The Speciality and Pre-Mixed Masters 2017 results

8th November, 2017 by Nicola Carruthers

Speciality spirits such as vermouth and absinthe came into focus in one of our latest Masters competitions, and the increasingly popular Pre-Mixed expressions were the subject of a second.

The rise of the after­-work apéritif is paving the way for growth in speciality spirits

Speciality spirits are making waves as cocktail drinkers and beyond are embracing the category – indicating a bright future for the sector.

As interest in the after­-work apéritif rises and the popularity of the bitter cocktail trend takes hold, the likes of the Negroni, Aperol Spritz and variations on the classic gin and tonic have resurfaced on menus across the globe, paving the way for growth in the speciality spirits category. As the sector evolves, we assess the breadth of the category in this year’s Speciality Spirits Masters.

Meeting at Bunga Bunga in London’s Battersea to explore the offerings were: Nicola Thomson, director of Fifteen71; Jason Window, head of business development at Inception Group; Aisling Fisher, business development manager at Inception Group; Andrea Carozzo, drinks consultant; Tobias Gorn, group wine and cigar buyer at Boisdale; and Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business. As always, each sample was assessed blind and on its own merit within an appropriate flight. The first category the panel examined was Single Malt – White Whisky, with a Silver medal awarded to New Make Single Malt by Israel’s The Milk and Honey Distillery.

Judges then turned their attention to the Grappa offer, with a Gold medal awarded to 1868 Grappa Da Prosecco Fine Vecchia. Of the expression, Carozzo said: “There were hints of honey, apricot and fennel. It would be great after a meal.” Window praised the “sharp flavour” and “minerality” of sibling product 1868 Grappa Da Prosecco Finissima, which grabbed a Silver medal.

Next up was the Bitters/Amaro flight, which saw Riga Black Balsam Cherry and Valhalla by Koskenkorva both scoop Golds. The former was praised for its “sour and sweet” notes, while one judge said the latter was “incredibly well balanced with pronounced flavours of clove, cherries and plenty of herbs”. The flight also saw four Silvers go to stablemates Riga Black Balsam, Riga Black Balsam Element, Riga Black Balsam Currant and FincaXú Botanical Spirit.

Next up for assessment was a Fruit flight, where Vedrenne’s Peach Liqueur secured a Gold for its “well­-balanced composition” and notes of “apricot, vanilla and clove”.

Following the flight was Fruit Eaux-­De­-Vie, where a pair of Golds were awarded to Vielle Prune and Poire Williams des Monts de la Côte d’Or. Of the latter, Window lauded the expression for its notes of “cinnamon and cloves” and “gentle” nose. A Silver medal was also awarded to Fidalgo Premium Cashew Feni, deemed award-­worthy for its “sweet, ripe and almost milky” nose and “complex character”.

Next up was the most fruitful of the session – in terms of flavour and medal count. A record Vermouth haul saw medals galore, including the first Master of the afternoon for Bottega’s Vermouth Rosso. Of the expression, Hopkins said: “I love the sweet Sherry nose and rich unctuous character. This would be amazing on a warm terrace in the summer with a drop of ice.”

Another Master was awarded to Albourne Estate ‘40’ Semi­Dry Vermouth. Described as having flavours of “fresh grape and herbal muskiness”, the expression was also praised for its “baked nectarine” nose.

Golds were also awarded to Belsazar stablemates White, Red and Rosé, Bottega’s Vermouth Bianco and Bramley & Gage Dry Vermouth. Hopkins said the latter had a “lovely character, full of body and complexity”. While Bottega’s Vermouth Bianco was deemed medal-­worthy for its “floral and delicate” nose.

Judges then turned their attention to Anise, with a Silver awarded to the “sleek and herbal” Meanie Anise by Netherlands­-based Meanie Distilling.

