The Asian Spirits Masters 2016 results

10th May, 2016 by Annie Hayes

Examining an increasingly important market for global spirits brands, The Asian Spirits Masters 2016 highlighted the region’s prominence when it comes to quality products.


A multitude of spirits available in Asia have received high praise in The Asian Spirits Masters 2016

With a growing number of international brands looking to secure a foothold in the market, there’s no doubt that Asia is a key region for the long-term development of the global alcohol industry.

From a blossoming cocktail scene and stabilising market, to the recent shift towards a more accessible spirits landscape thanks to a backstep from luxury, this ever-evolving region seems to be ticking all the right boxes for brands in 2016.

With entries spanning a variety of categories ranging from vodka to Scotch whisky, we required an experienced panel to assess each of the diverse spirits and reward the most deserving in our chosen venue for the day, Chinatown’s Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour.

Chaired by Kristiane Sherry, editor of The Spirits Magazine; the panel comprised Nicholas King, new product development manager, WSET; Luca Cordiglieri, general manager, 68 & Boston; Graeme Gardiner, drinks account manager, Focus PR; Andreas Alba, supervisor, Gerry’s Wine; and Jeremy Pascal, head bartender, Opium.

The first spirits category, Scotch whisky, was the largest of the day, split into Single Malt and Blended subcategories. Providing “a great array of styles and tastes that would appeal to everyone” our panel agreed the selection “touched on everything” in terms of flavour profile.

King said: “Scotch has got strong competition – particularly with Japanese whisky – so it’s got to make sure its game stays strong, or others will come in and steal share.”

Single Malt was one of the largest flights of the day – pipped only by Blended – producing 19 medals across the spectrum in total. The first expression to be tasted, Tomintoul 40 Year Old Quadruple Cask, was immediately given a Master medal, a “very bright, fresh” whisky, “elegant and polished” in its delivery.

Cordiglieri said: “I found it very well-rounded with a good complexity on the nose, a balance of very slight tobacco, little bit of honey, some vanilla, and overall freshness on the taste.”

Eight Gold medals were awarded in this bumper flight, some of which made a distinct impression on the panel. The Glenlivet 21 Year Old was said to be “a very well crafted spirit, with smooth, delicate notes despite having full flavour and delicate mouthfeel,” according to Gardiner, while King felt “classy smoked expression” Glenfiddich Cask Collection Vintage Cask was “a very well put-together number where all the various components sit together nicely”. The panel also enjoyed the “fragrant” Gold medalist Kininvie 17 Year Old, which Gardiner felt “opened up really nicely” with blossom and “a little bit of dry sweetness”.

Ten Silver medals were also awarded, ranging from the “light and nicely balanced” Glencadam The Remarkable 25 Year Old, to The Balvenie Madeira Cask 21 Year Old, which Cordiglieri felt had “good complexity on nose and palate”.

Moving on to a bumper flight of Blended expressions, a further 20 medals were handed out. The star of the show was the Master medal-winning Ballantine’s Limited, which is crafted from the brand’s rarest stocks of malt and grain whiskies. “That lovely wispy smokiness adds a very elegant tone,” said Gardiner. “It’s not overpowering at all, really well balanced.”

Six Gold medals were also handed out, notably to “very elegant all rounder” Chivas Regal 18 Year Old, and “very well-balanced” Ballantine’s 30 Year Old, of which King said the palate was “filled out, but not in a way that overpowers the grain – which is difficult to get”.


Thirteen Silver medals were awarded in Blended, of which the “vibrant” Dewar’s Signature stood out with its “crisp grain character on the nose” – and particular admiration was given to Gonzalez Byass’ Nomad Outland Whisky.

“I thought it was well balanced with a lot of fruity flavours which matched up with the nose,” said Alba. “It was my favourite from the lot, I’d definitely sit back with a dram at home.” King agreed: “A great expression – quite refreshing.”

