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The Gin Masters 2016 results

With the gin boom showing no signs of abating, the breadth of high-quality liquids now available is astonishing – as our 2016 Gin Masters revealed.

Gin Masters opener WEB
The gin category continues to diversify – as evidenced in our bumper Gin Masters

The great gin boom has well and truly taken hold. From the expanse of new brands entering the market to the seemingly unstoppable consumer interest in the category, gin stakeholders of all persuasions are riding a juniper-tinged wave of growth and opportunity.

But will the ride continue, or as an industry are we reaching ‘peak gin’? Euromonitor figures suggest not, forecasting volume gains of 11.8% over the next five years as brands seek out untapped markets around the globe. Whether or not the proliferation of ‘craft’ claims will continue many brands are tapping into the momentum and the breadth of product on offer is astonishing.

It is against this backdrop that our panel of judges gathered at the Holborn Dining Room in London for our largest ever Gin Masters competition. As is the case for all Global Spirits Masters events, gins are tasted blind in flights and assessed on appearance, nose, palate and overall balance before being awarded Silver, Gold or Master medals based on stand-alone performance. For the Gin Masters, Fentimans was on hand with a supply of tonics for additional tasting.

First up, a panel chaired by David T Smith, independent spirits consultant, comprising Kirsty Chant, director of Chant Communications; Sam Mitchell, head bartender at Marriott County Hall Hotel London; and Cherry Constable, spirits judge and blogger at Cherry Drinks, tackled the first flight: Premium. Judges found some “good value spirits that would work well in a selection of mixed cocktails,” mused Mitchell, while others fell a little short. Three stood out and were rewarded with Silver medals, with Spirit of the Lakes’ Bedford Gin, The Welsh Whisky Company’s Penderyn Brecon Special Reserve Gin, and The Water Company’s Berry Pickers all deemed “great everyday choices”.

Meanwhile the category chaired by myself, Kristiane Sherry, The Spirits Business editor, along with Katie Rouse, brand ambassador, Crushed & Cubed, and Toby Sims, head of operations at Shaken Cocktails, tackled the first instalment of gins in the Super-Premium category. Due to the volume of entrants, Smith’s panel joined the flight, too.

The category produced the first Master medal of the day, awarded to Treaty Oak Distilling Company’s Waterloo Gin, recognised for its “rosemary, lemon” nose and “lengthy finish with a perfect balance of sweetness”.

“It’s very different from the rest of the gins on the market – consumers are looking for bolder brands,” praised Rouse. The flight also produced a raft of 13 Golds and 12 Silvers, leading Constable to praise the segment for its “variety in terms of flavour profile and greater desire to innovate”.

While the Super Premium medal flurry rained down, the final panel, chaired by Melita Kiely, senior staff writer, The Spirits Business, joined by Nik Koster, director, Garnish Communications, Sara Smith, editor at summerfruitcup.com, and Ben Lindsay, founder and director, A World of Gin, got stuck into the first half of the Ultra Premium flight, later joined by my judging team. The stellar flight attracted 12 medals, including a whopping four Masters.

Gin Masters 1

Leading the way

The “superb, wonderfully balanced” Hernö Old Tom Gin led the charge, followed by its “rounded, very interesting” and “beautifully spiced” sibling, Hernö Juniper Cask Gin. Tasmania Distillery’s “astounding” Hobat No 4 Gin also joined the Masters club, as did “perfect G&T gin” Shortcross Gin, from Rademon Estate.

Evaluating the flight, Kiely said: “The gins in this category were exceptionally well balanced and full of flavour, and showed that sticking to classic botanicals is no bad thing – especially when done to the high standard tasted in this flight.” Sara Smith echoed the praise: “I think you could do a lot with these gins – they can be drunk in G&Ts and in cocktails. If you’re paying ultra-premium for something your expectations are not necessarily on something experimental, but you expect the quality to be worth the price. I think most of these gins lived up to that.”

With the price segmented flights out of the way, Sherry and Kiely’s panels explored the London Dry flight, with gins produced to EU standards. A heavyweight category and a stalwart of a sector, the mammoth flight did not disappoint, attracting a total of 26 medals – the weightiest of the day – including three Masters.

