The best spirits of 2020 have been revealed after the IWSC announced the spirit trophy winners in each of the competition’s 16 categories.
These categories include Agave, Baijiu, Bourbon, Contemporary Gin, Cognac, Rum, Blended Scotch and Single Malt Scotch among others.
In explaining the categories and the judging process, IWSC panel chair Joel Harrison, said: “With each producer adhering to the production of a particular style of spirit, categories for judging are based firstly on the major spirit styles (such as gin, whisky or brandy) and from there are narrowed down further.
“This enables each spirit to find an appropriate home alongside other spirits of the same style, as well as to inform each panel of the spirits they are to nose and taste, yet keeping them suitably impartial about the brands or producers on show (everything is tasted blind).
“Judges sit in panels of four, and appraise each liquid independently, then comparing their verdicts and agreeing on a final score. A panel chair directs the discussion and presides over any disputes, and all gold-medal winners are re-tasted by a member of the Spirits Judging Committee.”
As the global spirits markets and production develop and evolve the IWSC also adapts, and also witnesses industry trends, as Harrison explains.
“One area which has seen great growth over the past five years is that unstoppable darling of the bar world, gin. This year over 800 variants were broken down into two main categories: London Dry and Contemporary.
“London Dry is very much a technical term for gins which start with a neutral alcohol base and have included all their botanicals in the distillation phase of the production. Judges in this category looked explicitly for a well-balanced level of botanicals to support the star of the show, juniper.
“This is in contrast to contemporary gins, where juniper is allowed to be a little more diffident – still present and leading, yet as more of a committee with other flavours, some of which are much more esoteric than might be found in your ordinary London Dry.”
He added: ‘New World’ producers are also changing the game when it comes to other traditional styles of spirit. The production of single malt has been growing globally in the most unlikely of places.
“However, unlike gin, which can be conceived, distilled and bottled in the space of days, malt whisky needs time to mature; legally a minimum of three years in cask for sale in the EU, yet often more when it comes to quality liquids.
“Some countries remain best known for their own distilled spirit, and none more so than Mexico, where Mezcal and Tequila continue their upward quality curve, seeing Gold and Silver medals earned across the category, reflecting the diverse spectrum of these agave distillates.
“I will confirm that, despite all that is happening in the world at the moment, experienced industry professionals can still be wowed – and often left speechless – by incredible spirits.”
Here’s the full list of trophy winners, with judges’ comments included:
- Mezcal Colores Tobala, Mezcolatra, Mexico
“Rich and intense with balanced aromas of smoke, wood and clay. Focused flavours of rustic fruit and wild mint offer a superlatively bright prolonged finish. Elegantly textured and, in short, absolutely awesome.”
- Quantu Jingxuan Soft Style Baijiu, Quantujiang Jiu Studio, China
“Slight colour; explosive, opulent nose with higher ester aromas such as dried pineapple, mango, walnut and liquorice; strong soy aroma. Rich and savoury palate, saline and intense with soy sauce, bok choy and ending with a lovely cereal finish – long and focused.”
- 1820 Single Barrel Whiskey, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Tennessee, USA
“Bold with abundant dark, dried fruits on the nose, underpinned by appealing vanilla and sweet nut clusters. Complex and rounded with luxurious dark chocolate and rich praline. Highlights of red fruit and lifted oak culminate in an alluringly long finish.”
- 1960 Grande Champagne Cognac, Hermitage Cognacs, France
“Exceedingly complex and broad in its depth of aromas and flavours. Prominent notes of refreshing and zingy sherbet are united with red berries and smooth hints of fine leather for a seamlessly crafted and decadently enjoyable palate.”
Contemporary Gin Trohpy
- Boulder Spirits Ginskey Gin, Vapor Distillery, Colorado, USA
“A seductive nose displaying big bourbon characteristics with an abundance of rich woody sweetness, vanilla oak and dark cherry notes. Exceptionally balanced spirit with bold, spicy fruit, culminating in a heady perfume of floral notes and a juniper-rich finish.”
Fruit Spirits Trophy
- Framboise Sauvage VRP Eau-de-Vie, Distillerie Massenez, France
“Fresh natural raspberries with a slightly crisper, greener note on a hint of sweet, ripe, fruitiness. An array of raspberry in a clean and well-made form, covering all the natural aromas and flavours the fruit can deliver.”
Grape Brandy Trophy
- Pure Folle Blanche 15 YO Bas-Armagnac, Chateau du Tariquet, France
“Very elegant with intriguing rancio nose, but has retained its freshness. Very luxurious, with the alcohol working the aromatics perfectly – clotted cream, raspberry jam and chocolate truffles on the finish.”
- Nigori Umeshu, Yamamoto Shuzo, Japan
“Very expressive and bold with a big sweetness, balanced by zesty green plums. There is a nice smooth rice note with plenty of ripe and green plums.”
London Dry Gin Trophy
- Monterey Gin, Helford River Distillery, England
“Full, dry, resinous and aromatic, this magnificent elixir entices you to linger over fragrant coriander, zippy lemon and sweetly scented herbs. Boldly enriched by a rounded, warm, dry palate, culminating in a deep, cooling finish.”
- Foursquare 2008, RL Seale, Barbados
“Focused and elegant with notes of mandarin peel, nutmeg and allspice. Oaky and rich, there is a gentle heat which accentuates the core sweet-spiced character. Mouth-wateringly moreish.”
- Inugami Shochu, BrewDog Distilling, Scotland
“Gingerbread baked with spices and coated in rum caramel sauce creates an enticing aroma which leads to a palate of rose petal confectionary. Aroma and flavour are well combined and comforting in their smoothness. Ginger and spice continues through to the finish. Layered, complex, enjoyably intriguing complexity.”
- Naud French Vodka, Famille Naud, France
“Superbly luxurious, expressive vodka – smoky citrus notes meet vanilla and coconut, ripe stone and tropical fruit. There is a deliciously sweet, warming quality, almost rum-like, and a candied chocolate creaminess to boot.”
Worldwide Whiskey Trophy
- The Westfalian Peated 6 YO Single Malt Whisky, Unique Liquids, Germany
“Incredible aromas of toasty malted milk and vanilla flowers; there is outstanding depth to the palate: warm flapjacks and sweet honeycomb balanced by aged leather and dried tea leaves, and a building crescendo of intense, savoury peat smoke.”
Blended Scotch Whisky Trophy
- Glory Leading 1972 45 YO Blended Scotch Whisky, The Glory Leading Whisky Company, Scotland
“Demerara sugar on the nose with hints of melted wax and honey. Some lovely freshness on the palate considering it is a mature whisky. Pure class.”
The Single Malt Scotch Whisky 25 Years and Under Trophy
- Bunnahabhain 25 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Distell Limited, Islay, Scotland
“Well-balanced with finesse and elegance. Soft vanilla sponge, orange liquer and grapefruit zest on the nose. Spice and oak are integrated well, with fresh fruit and dried apricot on the palate.”
The Single Malt Scotch Whisky 26 Years and Over Trophy
- Glenfiddich 40 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky, William Grant & Sons, Speyside, Scotland
“Distinguished and decadent. Deep, dark wood aromas with hints of leather and old books. Complex, but well-balanced palate of apples and dried pears with a great sweet/spice balance.”