When considering the future of Scotch whisky in Asia, the panel said more needs to be done to keep drinkers engaged and make the category accessible for newer consumers.

“I think maybe Scotch needs more limited editions, something that can be made specifically for the market with more quality,” said Cordiglieri, and Alba agreed: “I think there’s always room for more – and there should be more accessibility. You’ve got to create a buzz, so there’s got to be a limited run or specific cask, but it shouldn’t just be focused on that because it takes away from the rest of the category.”

There’s also the issue of price point – “some of the big producers tend to focus on limited releases, collectables, and so on, and that drives up prices,” said Gardiner. “It’s definitely something you see, particularly in travel retail in Asia.”

Departing our mammoth Scotch whisky offering – with a quick break for a palate-cleansing lunch – our panel resumed tasting with a series of vodka flights spanning Super Premium, Ultra Premium, Europe, Scandinavia, Organic, Microdistillery and Smooth. Here, Purity Vodka scored Silver for its “creamy” 17 expression, and two Gold medals for its 34 and Organic variants which were “both very good vodkas”. Purity 34 was found to be a “great, oily, well-rounded” vodka which Gardiner felt had “a real citrus note rather than synthetic”, while Purity Organic boasted a “very good creamy texture, a nice rich mouthfeel – nothing that feels jarring or out of place” according to King, ultimately “what you’d want from an ultra premium vodka”.

With three more flights to tackle our experts pressed on to Gin. Although it was deemed “a standard flight”, not representative of the “vibrant” Asian gin market, judges agreed that overall, more variety wouldn’t go amiss.

Nevertheless, the flight produced a Gold medal for Beefeater London Dry Gin 40%, which received high praise as “a level above” the other offerings – “peppery, but still on the citrus side but with good flavours of coriander and lemon,” said Pascal.

Barrel-aged expression Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve attracted a Silver medal, inspiring interest amongst the panel in the direction that aged gin is heading.

Judges left to right: Jeremy Pascal, Graeme Gardiner, Nicholas King, Luca Cordiglieri, Kristiane Sherry, Andreas Alba

Judges left to right: Jeremy Pascal, Graeme Gardiner, Nicholas King, Luca Cordiglieri, Kristiane Sherry, Andreas Alba

“Aged gins are an older tradition they’re kind of reviving,” said King. “It’s a category finding it’s feet – but will it take off?” Cordiglieri believes the category has much scope for success in the Asian market, “as long as the barrel doesn’t take over the character of the gin”.

The next flight was a small offering of Speciality Spirits, a category that still has a relatively small footprint in the Asian market, despite the recent boom in cocktail culture. Of the entries, just one – La Fée Parisienne Absinthe Supérieure – was deemed medal-worthy, attracting a Silver. “There’s a whole range of botanicals going on,” said King, and Cordiglieri agreed: “I liked it, it has a good finish and it was a good example of an absinthe.”

We pressed on to yet another fairly under-the-radar category, Rum, which judges declared an “uninspired selection” that was for the most part best suited to mixing rather than sipping. “I suppose if it’s not a priority in that market, it’s not pretty in that market,” noted King. However there were some standout expressions which sparked interest amongst the group, and three Silver medals were subsequently awarded to the “approachable, buttery, vibrant” Angostura 7 Year Old, “pleasantly sweet, well-balanced” Angostura 1919, and “weighty” Angostura 1824, which King felt had “more potential genuine age”.

Summing up the day, Sherry said: “The spirits tasted today back up what recent industry figures have indicated – that the brown spirits sector in Asia is back in growth. The breadth, depth and strength of the Scotch offer – both blended and single malt – surprised and delighted.

“‘Smaller’ categories in the Asian market such as gin and rum are also making headway. It’s great to see that as the sector becomes more global, suppliers are growing their offer while keeping standards high. Spirits fans, whether in Stockholm or Shanghai, should feel cheered.”

Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Asian Spirits Masters 2016.

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