The Asian Spirits Masters 2017 results

10th May, 2017 by admin

As the reputation of the Asian bar scene grows, brands are placing ever higher expectations on the region. From gin and vodka to whisky and liqueurs, our Asian Spirits Masters sought to reward the best examples.

Asia hasn’t always provided the most stable market conditions for spirits. But now, a growing number of brands are looking to enter the region, which provides almost unparalleled opportunities for spirits producers to grow their international footprints and reach new audiences.

The breadth of the region’s offering was assessed during The Asian Spirits Masters 2017, which this year took place at Thai Silk restaurant in London. Chaired by Kristiane Sherry, editor of The Spirits Business, the panel comprised Amy Hopkins, deputy editor of The Spirits Business; Nathan Shearer, head bartender at Swift; Shiv Lal, brand ambassador at Backyard Brewery; Nick Bell, retail general manager at Amathus Drinks; Kisa Alicat, freelance bartender; and Graeme Gardiner, account manager at Focus PR and editor at Edinburgh Whisky Blog.

The blind tasting competition attracted entries from a variety of sectors, ranging from vodka and gin to Scotch and liqueurs. The first category under the spotlight was Vodka, which included entrants across a multitude of price points, regions and category styles.


OPM Vodka was awarded a Silver medal, with Bell praising its “light and delicate” character and Shearer applauding its Martini­making abilities. “Although vodka looks like it’s dropping quite a lot, it is mostly people moving away from flavoured – the higher end isn’t really having a problem,” added Bell. “There will still be a market for well­made, master­crafted vodkas.”

Moving on, and one brand dominated the next seven flights. Purity Vodka bagged a heap of Silver and Gold medals for its 17, 34, 51 and Organic expressions. Shearer said of the 17: “I liked the very short finish, astringent pine, spice on the nose, citrusy and spice on the finish. I think the viscosity is good and it’s a very well­made spirit.”

Hopkins added: “It’s my favourite too, and the least expensive. For the price difference it had a really nice body to it. While it had the pine flavour, it was actually quite sweet.”
Purity 34 was found to be a classic vodka with a “nice short finish”, which Hopkins felt was “really drinkable” due to its neutrality. Shearer described the 51 as “quite zingy”, and ultimately “quite a nice ultra­premium vodka”. Meanwhile, Purity Organic was seen as “really soft” and the “creamiest out of the four” according to Lal.

Shearer said of the vodka category in general: “Bartenders are a lot more willing to make stuff with vodka, using it as something to bolster other flavours. You need an even split of neutral and characterful.”


Up next, our experts moved on to Gin. The first Master medallist of the competition was awarded to Plymouth Gin Navy Strength, which was described as a “proper juniper gin” with “big bold flavours”. Bell said: “I thought it was really good; best thing I’ve tasted so far. It’s exactly what I want in a mixing gin.” Shearer said: “It stands up in a Martini, or a gin and tonic; you can do anything with it.”

Beefeater London Dry Gin scooped a Gold from the panel and was praised for being “slightly sweet, well balanced and zesty”. Four Silver medals were awarded, of which the “easy­to­drink” Plymouth stood out for its “lightness and full mouthfeel”.

“We all taste a million gins every day – it’s a category that’s blown up too much, it’s too easy to release a gin,” said Shearer. “It’s nice to see diversity in the range and nice to see that they’re mostly juniper­ and citrus­led.”


The next flight was a small offering of rum, where Nusa Caña was deemed medal­worthy and secured a Silver. “It’s a bit sweeter, but stops short of going too sweet,” said Shearer. “It’s got a great body; I like that fresh, citrus grassy note. Tiki is growing the market, but for consumers, age statements and sipping rums will be the thing.”


In a diminutive Asian Whisky Blended round, Star Walker Whisky secured a Gold and All Seasons Whisky bagged a Silver. “It reminds me of the Highland Scotches I really like,” Shearer said of the former expression.

There was a much wider presence from the Scotch Whisky category, which was split into Single Malt and Blended sub­categories. Non­ Age Statement and Age Statement Blends were the largest flights of the day – producing 19 medals in total. Dewar’s Signature was awarded a Master medal for its “fresh, fruity notes” and “good balance”. Shearer said: “This was the first one where I thought we’re really getting into blends – this is perfect. It’s malty enough, it has complexity from the grain, a Speyside honey, a little bit of peat, and sweet, tropical notes.”

Three Gold medals were also awarded in the Non Age Statement flight. The Chivas Regal Extra was praised for its “spicy finish” and “deep, slight, peat note”. Ballantine’s Hard Fired was said to be an “ideal summer whisky and really good sipping whisky”, according to Shearer, while Alicat deemed it “fruity, spicy and easy to drink”. Dewar’s White Label was admired for its notes of “vanilla spice” and “stone fruits”. On the category, Gardiner said: “It would be really good to see a variety of different blends, some peated examples, and Sherry-­led ones.”

Age Statement Scotch

Two Masters were awarded in the Age Statement flight, the first of which went to the “well­rounded” Ballantine’s 30. Bell praised its notes of “richness, cinnamon, nutmeg, baked fruit, caramel, vanilla”.

The second Master, Nomad Outland Whisky, was admired for its “rich Sherry notes”. “What struck me was how vibrant it was, and how clean at the same time as having all those sumptuous flavours. It’s simple but in a really nice way,” said Hopkins.

Three Gold medals were awarded in the flight, the “vibrant” and “silky” Dewar’s 18 Year Old The Vintage, the “floral and elegant” Ballantine’s 12, and the “clean, crisp” Ballantine’s 21. Five Silver medals were awarded, of which the “complex” Chivas 18 stood out for its “easy­drinking” nature.

Summing up the flight, Shearer said: “You’ve got a lot more variance and people are willing to put an age statement on something. There’s also more competition with age statements. You tend to end up with a more interesting whisky.”

Next judges moved on to a small offering of Single Malts, with the first of the flight – Tomintoul Five Decades – scooping a Master. “It was really rich – almost like almonds on the nose,” said Hopkins. “It has a buttery aroma, which followed through onto the palate, but it didn’t mask the complexity. I thought it was the most drinkable.” Two Golds were also awarded in the flight. The Glenlivet 18 Year Old’s flavours were described as “Christmas cake and baked apple” by Alicat, while Bell called The Glenlivet 21 Year Old “well balanced and rich”.

The remaining whisky in the flight – The Glenlivet 12 Year Old Excellence – was awarded a Silver medal. Hopkins felt it had a “nice spice and fresh flavours too – pear drops, sherbet, and fresh apple”.

Gardiner said: “It would have been nice to have a bigger range of different flavour profiles, but again if you look from an Asia perspective do peated malts sell well there? It’s turned around in the last year or so, maybe products have had to play it safe.”

In the final category, Liqueurs, two products were awarded Silvers – the “easy­going” Sakura Kirakira and black tea liqueur TEAra, which Alikat felt there was a demand for.

Summing up the day, Hopkins said: “I thought across all the categories there were really good examples. The quality is really high. I didn’t think there was enough experimentation but I imagine that will grow as the on­trade in Asia develops, too.”

Click through the following pages for the Asian Masters 2017 results in full.

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