The Gin Masters 2014 results

30th June, 2014 by Becky Paskin

This year’s Gin Masters showcased how the sector, although continuing to respect classic styles, is shifting to offer a more diverse array of products, reflected in the new Contemporary category.

Gin-Masters-2014

The Gin Masters 2014 delivered a raft of flavours and varieties for our judges

The gin renaissance is here and causing the category to evolve at a rate of knots. While one wave of new entrants is drawing on gin’s past as a product shipped overseas in barrels, others are using untraditional and often exotic botanicals as a means of innovation.

This evolution has somewhat polarised the category, splitting the brands on the market essentially into two major camps: the more traditional, citrus and juniper-forward styles, and those exploring the world of flavours Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.

Which is why we introduced the new Contemporary category to The Gin Masters 2014, as a means to properly recognise those products pushing the boundaries of what the spirit can achieve. While some may sniff at the latter, call them abominations and swear allegiance to “good old London dry”, the fact is that these contemporaries are not only drawing new consumers into the category, but they look here to stay – as suggested by the sheer number of them entered this year.

The blind tasting competition took place at the elegant One Canada Square in London’s Canary Wharf, adjacent to a motor show featuring some rather shiny new sports cars and Formula One vehicles, which we swear were not distracting at all.

As this was a larger than average round, the judges were split into two teams, one headed by me and the other by Anne Jones, media manager for wines, beers and spirits at Waitrose. Joining Jones were Kane Brooks, beverage manager at ETM Group, Adam McCulloch from The Angel & Crown, and Clayton Hartley from The Candlelight Club. In my camp were gin specialist David Smith, author of summerfruitcup.wordpress.com, and Tom Aske, co-founder of Fluid Movement.

The day began with an extremely small round of Standard entries, which are undoubtedly a sign of the category’s development away from a “mother’s ruin” reputation and towards premiumisation and quality. In fact, just one entry here gained a medal – Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin by budget supermarket Aldi, whose spirits range time and again proves quality does not always necessarily come with a price to match. The Gold medal winner was described by judges as “very delicate” with floral notes of “lemon sherbet” that provided “bang for your buck”.

Next up were the Premium set, which were divided between the two groups and returned a pretty solid set of results. Eight medals – one Master, three Golds and four Silvers – were awarded in a round described as “very classy; a good variety” by the judges. “There were some standout gins of exceptional interest among what was a generally reliable flight,” said McCulloch. The only Master winner in this round was the relatively new Bedrock Gin from Spirit of the Lakes, which was praised for its viscosity and lavender and citrus notes.

Gin-Masters-David-Tom

David T. Smith and Tom Aske consider the extremities of the gin category

In a nod to the direction in which the category is clearly moving, the Super-Premium round was by far the largest of the competition, and subsequently attracted a whopping 24 medals – seven of which were Masters. The jump in price point was visibly reflected in the quality of the spirit. “The quality of the base spirit and distillates are clearly more refined here,” noted Aske.

But the most striking feature of the round was the fact that the majority of the Masters awarded were to gins considered “contemporary”, such as Beefeater 24, Martin Miller’s and Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin, the latter of which was praised as the “standout gin of the round”.

“It was interesting to see more unusual flavours and botanicals used here; you can see more innovation in this round,” Aske commented. “Overall, I was very impressed with them and, despite the fact that most are very different, the majority are very good gins.” Apparently, innovation comes with a price, but it was exciting to see, for the most part, that creativity also came hand in hand with quality and craftsmanship.

Among the 11 Gold medal winners in the Super-Premium round were a smattering of products hailing from all over Europe. Sweden, Switzerland and Italy were represented by Hernö Swedish Excellence, Studer Swiss Classic Gin and Origin – Abrezzo, Italy respectively, while the UK came out in force with gins from Plymouth, Liverpool and Northern Ireland. Smith said: “This round really shows the range of flavours and approaches that distillers are taking.”