“Multilayered” and “deep-flavoured” Windspiel Premium Dry Gin, produced by Eifelion, was first to scoop the accolade, followed by East London Liquor Company’s Premium Batch No 1 Gin for its unusual “bittersweet, outdoorsy” quality, and ATOM Brands’ Origin from Klanac, Croatia, which was deemed “a perfect example of the category”.

“This was my favourite category when it came to tasting,” detailed Lindsay. “The category is so huge from a consumer perspective. I think it makes it one of the most interesting to taste – although it’s a difficult one to stand out in from the producer’s point of view. I love that you can have a traditional flavour profile in this huge category and still stand out – that’s what I found today.”

While for Koster there were a lot of “middle of the road” expressions, “if you scout around you can find some excellent gins within such a competitive category. The Masters and Golds we awarded are definitely worth finding – great flavours and well-balanced”.

Gin Masters 2

Making a comeback

In the meantime, David T Smith’s team pressed on into a smaller, but no less impressive flight of Old Tom expressions. The lighter, sweeter style is making a comeback as consumers drill down into the depth and history of the wider category, and the examples tasted did not disappoint. Hernö Old Tom Gin continued the brand’s winning streak, deemed a “textbook Old Tom – rich and sweet” while remaining “classic and balanced” and duly scooping a Master. Likewise, Poetic License Old Tom Gin – “resinous” and “delicate” – was rewarded with the highest possible medal.

“It’s great to see so many distillers embrace the forgotten spirit of Old Tom, and there was a good variety among a selection of high quality entries,” assessed David T Smith. For Mitchell, the category is “great for cocktails”, with the flight showing some “strong, well-balanced examples”. While harking back to the past, Old Tom looks set for a bright future.

At the opposite end of the dateline my panel found the contemporary flight, a space created for the myriad new category entrants to showcase creativity and innovation. But despite the wealth of entrants, judges felt let down by the liquid showcased.

“There was far more variety in the Ultra Premium flight than there was in contemporary – it was a little disappointing,” Sims felt. His thoughts were echoed by Rouse who added: “You’re looking for something different in this category. You can’t help but be disappointed when you’re just coming across the same again.” That said, judges found plenty to shout about in Gold medallist Hobart No 4 Gin, praised for its “orangey, burnt caramel, chocolate” nose, long finish and distinct profile. Similarly, Makar Glasgow Gin’s “fresh, vibrant” nose and “lemon and pine needles” palate was rewarded with a Gold, as was Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin, which offers a “cherry fruit nose” with “fresh spice to taste”.

Another experimental flight followed, with my panel exploring the Microdistillery category. Again, with smaller producers valuing innovation and creativity, judges expected to find a wealth of diversity – and they were not disappointed. “It was all strong for me,” detailed Rouse. “I particularly liked Vibe New Western Style London Dry Gin – it had a great balance of grapefruit and spice.” Duly awarded a Gold, the expression opened the floodgates with another nine following, including two more medals for Hernö, Brighton Gin and Archie Rose Signature Dry Gin.

Gin Masters 3

Consistent quality

“The quality was there throughout. Sometimes ‘microdistillery’ is a claim not backed up with quality, but these gins were all consistently good,” she added.

Kiely’s panel then pressed on to the Organic category, an opportunity for producers to flex their creative muscles when it comes to raw materials.

“I don’t think people look for ‘organic’ when they buy spirits; they look more for the quality of the spirit,” Koster said. “I don’t think people question production methods in gin.” If this lack of consumer education carries through, it’s essential the liquid stands up to scrutiny.

And the flight excelled. “Though this was a small flight, it was probably the strongest we’ve tasted so far today in terms of quality and consistency,” Kiely detailed. Of the four gins representing, two were deemed Gold worthy, while the other two scooped Silvers.

“Punchy, up-front” Hernö Export Strength and “interesting, earthy, very sweet” Hernö Old Tom both were rewarded with Golds, while Spirit of Hven Organic and Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin were both bestowed with Silvers.

“Each gin had balance and depth of flavour, but all in completely different ways,” Kiely continued. “Whether you’re specifically looking for an organic gin or not, I don’t think consumers would be disappointed to find any of these in their glasses.”

While Kiely’s panel sipped on Organic, David T Smith’s team of tasters looked across the channel to a flight of Genevers, which again resulted in a medal rush.

“The gin before London gin,” beamed Mitchell. “I love the character of the base that comes through with some bold botanical notes – great for robust cocktails.”

