s awards saw a record 970 entries from 246 exhibitors across the 11 categories.

Head judge Shaun Byrne (Maidenii Vermouth and Marionette Liqueurs) lead the panel of 50 judges, bringing over 20 years of experience in hospitality.

“To be asked to lead the judging as the head judge is a great honour and carries a weight of responsibility to ensure that entrants are receiving fair and valuable feedback and appropriate recognition of their products,” Byrne commented.

“As a spirit producer, the Melbourne Royal Australian Distilled Spirits Awards are invaluable in receiving feedback on upcoming new products. The innovation we have seen in this year’s Awards is exciting and shows the strength and quality of this industry nation-wide,” he added.

The Champion Australian Distiller award went to Adelaide distillery Prohibition Liquor Co., who were first-time winners of the award. Head distiller Hugh Lumsden showed his appreciation for the industry when receiving the award.

“Thanks so much to everyone in the room. Thanks so much for the industry. We’re all standing on the shoulders of others. I think if we can pay it forward, it’s only going to be good,” he said.

“I feel like we’re an eight year overnight success story. This has been a long time coming for us. We know a lot of people in this room and have a lot of respect for all the brands that have been up on that screen. This is a huge testament to Hugh and it’s amazing,” echoed co-founder Adam Carpenter.

Victorian distillers took home over a third of the awards, including Puss and Mew Distillery, who was awarded Champion Victorian Distiller, sponsored by Drink Victorian. The distillery draws its name from the legend of British gin-seller Captain Dudley Bradstreet, who developed the world’s first vending machine to evade 18th century liquor restrictions. This was signalled by an old tomcat in a window, which was later dubbed the Puss & Mew.

“The last few years have been very challenging in a lot of ways, and we finally got to open our distillery after health battles and COVID and everything else. We hit the ground running and we’ve just been running since then. We’re on a treadmill, constantly running from one place to the other. There’s always something new to do, something new to invent, new challenges, new recipes,” said owner Deb Clayton.

For the third year running, Naught Distilling won Best Victorian Gin sponsored by Agriculture Victoria for its Classic Dry Gin. In 2022, Naught Distilling won the award with its Sangiovese Gin, and took home the 2021 award with the Australian Dry Gin.

Chris Cameron, head distiller and founder at Naught Distilling, expressed his gratitude to the judging panel for recognising Naught’s dedication to the craft.

“To receive this esteemed award for three consecutive years with three different gins is an immense honour and a testament to the hard work and passion of our team. We are driven by our unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional gins that resonate with gin enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike,” Cameron commented.

From the hundreds of gin entrants, it was Reed & Co Distillery from Bright, Victoria that took home Best New World/Contemporary Gin, sponsored by BevChain, with its Neo New World Dry Gin. Taking out the Best Navy Gin was Nagambie Brewery & Distillery with its 3608 Navy Strength Gin, and Best Other Gin went to The Craft & Co Old Tom Gin from Gypsy Hub.

The Victorian winnings continued with JimmyRum, which was both the winner and runner up in the Best Cane Spirit category, sponsored by Crafted ERP, ultimately winning with JimmyRum Navy. Victorian-based New World Whiskey Distillery was awarded Best Grain or Blended Whiskey, sponsored by Bintani, for its Starward Two-Fold.

Act of Treason Greta from Top Shelf International won Best Alternative Spirit, which was a great  honour for Top Shelf International CEO Trent Fraser.

“We’re blown away to receive Gold and the Trophy for our Act of Treason agave spirit trial. The team have been working incredibly hard the past few years at the farm and it’s ramping up ahead of our official launch later this year. As a team we’re taking a moment to pause and raise a glass today for this major milestone on what we feel is the start of a new Australian spirits category to take to the world,” Fraser enthused.

Best Single Malt Whiskey presented by Cryer Malt went to Fleurieu Distillery for The Hunting Of The Snark, and for the second year in a row, Best Brandy was awarded to Renmark’s St Agnes Distillery for its St Agnes XO. The Hills Distillery won Best Vermouth for 78 Degrees Rose Vermouth Semi-Dry.

For the New South Welshman, Coastal Cane Pure Single Rum from Winding Road Distilling Co was awarded the Raymond B ‘Spike’ Dessert III Trophy for Best Rum and Scylla Distilling Company took home the Best Liqueur for Scylla Raspberry Liqueur.

In the country’s capital Best Fruit or Wine/ Grape Gin was awarded to Big River Distilling Co for its Syrah Gin, and Local Spirit Group took out Best Flavoured Vodka, presented by Plasdene Glass-Pak, with the Local Spirit Caramel Vodka.

Presented by Plasdene Glass-Pak, Tasmania’s Hartshorn Distillery Sheep Whey Vodka was awarded the Best Pure/ Contemporary Vodka.

The newest award to the program, Best Design, was awarded to Western Australia’s 30 Knots Spirits for its 30 Knots Southerly Gin.

Finally, Three Consistency of Excellence awards were presented on the night, which recognise spirits that have been awarded three consecutive golds. Two went to Archie Rose Distilling for its Rye Malt Whiskey and Bone Dry Gin, while one went to Imperial Measure Distilling for its Ounce Gin Bold.

Melbourne Royal CEO, Brad Jenkins, congratulated the entrants.

“The Australian Distilled Spirits Awards is regarded as Australia’s first and largest national awards program that proudly recognises the long tradition of distilling in Australia, and the emergence of the new generation of spirits,” Jenkins said.

“I congratulate all the medal and trophy winners in the 2023 Australian Distilled Spirits Awards. The winners now have a unique and valuable opportunity to leverage their success and market medal-winning products using the Melbourne Royal seal of excellence on product and for marketing purposes to increase sales,” he concluded.

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