The Gin Masters 2018 results

5th July, 2018 by Amy Hopkins

You might think that with the explosion in the number of gin brands on the market, quality may have dropped as producers fight for attention. Our competition showed the opposite is true, with great tipples across the board.

The gin category’s spectacular rate of growth is difficult to fathom. How many brands are now on the market globally? How many new distilleries are being planned? What’s been the uptick in consumer recruitment? It’s almost impossible to know. But one thing is sure – gin remains hot property in spirits and everyone from Scottish farmers to Hollywood heartthrobs are getting in on the action.

The sector’s evolution is also evident in the growth of The Gin Masters itself, with medal count quadrupling in 2018 compared to five years ago. Indeed, the competition has become even more pertinent amid questions over product quality within this increasingly saturated arena.

The pressure for both fledgling and established brands to retain mindshare has never been greater. Innovation has become the lifeblood of the category, but producers must ensure the quality of their liquid is high to retain consumer trust. This is precisely what a panel of experienced judges set out to assess in our latest blind tasting, which took place at Ukai restaurant in London.

To begin with, judges examined gins segmented according to price, awarding a Silver medal to Greenall’s London Dry Gin in the Standard flight. The gin was deemed to be “well made and a good example of its category” by a panel consisting of Bryan Rodriguez, spirits buyer at Harvey Nichols; Maurizio Schiavone, assistant bar manager at Dukes Bar; and me, Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business.

A pair of Golds followed in the Premium round, assessed by Hannah Lanfear, director at The Mixing Class; and Gaspare di Carlo, bar manager at Sky Garden, who were chaired by Melita Kiely, deputy editor of The Spirits Business. Boyle’s Gin and Portage Dry Gin were praised for their respective “herbaceous tones” and “fresh citrus aroma”.

One of the day’s largest flights – Super Premium – was shared between a number of panels. In total, four Masters, eight Golds and 13 Silvers were named. My panel awarded the top accolade to Herbie Gin Export, which reminded Rodriguez of “eucalyptus and pine”. He added: “In a Martini, this would be delicious”. Makar Original Dry Gin joined the Master brigade after impressing with its “elegant and complex” flavours and “silky” texture. The gin was judged by a panel chaired by Antony Moss, director of strategic planning at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), and including Alessandro Geraci, bar supervisor at Aqua Shard; and sommelier Domenico Doronzo.

‘DEFINITELY A STAND-OUT’

The quirky Moonshot Gin by That Boutique­-y Gin Company also took the top accolade after impressing the team led by Nik Koster, founder of A World of Gin, and including Andre Carozzo, drinks consultant; and Pierre-Marie Bisson, general manager at Milk & Honey. “This was my favourite of the flight,” Bisson said of the Moonshot expression. “It had a lovely nose, beautiful palate and oily mouthfeel. Definitely a stand­out.”

Koster’s panel also named the final Master in the round, another expression from That Boutique­-y Gin Company: Chocolate Orange Gin. “This was perfectly balanced, and very gentle and smooth considering its 46% abv,” observed Carozzo. “This would be a very enjoyable gin to sip neat.”

Rodriguez noted the diversity of profiles on display throughout the round: “With the sheer number of gins coming out every day, it’s good to see there are so many different flavours. Gin is increasingly moving away from juniper, paying more attention to other botanicals, but many of these gins were very balanced.”

The final price division of the day was also very well populated – demonstrating that growth in gin is being led from the top end. Both The Kyoto Distillery’s Ki No Bi and The Melbourne Gin Company’s Single Shot bagged Master medals.

Described as having an “unexpected yet gorgeous saltiness”, Ki No Bi was tasted by judges including Ben Lindsay, director at Garnish Communications, and MD Imran, bartender at Ukai. Elise Craft, co-­ordinator at the Whisky Squad, chaired proceedings. “The notes of salted lemon and juniper are beautifully balanced,” enthused Lindsay. “All brands put citrus in their gin, but they’ve done a bloody good job with these flavours.”

Kiely’s panel gave the flight’s second Master to Single Shot, praised for its “excellent botanical recipe” and “good length”. Kiely called the gin “big and flavoursome”, and loved the bold nose of lemon and orange peel. Ultra Premium proved to be one of the strongest rounds of the day, resulting in a further 12 Golds and 10 Silvers. Koster believed that Gold medal winner Scapegrace Classic deserved an honourable mention for its “lively and zingy profile”, and also praised the “lovely fennel, celery, coriander and spice” flavours of Melbourne Dry Gin.