Master-winning Hooghoudt Distillers’ De Borgen Cornwyn kicked off the proceedings and was awarded the accolade for its “appley, cider, floral nose”, “silky texture”, and “fruity and malty base”. Meanwhile, sibling Genevers Holland Gin and Before Gin, plus By the Dutch Old Genever, all scooped Golds.

“Genever is all about the balance between the base, botanicals and – in some cases – wood,” David T Smith explained. “The result can be some very sippable spirits that also work well in mixed drinks. Genever Negroni, anyone?”

Sticking with the fuller flavours, the panel then delved into the world of cask-aged gins, another segment attracting fervent consumer attention. “As a fan of whisky I find it interesting to see how different products embrace different amounts of wood,” mused Chant. And indeed, in the past inconsistencies have emerged through hit-and-miss maturation. No fear here, however, with the flight attracting medals from across the spectrum.

The “rich, deep smoky tones” and “sweet honey” notes in Tom Cat Barrel Aged Gin saw the expression rewarded with a Master, swiftly followed up with six Golds, with Blackwater Juniper Cask and Koskue gins included in the group.

“While there are some similarities in the qualities that make a good whisky and a good aged gin, the botanicals add a whole new complication that can be tricky to get right, but when it works, it’s excellent,” Constable reckoned.

David T Smith surmised: “Aged gin has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, with lots of innovation and distillers looking beyond the old standard of ex-Bourbon barrels.” A win-win indeed for fans of both gin and whisky categories.

A flight full of cask-influenced flavour was swiftly followed by an uptick in abv – the Navy Strength gins had arrived. But while the samples on show packed a punch, they also delivered on aroma, flavour and, crucially balance, with another treasure trove of medals awarded.

Leading the pack was Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin, awarded a Master for its “orange blossom” nose, “malty finish and really interesting array of flavours”. A glittering array then picked up Golds: Hernö Navy Strength Gin, Spirit of Hven Organic Navy Strength Gin, Strathearn Oaked Highland Distillery Strength, Strathearn Juniper Gin Distillery Strength, and Bathtub Gin Cask-Aged Navy Strength.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the character and variety,” commented Sims. “These were some really good, well-made gins.”

Rouse added: “I can go on and off Navy Strength gins – with the higher abv you can really lose a lot of flavour. But the standard across the flight was really high – I’m impressed. Navy Strength has clearly upped its game.”

Judges pressed on into the realm of sweetness for the final two flights of the day. Kiely’s panel got their taste buds round a small but perfectly formed flight of sloe gins, with one in particular really impressing.

“I thought every aspect of Foxdenton Sloe Gin was near perfect,” Sara Smith exclaimed, with the panel awarding a Master. “Complex, easy to drink and not sickly sweet – it was an exceptional sloe gin.” In addition, Hernö Sloe Gin added another Gold to the brand’s tally, while 6 O’Clock Sloe Gin and Bathtub Gin both picked up Silvers.

“Awesome products!” Lindsay echoed.

“I was pleasantly surprised by all the gins here, as I was expecting very sweet sloe gins. I’m impressed.”

The final flight of the day, Flavoured Gins, was split between Kiely’s panel and my own, the size reflecting the push into the sector as consumer thirst for newness remains unquenched.

Gin Masters 4

Unearthed gems

While the overall impression was mixed – perhaps inevitable as the sub-category finds its feet – judges did unearth some gems. In total, seven medals were awarded including five Golds, one each to Barr Hill Gin, Slingsby Rhubarb Gin, Pink Royal, Gold 999.9 and Poetic License Picnic Gin.

“I think the category is getting stronger as producers realise subtle, real flavours – as evidenced in Poetic License Picnic Gin – are better to work with than huge hits of sugar and artificial flavourings,” Sims evaluated.

Koster concurred: “Lots of nice, well-balanced gins in this flight, but also some that have definitely fallen short of the mark. Gin brands shouldn’t be scared to make flavours less over-the-top, where you can still taste the flavour of the gin itself – be a bit brave and say ‘we are not going to make it all about the artificial flavour.’”

All in all, judges were delighted by the breadth and quality of liquid sampled on the day.

“Ultra Premium stood out for me in terms of variety and flavour,” Rouse added. “The botanicals the producers are using at the moment show that they are really trying to shake things up. It shows in every category, but Ultra Premium got it right.”