Moving from a round featuring some of the best-selling gins in the world, we began on the Microdistillery selection. These products, from small, independent and craft distillers, proved some of the most insightful and exciting of the whole competition, despite being somewhat “rough around the edges”. Jones described the category as being “ramshackle, a bit hit and miss, but creative”, although the judges were unanimous in spotting the potential from the craft ilk.

“There was a very interesting array of flavours, although not all of them were necessarily pleasurable ones,” Aske said. “Some, like shoe polish and wood varnish, you wouldn’t want to find in a gin. That said, there were a few nostalgic flavours that challenged what a classic style of gin should be. It was interesting to see the attention to detail in these products, particularly when you consider that microdistillers often work with restrictions on space.”

Gin-Masters-2014-1

The Gin Masters 2014 included styles that challenged the traditional norms of aroma, flavour and appearance

Smith also highlighted the important role these gins play in the overall category. “They illustrate the freedom the independent distilleries have. Even though they might not appeal to the most ardent traditionalist, they are bringing new consumers into the category.” The round was awarded nine medals, with a Master going to City of London Dry Gin, and another Gold for Hernö Swedish Excellence.

Another burgeoning area of interest for distillers is gin with a high abv, and clearly a lot of care and thought had gone into the entries in our Navy Strength round. Sweden’s Hernö Navy Strength, at a heady 57% abv, wowed the judges with its notes of eucalyptus and sappy pine, while two entries from Master of Malt – Bathtub Gin Navy Strength and Cask-Aged Gin Navy Strength – were both highly praised by the panel.

The organic selection did not disappoint either, with a Gold medal awarded to Hernö Swedish Excellence (bringing its total Gold tally to three), and a Silver to Liverpool Gin. The newly inaugurated Contemporary category was saved for the penultimate round of the day, a cautious decision to reserve the judges’ palates from any potentially intense flavours lurking among the mass of exotic botanicals within the entries. But, despite any trepidation felt by the judges, all these gins presented approachable, balanced and well-structured palates, with no crazy, juniper absent flavoured vodkas in sight.

“There was a very unique set of gins that we haven’t seen in other categories,” said ETM’s Brooks. “Some were unusual, which is good to see, although I’m not really sure how I would use them in a bar. They tasted great neat, though.”

Eight medals were awarded, with Masters going to the new-to-market D1 London Gin, pink-hued Edgerton and Master of Malt’s Cask-Aged Navy Strength. Others, like Darnley’s View Spiced Gin – often referred to as the “curry gin” – and Hendrick’s scored a Gold medal. Jones, who approached the tasting with a supermarket buyer’s hat on, noted that most of the contemporaries were “not overtly gin-like”, making them “perfect for some target markets”.

Gin-Masters-judges

Left to right: David Smith, gin writer; Tom Aske, Fluid Movement; Becky Paskin, The Spirits Business; Kane Brooks, ETM Group; Anne Jones, Waitrose; Adam McCulloch, The Angel & Crown; Clayton Hartley, The Candlelight Club.

The final, and smallest, round of the day was reserved for the Flavoured gins, which included both sloe varieties and those flavoured with other fruits. While the sloe gins fared well, described as having “a range of styles from fresh sweetness to savoury complexity” by Brooks, the flavoured expressions fell short. “I was a bit confused by these and not quite sure of the point,” Jones explained. “There was some lovely complexity on the nose with one especially enticing set of aromas, but unfortunately the palates tended to be on the over-cooked side.”

With so much innovation and rapid evolution of styles and trends, there are bound to be some hit-and-miss products in the category as producers play about. What is so exciting about gin at the moment is the assortment of styles now available to the consumer, whether they are a die-hard traditionalist or a newcomer looking for something less bitter and more sweet, or savoury. There is a gin for everyone these days.

But if there’s one thing that The Gin Masters 2014 demonstrates, it is that although traditional styles will always be here to stay, there is a definite shift happening – away from the classic gins and toward a broader, more diverse category.

Click through the following pages to discover the medal-winning Gin Masters 2014.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe today to get each issue of The Spirits Business as soon as it's published, plus all the latest breaking news and access to our library of back issues.

Subscribe Today!

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news about the international spirits industry every weekday lunchtime (GMT)