Heading into the part of the competition where entries were divided by style, and the most famous sub­-category of gin – London Dry – produced four Masters. It was by far the largest round of the day, with an additional eight Golds and 23 Silvers awarded. “Classic and well balanced” Gibson’s Exception by French drinks group La Martiniquaise took the top title for its “delicate citrus palate” and “elegant juniper notes”. It was followed by “easy sipping” Thomas Dakin Gin, which Bisson called “the perfect gin” for his palate. “This had an impeccable flavour – lots of spices and so fragrant,” he said.

Then Swedish Rose Gin – Hernö by That Boutique­-y Gin Company bagged the Master accolade for its “big personality” and “intense aroma”. Kiely said: “This took the London Dry recipe, gave it a twist and made it shine.” The core Hernö Gin expression, described as “easy to drink with a pleasant finish”, rounded off the Master standard. Rodriguez observed: “This gin screamed lychee and rose water. The palate was really smooth and it had a nice earthiness.”

Looking back over the round, Koster said: “London Dry is a category that’s getting harder to judge every year because of the high quality – so the stand­-out gins that gained good medals are producing something really special. These are the gins I would want to use when hosting a tasting.”

Other judges believed that while they sampled an array of delicious products, some veered too far away from the archetypal London Dry style. “I was looking for good structure and a balance of pine, floral, citrus and earthy flavours,” said Lanfear. “Most of them met the expectations for a classic London Dry style, but a couple seemed to bend the rules.”

Judges then turned their attention to a reawakened historical style of gin that is rapidly gaining in popularity: Old Tom. Here, Koster’s panel dished out four Golds and three Silvers. Langley’s Old Tom impressed with its “lovely grassy flavour” and secured Gold, as did Hernö Old Tom Gin, Boatyard Old Tom and Citadelle Old Tom No Mistake. Overall, the panel applauded the round’s showing of typically sweeter expressions that managed to display depth and balance.

“There were some outstanding examples in this flight that will really stay with me,” said Carozzo. “Some of the aged ones were particularly great; they were soft and complex. None were unbalanced.”

UNIQUE TWISTS

Jumping from the past to the present, a Contemporary round was next. Here, judges were looking for unique twists on the classic styles of gin that offered a distinctive flavour, while also maintaining the key characteristics of the spirit. Once again, a number of panels tackled the sizeable offering, awarding two Masters, 11 Golds and 20 Silvers.

Craft’s panel gave Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin a Master medal for its “burst of flavour”. Lindsay said: “If you closed your eyes and tasted this, you’d expect it to be cloudy because it has so much oiliness. This is a very special gin.” Craft also enthused: “This is exactly the type of product I expect to get when the best distillers challenge what gin can be.”

On my panel, judges enjoyed the “delicious nose” and “oaky, vanilla” profile of fellow Master winner Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin – Navy­-Strength. “This category really shows how gin can be opened up to interpretation,” said Rodriguez. “Despite this, the juniper was really present in most contemporary gins we tasted.”

Koster, whose panel also judged the Contemporary entrants, said: “Compared with London Dry, the gins in this round were really unique, and most of them had distinctive flavours. I think this is a category that will grow and improve in years to come.”

DIVERSITY AND QUALITY

Moss’s team assessed a pool of entries from smaller gin producers in the Microdistillery round, which yielded four Golds and four Silvers. The category is one of the most topical in gin because of the rapid influx of independent brands, and judges were largely impressed by its diversity and quality.

Triple Juniper Gin won praise for its “juicy, well­-integrated palate”, while Cascara Gin displayed a “wonderful aroma of fennel and blossom”. Judges equally enjoyed Beg Gin’s “powerful citrus nose” and New World Navy Beg Gin’s “brilliant complexity”.

My panel then took a detour away from gin to sample a selection of genever – the parent to gin as we know it today. Made in Holland and Belgium, genever uses malted grain spirit – ‘malt wine’ – as its base, meaning it typically has a more malty flavour than gin. However, the taste of juniper must still be “discernable”, according to EU law.