“Gin is a category that has gone from strength-to-strength over the last few years. The vast number of medals awarded today from all different styles just goes to show how far gin has come,” Kiely summed up.

“The category brought up several surprises for me and my panel, from the versatility of sloe expressions to the solid quality of organic brands. I think we can expect to see more exciting things in the next year from gin – the hype is far from over yet.”

Brand Owner Product Medal
Premium
Spirit of The Lakes Ltd Bedrock Gin Silver
The Welsh Whisky Company Penderyn Brecon Special Reserve Gin Silver
The Water Company Berry Pickers Silver
Super Premium
Treaty Oak Distilling Company Waterloo Gin Master
Hernö Gin Hernö Gin Gold
Glasgow Distillery Company Makar Glasgow Gin Gold
Old St Andrews Pink 47 Gold
Charter Brands Langley’s No 8 Gold
Sibbaris Privée SL Gin Sikkim Privee Gold
Reformed Spirits Martin Miller’s Gin Gold
Reformed Spirits Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gold
Bev Artistry LLC Belgin St Cruyt Gold
Quintessential Brands Thomas Dakin Gin Gold
ATOM Brands Origin – Perugia Italy Gold
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin Gold
Vantguard Gin Mare Gold
Conker Spirit Ltd Conker Spirit – Dorset Dry Gin Gold
Spirit of The Lakes Ltd Bedrock Gin Export Strength Silver
Blackwater Distillery Blackwater No 5 Gin Silver
Chivas Brothers Beefeater 24 Silver
London Distillers Edgerton Pink Gin Silver
London Distillers Edgerton Blue Spice Gin Silver
Gebr J&M Ziegler GmbH G=in3 Classic Silver
Maison Ferrand Citadelle Gin Silver
Bruichladdich Distillery Company Ltd The Botanist Silver
The Water Company Gold 999.9 Silver
Summerhall Distillery Pickering’s 1947 Gin Silver
ATOM Brands Origin – Arezzo, Italy Silver
The Welsh Whisky Company Penderyn Brecon Botanical Gin Silver
Ultra Premium
Rademon Estate Distillery Ltd Shortcross Gin Master
Hernö Gin Hernö Old Tom Gin Master
Hernö Gin Hernö Juniper Cask Gin Master
Tasmania Distillery Hobart No 4 Gin Master
Spirit of Harrogate Limited Slingsby Artisan London Dry Gin Gold
Moorland Spirit Company Hepple Gin Gold
Loch Ness Spirits Limited Loch Ness Gin Gold
Fishers Gin Fishers Gin Gold
Three Fingers Distillery Blue Bottle Gin Gold
The Shropshire Gin Company Tiger Gin Silver
Strathearn Distillery Strathearn Juniper Gin Silver
Glendalough Distillery Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin Silver
Brand Owner Product Medal
London Dry
Eifelion GmbH Windspiel Premium Dry Gin Master
East London Liquor Company Premium Batch No 1 Gin Master
ATOM Brands Origin – Klanac, Croatia Master
Silent Pool Distillers Silent Pool Gin Gold
Aldi Stores Darley’s Traditional Style Gin Gold
Bramley and Gage Ltd 6 O’Clock Gin Gold
Eaglesburn Distillery Eaglesburn Distillery Dry Gin Gold
Spirit of Harrogate Limited Slingsby Artisan London Dry Gin Gold
Glasgow Distillery Company Makar Glasgow Gin Gold
Daffy’s Gin Ltd Daffy’s Gin Gold
Hermit Concepts Hermit Gin Gold
Quintessential Brands Greenall’s Original London Dry Gin Gold
Dublin City Gin Co Dublin City Gin Gold
Copperhead NV Copperhead Gold
The Water Company Pitman Gin Gold
ATOM Brands Origin – Zlatibor, Serbia Gold
The 86 Co Fords Gin Gold
Foxdenton Estate Co Ltd Foxdenton 48 London Dry Gin Gold
Steampunk Gin Steampunk Extra Rare Gin Gold
Conker Spirit Ltd Conker Spirit – Dorset Dry Gin Gold
Mangrove Portobello Road Gin Silver
Hammer & Son Ltd Geranium Gin Silver
Loch Ness Spirits Limited Loch Ness Gin Silver
London & Scottish International Juniper Green Trophy Organic Gin Silver
Old St Andrews Pink 47 Silver
Aldi UK Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin Silver
Copperhead NV Copperhead Black Batch Silver
Old Tom