The next category to be considered was Absinthe. A Master was awarded to Atom Brands’ Cold Distilled Absinthe, which was described as “well-­balanced for a 91.2% abv spirit”. Gorn was impressed by its “incredible aromas of nutmeg and baked fennel”, while the palate had flavours of “key lime pie” along with hints of “eggnog and turmeric” on the palate. Golds were also awarded to the La Fée Parisienne Absinthe Supérieure, which was described as having a “clean and greengage” nose, and to the “fresh and herbal” Fruko­-Schulz Absinth Absolvent.

The final flight to be judged was Aquavit, with a Gold medal bestowed upon Kaland. Of the expression, Gorn said: “It has notes of spicy cereal and cumin in a well-­structured, round composition, as well as a nice lingering finish.” Overall, the judges were impressed by the array of speciality spirits on offer. “Speciality spirits are perfectly suited to current cocktail trends – in particular classic cocktails and apéritifs – so I was very pleased to see such a high standard of entries across this competition,” said Hopkins. “The vermouths were particularly strong, and with products such as these on display, the category has the potential to really carve a niche in today’s cocktail culture.”


The judges then turned their attention to the Pre-­Mixed Masters. Cocktail culture is continuing to flourish all over the world, and with that has come an interest from consumers to recreate the experience with ease in the comfort of their own homes. As such, the industry has witnessed a sudden surge in popularity for ready-­to-drink offerings. The first flight of the day, Classic Spirit and Mixer, saw a Silver awarded to LoneWolf Gin & Tonic. Hopkins deemed the serve as having “a lot of juniper and a nice punch of grapefruit”. Next up was the Classic Spirit and Mixer with a Twist flight, where the first Master of the competition was awarded to Aldi Stores’ Striganov Vodka Crush Guava. “It was really delicate, which is surprising for an ready-­to-­drink,” said Carozzo. While Window praised its “fruity” nose and “great taste”. Two Silvers followed, with the medals awarded to Striganov Vodka Crush Lemon Lime and Striganov Vodka Crush Watermelon. Judges praised the “great balance of sweetness and sourness” throughout the round. Hopkins said: “Many of the drinks were quite nostalgic and tasted of classic soft drinks.”

Next to be sampled was a flight of Partially-Made Cocktails, which featured products that are intended to be mixed with a spirit. A Gold was awarded to Tipplesworth Espresso Martini Mixer. Recommended to be served with vodka and ice, the “rich and velvety” serve uses cold­-brew coffee. Two Silvers were also presented to Tipplesworth Raspberry Mojito and Easy Mixers: Spicy – The Alchemist Edition.

(L­R): Tobias Gorn, Andrea Carozzo, Nicola Thomson, Jason Window, Amy Hopkins, Aisling Fisher

The penultimate flight of the day, Pre-­Mixed Classic Cocktail, saw Silvers go to Steel Aged Manhattan and London Cocktail Mojito. World of Zing’s Steel Aged Manhattan was praised for its “honeycomb” notes, while London Cocktail Company’s Mojito expression was described as having a “nice herbal aroma”. The final flight, Pre-­Mixed Contemporary Cocktail, awarded a Gold medal to The Handmade Cocktail Company for it’s The Boulevardier Cocktail. “It has that classic, spicy, cinnamon and clove flavour of a Negroni, and I got some tannin at the end,” said Carozzo. “I thought it was a pretty authentic cocktail,” added Window. “I’d definitely pour this over ice.”

Three Silvers were also awarded to Happydown Lemon Cucumber Mint, Happydown Raspberry Pomegranate Basil and Perfect Pour: 001 Milton Mule.

Judges were pleased with the wide array of expressions in the category, saying simplicity and value for money key are to winning consumers over. “Ultimately, with pre­mixed cocktails, consumers are looking for a decent drink that is good value and with flavours they can recognise,” said Hopkins. “While some of these entrants fell short in terms of balance, many showed that pre­mixed cocktails are improving – becoming both more experimental and channelling classic flavours.”

Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Liqueur Masters 2017.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our newsletter