Judges enjoyed the “whisky-­like tannins and oakiness” across the board, awarding a Master, two Golds and a Silver. Filliers Barrel Aged Genever 21 Years Old, which scooped the top accolade, was deemed to have a “wonderful dry texture”, with a “slight pine freshness” and rich notes of “Demerara sugar”. “It’s got a really long-­lasting flavour,” observed Schiavone. The genever’s 17­-year-old and 12­-year-­old stablemates also impressed with their respective “vanilla maltiness” and “rye spiciness”.

“Genever is like a bartender’s secret,” said Rodriguez. “And the more gin and whisky drinkers explore cask­-aged genever, the more they would enjoy it as a sipping spirit.”

Speaking of cask-­aged spirits, this is what judges turned their attention to next. In the round, tasters explored the impact of oak on delicate botanical flavours and named three Master medallists. “I just want to drink it forever,” Lindsay said of Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Barrel Aged Gin. “It’s just the right amount of everything – the balance is pretty near perfect.”

Kyrö Koskue Rye Gin also walked away with the top title after impressing with its “beautiful mouthfeel”. Craft enthused: “It had the most incredible finish, like you’ve had the most delicious lemon and juniper sponge cake – I wanted more immediately.” She called the two Master medallists tasted by her panel “two of the most exceptional gins I’ve tasted in a long time”.

The third Cask Aged Master winner was discovered by Koster’s team, who described No. 209 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay as having “a lot going on – white flowers, marzipan, nuts and juniper”. Carozzo believed the expression to be “perfectly aged”. Two further Golds and seven Silvers were named.

The Gold standard continued in the Organic section, with Fatty’s Organic Gin taking home the accolade thanks to its “pleasing vegetal savouriness”. Four Silver medals were also awarded, including two for expressions from Hernö gin. “When you have high quality raw ingredients, you expect to have a balanced and elegant product, which most of these were,” said di Carlo on Kiely’s team.

L­-R: Amy Hopkins; Melita Kiely, Maurizio Schiavone, Ben Lindsay, Nik Koster, Pierre­-Marie Bisson, Gaspare di Carlo, Alessandro Geraci, Bryan Rodriguez, Elise Craft, MD Imran, Domenico Doronzo, Hannah Lanfear, Andre Carozzo and Antony Moss

L­-R: Amy Hopkins; Melita Kiely, Maurizio Schiavone, Ben Lindsay, Nik Koster, Pierre­-Marie Bisson, Gaspare di Carlo, Alessandro Geraci, Bryan Rodriguez, Elise Craft, MD Imran, Domenico Doronzo, Hannah Lanfear, Andre Carozzo and Antony Moss

A MASTERCLASS IN DISTILLING

Judges prepared their chests for hairs as they dived into the Navy Strength contingent, where Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin – Navy-Strength and Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin reigned supreme. My panel enjoy the former’s “clove, liquorice and aniseed” character, and the latter’s “dry flavour”, which was balanced by additional notes of “candied lemon peel”. Three Golds and three Silvers followed.

“If I wasn’t aware of the abv of the two Masters, I would never have said they were navy strength, because they hold the alcohol so well,” said Rodriguez. “These are two really nice products and are a masterclass is distilling.”

The penultimate round of the day was Sloe Gin, which resulted in one Master, two Golds and a Silver. The flight was assessed by Moss’s panel, who were looking for “a succulent sloe flavour, but that doesn’t mask the gin character, and isn’t confected or over­-sweet”.

Master winner Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin – Sloe Gin was said to have a “tannin and fruit balance, which added another layer to the drink”.

Finally, the judges rounded off the day’s proceedings with a Flavoured Gin flight – an area of the category that has become increasingly popular as consumers become more experimental. Three Golds – for Harrington Elderflower Gin, and Spit­Roasted Pineapple Gin and Strawberry & Balsamico Gin from That Boutique-­y Gin Company – and seven Silvers were awarded.

“Where gins did well in this category, it was largely down to fact they had managed to capture fruit flavour with authenticity,” observed Lanfear, “without cloying sweetness and without unnatural acidity.”

In total, The Gin Masters 2018 yielded 19 Masters, 62 Golds and 90 Silvers. While there is much talk of gin’s bubble being set to burst, the competition at least showed that quality is not in short supply.

“Today, we saw how diverse gin really is,” said Rodriguez. “If you like whisky, try an aged gin or a genever; if you like vodka, there will be something in gin for you. There’s an impressive selection out there.”

Click through the following pages for the Gin Masters 2018 results in full.

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