Hernö Gin Hernö Old Tom Gin Master
Poetic License Poetic License Old Tom Gin Master
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin – Old Tom Gold
Hammer & Son Ltd Old English Gin Silver
Contemporary
Poetic License Poetic License Northern Dry Gin Master
Tasmania Distillery Hobart No 4 Gin Gold
Glasgow Distillery Company Makar Glasgow Gin Gold
Four Pillars Distillery Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin Gold
Rheinland Distillers Siegfried Gin Silver
Kyrö Distillery Company Napue Gin Silver
The Victorian Cocktail Bar Livin-Gin Silver
Lark Distillery Forty Spotted Rare Tasmanian Gin Silver
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin Silver
Rademon Estate Distillery Ltd Shortcross Gin – Wild Clover Edition Silver
Brand Owner Product Medal
Microdistillery
Hernö Gin Hernö Old Tom Gin Gold
Hernö Gin Hernö Gin Gold
Archie Rose Distilling Co Archie Rose Signature Dry Gin Gold
Bev Artistry LLC Belgin Fresh Hop Gold
Vibe Distillers GCV Vibe New Western Style London Dry Gin Gold
Vibe Distillers GCV Vibe Navy Strength London Dry Gin Gold
The Independent Gin Company Bullards Norwich Dry Gin Gold
Brighton Spirits Co Ltd Brighton Gin Gold
Glendalough Distillery Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin Gold
Tasmania Distillery Hobart No 4 Gin Silver
Hammer & Son Ltd Klelund Gin Silver
Organic
Hernö Gin Hernö Export Strength Gin Gold
Hernö Gin Hernö Old Tom Gin Gold
Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn Spirit of Hven Organic Silver
Glendalough Distillery Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin Silver
Genever
Hooghoudt Distillers BV De Borgen Cornwyn Master
Hooghoudt Distillers BV Holland Gin Gold
Hooghoudt Distillers BV Before Gin Gold
By the Dutch Spirits Co By the Dutch Old Genever Gold
Cask-Aged
Caledonia Spirits Tom Cat Barrel Aged Gin Master
Hernö Gin Hernö Juniper Cask Gin Gold
Kyrö Distillery Company Koskue Gold
Blackwater Distillery Blackwater Juniper Cask Gin Gold
Treaty Oak Distilling Co Waterloo Antique Gin Gold
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin – Cask-Aged Gin Gold
ATOM Brands Whisky Bitters Cask-Aged Bathtub Gin – Batch 2 (Batshit Mental Ideas) Gold
Chivas Brothers Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Silver
Maison Ferrand Citadelle Solera Réserve Silver
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin – Cask Aged, Navy Strength Silver
Rademon Estate Distillery Ltd Shortcross Cask Aged Gin Silver
Brand Owner Product Medal
Navy Strength
Four Pillars Distillery Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin Master
Hernö Gin Hernö Navy Strength Gin Gold
Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn Spirit of Hven Organic Navy Strength Gin Gold
Strathearn Distillery Strathearn Juniper Gin Distillery Strength Gold
Strathearn Distillery Strathearn Oaked Highland Distillery Strength Gold
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin – Cask-Aged, Navy Strength Gold
Hammer & Son Ltd Geranium Gin 55 Silver
Vibe Distillers GCV Vibe Navy Strength London Dry Gin Silver
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin – Navy Strength Silver
Sloe Gin
Foxdenton Estate Co Ltd Foxdenton Sloe Gin Master
Hernö Gin Hernö Sloe Gin Gold
Bramley and Gage Ltd 6 O’Clock Sloe Gin Silver
ATOM Brands Bathtub Gin – Sloe Gin Silver
Flavoured Gin
Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin Gold
Spirit of Harrogate Limited Slingsby Rhubarb Gin Gold
Old St Andrews Pink Royal Gold
Quintessential Brands Greenall’s Wild Berry Gin Gold
Poetic License Poetic License Picnic Gin Gold
Foxdenton Estate Co Ltd Foxdenton Rhubarb Silver
Foxdenton Estate Co Ltd Foxdenton Raspberry Silver

 

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