The Distillery Masters 2018 results

9th January, 2018 by Amy Hopkins

Our annual Distillery Masters competition grades the workshops of the industry on criteria such as how enticing they are to visitors and their green credentials. This year’s entrants boasted innovation and vibrancy.

Distilleries are going the extra mile to enhance their brands

The Distillery Masters is a unique proposition in the wider Global Spirits Masters series, which is largely comprised of blind spirits-­tasting assessments. This particular competition looks at the places behind the products – distilleries – and pays attention to increasingly critical aspects of the spirits world: tourism, digital marketing, experimentation in production, and sustainability.

Now in its third year, The Distillery Masters took place at Charlotte’s W5 in London, and was presided over by an experienced panel of spirits judges: Billy Abbott, whisky ambassador for The Whisky Exchange; Nicola Thomson, director at Fifteen71; Antony Moss, director of strategic planning at the WSET; private­-client director Athila Roos; and freelance drinks writer Cherry Constable. The competition – which consisted of written submissions, images and videos – was chaired by me, Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business.

The first round of the day was Consumer Experience, which assessed tours, sampling experiences, visitor centres, and other creative ways distilleries enhanced their visitors’ experiences. Panellists were delighted to discover the first two Master winners of the day: Lost Spirits Distillery and Teeling Whiskey Distillery. In 2015, California-based Lost Spirits established industry-­first technology to recreate the chemical signature of aged spirits in a laboratory. The company’s distillery has been described as a “journey into the mind of a madman”, and judges loved the experience it offered consumers, which evoked the company’s creative processes rather then bogging down visitors with heavy scientific detail. “They are trying to make [the distillery] fun rather than just explanatory,” observed Roos. Abbott added: “The consumer experience evokes the craziness of what they do but without the details.” Constable, meanwhile, praised the educational aspect of the experience. “It makes science, not just distilling, fun,” she said. “It’s the kind of place you would want to go back to.”

INTELLIGENT EXPERIENCE

Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey Distillery also won a Master for its “immersive, interactive and intelligent” consumer experience. The distillery was found to communicate its connection to the local area in an engaging way, via an exhibition space and a guided ambassador tour. “From the moment you walk through the door, there’s something to keep you there. I am really impressed by it,” Abbott said of the distillery. Moss added: “There’s nothing gimmicky about this – it seems that everything is well thought through and executed.” Meanwhile, Roos felt that “consumer experience is at the heart of what they do” at Teeling Whiskey Distillery.

A fleet of Golds followed. Vancouver Island’s Shelter Point Distillery won plaudits for its unique tour that immersed visitors in its beautiful natural surroundings, while The Oude Molen Distillery in South Africa was found to offer a slick and “good­-value-­for-money” consumer experience. The Lakes Distillery, based in Cumbria in the UK, was praised for its rounded and engaging offering – “tours seem central to how the business runs”, said Abbott.

Constable said of Australia’s Four Pillars, which also secured a Gold: “It seems that you could really be at the heart of the action wherever you are in the distillery.”

Meanwhile, Jameson Distillery Bow Street was heralded as a positive example of increased investment behind Irish whiskey tourism. “This talks about the heritage a lot,” Moss said of the tour. “It makes sure that their brand fans are not disappointed.” Abbott added: “This tour seems to be a realisation by Irish Distillers [Jameson’s parent company] that whiskey tourism is a big thing. It’s part of a wider effort to grow Irish whiskey as a category, and whiskey tourism in particular.”

Also in the round, Edinburgh-­based Summerhall Distillery and London’s Beefeater Distillery were awarded Silver medals.

The next round judges turned their attention to was Digital & Social Media, where we looked for engaging and vibrant marketing content, and assessed proof of engagement, strength of brand representation, and how the distilleries interacted with consumers. The Lakes Distillery walked away with a Silver medal for its “solid” digital presence. “It ticks all the boxes,” said Abbott.

Then, in the Distillery Facilities leg of the competition – where a distillery’s retail offer, food and beverage options, as well as any other ‘added value’ services, were assessed – the Master standard resumed.

The Lakes Distillery once again impressed the panel, and was awarded the top accolade. “It’s incredible how they can cater to so many different people,” Abbott said. “There’s a lot of thought behind it, and the facilities all slot together nicely. If a family with one person interested in whisky visits there’s enough there for everyone to enjoy.”

Colorado’s Breckenridge Distillery, said to be the “world’s highest distillery”, bagged Gold for the “memorable experience” it offers consumers, featuring an open-­air bar, seasonal cuisine restaurant and retail area. Added value offerings include spirits pairings, educational tastings led by the master distiller and whisky club The Dark Arts Society. Shelter Point Distillery ramped up its medals with a Silver in the round.

(L­R): Amy Hopkins, Billy Abbott, Cherry Constable, Athila Roos, Nicola Thomson and Antony Moss

(L­R): Amy Hopkins, Billy Abbott, Cherry Constable, Athila Roos, Nicola Thomson and Antony Moss

TECHNICAL CREATIVITY

In the Distillery Innovations round, judges sought ground­-breaking, technical creativity in spirits production, and were fascinated by the triple-­distillation technique of Moorland Spirit Company, which includes a pot still, rotary evaporator and a ‘Supercritical Fluid Extractor Column’. “It shows they are appreciating the botanicals and getting the best from each one,” observed Constable. Abbott added: “It seems they have come up with a new way of introducing new flavours into gin, but keeping the traditional profile as well, through this three-distillation technique.”

The final round was something that has become an intense focus for the spirits industry: Green Initiatives. Judges were blown away by the extra mile Master medallist Greensand Ridge Distillery went to, to boast heightened green credentials. The distillery uses 100%­renewable power, is using innovative means to target zero­-waste, uses no plastic or chemicals, creates products using damaged or surplus local crops, and has implemented sustainable wood­-fired warehouse heating, among other things.

“An environmental way of thinking about the world has been there right from the conception of the business,” said Moss. “It’s great to see a business leading by example with these sorts of ideas.” Constable added: “I think that this is part of the brand ethos – it’s not a second thought. It’s part of the whole distillery concept.”

Gold winner Dalmunach is one of the newest Scotch whisky distilleries from Chivas Brothers, having fired up its still in 2014.

Judges agreed that the site was an impressive example of what a responsible modern distillery should be. “This is a benchmark for a new distillery – these are things all new distilleries should be doing,” said Abbott.

Sweden’s Purity Vodka Distillery also bagged a Gold, and was found to be “ticking a lot of boxes” and “taking it upon itself to take green initiatives further”. Fellow Gold medallist Altos Distillery, Pernod Ricard’s Tequila distillery in Mexico, was hailed for its “continuous push for modernisation and improvement”. Rounding off the section, Irish Distillers was awarded Silver for impressive green initiatives across its business.

After assessment, it was clear that distilleries are going the extra mile to enhance their brands by engaging with consumers and visitors in unique and memorable ways, while at the same time upping their responsibility drives. It will be interesting to see what new directions the industry will pursue in the next 12 months.

Click through the following pages for the full list of medal winners in this year’s Distillery Masters.

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