The Asian Spirit Masters 2013 Results

13th May, 2013 by Becky Paskin

The Asian palate is certainly an eclectic one if the entries to this year’s Spirits Business Asian Spirit Masters is anything to go by. Becky Paskin reports.

Asian Spirit Masters results

The Asian Spirit Masters 2013 results garnered five Master, 14 Gold and 14 Silver medals

When you’re asked to judge a spirits competition like The Asian Spirit Masters, anything can happen. Open to all brands available to buy in the Far East, this round could easily have included a stream of local spirits such as baijiu, soju, shochu, Japanese whisky, arak and sake, alongside western products of the Scotch, Cognac, vodka and gin persuasion.

Our panel of judges, headed by myself, entered the cool, sleek basement dining room of Japanese restaurant Wabi in Holborn, London with open minds. We had no idea what manner of alcohol awaited us.

I was joined by the palates and undeterred enthusiasm of Edward Bates, freelance brands consultant; Pepijn Vanden Abeele, bar manager of Coburg at The Connaught; Allan Farrell, bar manager at Wabi; and Julien Sahut, assistant head sommelier at China Tang at The Dorchester.

First up was vodka, with entries divided into categories including geographical location and price-point, with additional rounds for those deemed organic, flavoured, smooth, and – for the first time – from a micro-distillery. Entries were judged according to the category entered, with those in the ‘smooth’ round marked mostly on the texture of the spirit, and those in the ‘super-premium’ division assessed on their overall quality which was expected to be high.

A smattering of Gold and Silver medals were awarded across the board, but the one vodka that stood out heads and tails above the rest was the one ‘micro-distillery’ entry, which was awarded a Master. “The micro-distillery vodka was full of flavor,” said Vanden Abeele. “Gone are the days that the spirit has been filtered to death. This vodka had character and a distinct palate.”

Bates agreed, describing the vodka as having an “excellent mouth feel” with notes of “mixed spice and roast coffee”. “For me the vodkas that really stand out do so because of the blend of grains and quality of mouth-feel,” he explained. “It’s usually the micro-distilleries that deliver this as they are the ones that can really play.”

The Asian Spirits Masters 2013

The Asian Spirits Masters 2013 had the judges palates leaping from one spirit category to the next

It was in fact the same vodka that also won a Master in the super-premium category, producing a double win for relatively small Swedish brand Purity Vodka.

Moving onto gin, and it was one of the premium entries from Studer & Co that impressed the judges the most with its “soft nose with prominent juniper and citrus notes”.

“The whole resurgence of gin has pushed brands to really refine their own distinct character and profile,” added Vanden Abeele. “It has become a sprit that isn’t made anymore to be in a Martini or have tonic in it, but one that can stand on its own.”

The single entry in Cognac – a category that’fs enjoying surging growth in Asia right now, stood out as the most lauded spirit in the blind tasting. “A truly exceptional Cognac,” Bates exclaimed. “The general expectation – especially from me – of a Cognac destined just for the Asian market is a sugar heavy rancio monster. This Cognac completely defied such prejudices delivering classic Grande Champagne subtlety and with elegance, without resorting to Tate & Lyle excess.”

When it came to Scotch, another brown spirit category seeing remarkable success in Asia, opinions were divided. The awarded blends all drew unanimous Silver medals but entries in the three single malt categories – standard under 12 year-olds, premium 12 year-olds, and over 18 year-olds – attracted a variety of reactions, mostly based on personal opinion. However all were agreed the whiskies demonstrated a quality and diverse selection.

“By the time we finished the tasting the range of whiskies showed a good range available in the Asian market,” Farrell said. “The whiskies on show were all well made but comparing categories there were few stand outs.” Those stand outs were namely The Glenlivet XXV, which was awarded the only Master of the category.

The Asian Spirits Masters 2013 Judges

The Asian Spirits Masters 2013 judges left to right: Julien Sahut, China Tang; Edward Bates, spirits consultant; Becky Paskin, The Spirits Business; Allan Farrell, Wabi; Pepijn Vanden Abeele, Coburg at The Connaught.

Finally, finishing the day off, was the only Asian-produced spirit, a Sri Lankan arak, which attracted a Silver medal for being a good example of what the niche category can produce. “It is a spirit that is slowly coming more known and mixologists are starting to use it more to create cocktails,” added Vanen Abeele. “This one was a good example of an Arak that was made with knowledge and love for the product.”

There was not a vast selection of Asian-produced spirits after all, which in fact disappointed the judges who had geared themselves up for tasting some fine soju. But in the end, those spirits entered represented a thoroughly interesting window on what the Asian market is drinking.

The full list of The Asian Spirit Masters 2013 results are on the following pages.

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