The Asian Spirits Masters 2014 Results

19th May, 2014 by Becky Paskin

An abundance of medals were awarded at this year’s Asian Spirits Masters, proving the strength and quality of the spirits available on the Asian market.

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The Asian Spirits Masters 2014 demonstrated the strength and quality of the spirits available on the Asian market

Although imported spirits accounted for less than 2% of the total spirits market in Asia in 2012, their footprint in the region is growing fast. Recent statistics released by IWSR show imported spirits volumes rose by 5.6% during the year, with value up 9.8%.

It’s no wonder then that international brands are striving to establish a presence in the market where consumer appetite for western goods is clearly building. While many have secured comfy spots on back bars and liquor store shelves as recognised and much-loved staples, others need a little lift when it comes to standing out from the crowd.

That’s where The Asian Spirits Masters comes in, which by recognising the finest spirits available for sale in the region, provides brands with an additional point of difference by way of a Silver, Gold or Master medal to display proudly on their label.

The blind spirits tasting competition attracts entries from a variety of categories, from vodka and gin to rum, Scotch and ruou. To tackle the diversity of entries to this year’s contest, we needed to recruit an experienced and adaptable panel of judges.

The selection of luminaries joining myself as chair at London’s the happenstance bar were Eugene Bacot, founder of Voice PR and former drinks journalist; Sandro Lyhs, assistant bar manager at Harvey Nichols OXO Tower; and Tristan Stephenson, co-founder of bar consultancy Fluid Movement and Worship Street Whistling Shop.

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The judges scrutinised the entries with a keen eye, nose and palate

Perhaps reflecting Asia’s meagre yet budding demand for international white spirits, our first category of the day attracted few entries. The Vodka round was divided into eight sub-categories: Russia, Europe, Scandinavia, Premium, Super-Premium, Organic, Microdistillery and Smooth, with 14 medals handed out in total, but it was the Europe and Super-Premium entries that proved the most popular on the day.

“The Russian entries were of a good overall quality, but the Europe vodkas had more complexity and are better suited to classic cocktails,” explained Harvey Nichols’ Lyhs. “They were not as aggressive but were more elegant and delicate.”

Likewise, the judges were equally impressed with those entered under the Super-Premium banner. “The overall character of the entries in this round spoke clearly of super-premium vodka,” enthused Bacot. “They all had intriguing noses and palates although a couple had thin flavours in the middle.”

The gins, again, attracted few entries. “It seems that Asians are not really into gin,” noted Lyhs, although two Gold and two Silver medals were awarded across the Premium and Super-Premium categories for entries from London’s Beefeater distillery and Switzerland’s Studer. Beefeater’s two entries were praised in particular for their “juniper-forward” flavour and “lovely” classic style.

There was a much wider presence from the Scotch category, with a variety of styles entered into the Single Malt category, but with a poor showing for the Blends. Pernod Ricard’s Chivas Brothers picked up the only medals in the latter, with a Gold medal going to 100 Pipers, and the first Master of the competition going to Chivas Regal 18 Year Old, for its “full, round and mouth-filling texture”, and “complex, Sherry notes”.

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There were a host of outstanding entries examined during the Asian Spirits Masters 2014

The lack of Blended entries was lamented by the judges. “We were disappointed to see very few entrants here, which is perhaps indicative of the Asian market’s increasing passion for single malts over blends,” Lyhs noted.

True to form, the Single Malt Scotch category boasted a decent selection of entrants, which naturally attracted the highest number of medals of the competition. Two Golds were awarded in the Up to 12 Year Old round, for Ian Macleod’s Tamdhu 10 Year Old and Smokehead Islay Single Malt, the latter of which was praised for its long finish and “sweet, luscious smoke and black tea” flavours. Another Master was awarded in the 12-18 Year Old round, to Chivas Brothers’ The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, which was described by one judge as being “a perfect example of the quality found in Speyside”. A further three Gold medals and a Silver were awarded in the category, for a variety of Scotch styles.

In the Single Malt Over 18 Year Old round, our judges were impressed with the complexity and balance found in the older whiskies, which can sometimes fall victim to spending too much time in wood. Another Master was awarded, again to Chivas Brothers for its The Glenlivet XXV, while two Golds and a Silver medal were also handed out.

“Scotch whisky once again demonstrates the skill of its distillers and wide range of age statements and styles that make it stand out against any other spirit category,” exclaimed Voice PR’s Bacot. “The Under 12 Year Olds showed a range of fruit and floral flavours from orange zest to black tea, lemon and fresh pears, while the 12-18 Year Olds demonstrated clear depth of flavour with notes of muscovado sugar and apricots. The entries today are a clear indication of the quality available in the entire category.”

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The judges (left to right): Sandro Lyhs, assistant bar manager at Harvey Nichols OXO Tower; Tristan Stephenson, co-founder of bar consultancy Fluid Movement and Worship Street Whistling Shop, Eugene Bacot, founder of Voice PR and former drinks journalist; and Becky Paskin, editor of The Spirits Business.

With rum a popular spirit in Asia, it can be difficult for smaller international brands to secure their niche in the region, but regardless, our judges were captivated by the quality of those available. In the White Rum category, Banks’ 5 Island presented a “smooth, sugar cane flavour” that “would work well in Mojitos or Daiquiris”, gaining itself a Silver medal.

The brand’s Golden 7 Age Rum also drew a Gold medal in the Under 7 Year Old category, while Banks’ Limited Edition 1 also drew a Gold in the Over 12 Year Old round.

While most products entered in the Asian Spirits Masters are generally international brands looking to secure a foothold in the Asian market, sometimes a somewhat unfamiliar spirit category will make an appearance. The first showing from ruou, a distilled Vietnamese rice wine, came as a welcome surprise. Three unique entries from Son Tinh Premium Liquor all gained medals, with Son Tinh Movang – an apricot ruou liqueur – taking a Gold. Its intense dried apricot flavours, complete with notes of stones and wood, was described as being “delightful”, “reminiscent of maraschino”, and although jaw-clenchingly sweet, was bursting with natural flavours. Its home was considered to be as a replacement for maraschino in classic cocktails such as the Martinez or Aviation. Two Silvers were awarded to Son Tinh Nep Phu Loc (a traditional ruou), and Son Tinh Nhat Da, a bitter herbal liqueur.

The final category of the day, one with a relatively small footprint in the Asian market, was absinthe, which despite being a small round, drew two medals for a verte and a blanche absinthe.

If ever there was a journey through the variety of spirits available in Asia, be they domestic or international brands, The Asian Spirits Masters 2014 certainly provided it. The 35 medals awarded this year is testament to the fact that the quality of spirits available by both leading and smaller brands is unremittingly strong.

The full list of The Asian Spirits Masters 2014 results are on the following pages.

2 Responses to “The Asian Spirits Masters 2014 Results”

  1. Huyen Nguyen says:

    Son Tinh Premium liquor from Vienam is excellent! Worth trying.

  2. Fraser says:

    When is the Asian Spirits Masters in 2015? Where (website) will the entry details be advertised.
    Thank you.

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