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The Spirits Business’s Taste Masters 2018

Our 2018 Spirits Masters competitions highlighted the best drinks that the industry has to offer. We re-tasted some of the highest scoring expressions to select a list of revered Taste Masters.

The standard of entries in The Global Spirits Masters was higher than ever in 2018, with a great number of medals awarded to deserving brands.

In total, more than 1,000 Silver, Gold and Master accolades were given out, and among the top scorers, a select number of Taste Masters were named.

At the end of each round in The Global Spirits Masters, a group of esteemed judges re-­tastes each Master winner, then selects their top three favourites. The chairperson then tallies up the scores and names a ‘best in class’ expression from the competition – these are the Taste Masters.

The Taste Master trophies were presented during The Spirits Business’s Global Spirits Masters Awards Lunch at Frederick’s in London, where the great and the good of the industry gathered to celebrate the success of their peers.

“The Taste Masters demonstrate exceptional quality of liquid, and have been identified by some of the world’s top tasters as category-leading expressions,” says Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business and chair of The Global Spirits Masters. “It’s fair to say that under the scrutiny of such diligent judges, success of this level is hard won, and therefore thoroughly deserved.”

Over the following pages, we profile each 2018 Taste Master.

Tequila Herradura Plata

Tequila & Mezcal Taste Master 2018

In the Ultra Premium Blanco round of last year’s Tequila & Mezcal Masters, the Master-winning Herradura Plata was praised for its “many layers”.

“I thought this was incredibly well balanced,” said one judge, who likened the expression’s flavour to a cherry brioche. One of only three Masters in the blind-­tasting competition, Plata also impressed judges with its “notes of rose petals and cooked agave”. The competition accessed categories ranging from premium añejo to flavoured Tequila, and mixto blanco to reposado mezcal.

Founded by Félix López, Herradura has been producing super-­premium 100% agave Tequila at the Hacienda San José del Refugio since 1870. Brown­Forman’s Herradura Plata is crafted using 100% blue agave and is aged in American white oak barrels for 45 days. The horseshoe on the bottle – herradura in Spanish – is an ancient symbol of good fortune and protection.

Maison la Mauny VSOP 40°

Rum & Cachaça Taste Master 2018

Held at The Rum Kitchen in London’s Notting Hill, The Rum & Cachaça Masters 2018 saw judges taste expressions in categories spanning cachaça, overproof, agricole and ultra­-premium. The Rhum Agricole – Aged flight produced a Master medal for Groupe BBS’s Maison la Mauny VSOP 40°. One judge said: “This was close to… perfect.”

The competition awarded 13 Master medals, and for each expression judges must have agreed a score of 90% or above – a sign that producers are paying close attention to the quality of their liquid. Judges noted the excellence among gold, agricole and spiced entries, and highlighted them as exciting categories to watch in the future.

Bottled at 40% abv, Maison la Mauny VSOP 40° is a blend of rums that have been aged for four years in oak casks – 60% French barrels and 40% American ex­Bourbon barrels. It is described as “rich and complex” with spiced floral notes and hints of tobacco.

Purity Vodka 34

Asian Spirits Taste Master 2018

The Asian Spirits Masters put expressions available in Asian markets to the test, spanning vodka, Tequila, gin, Scotch and world whisky.

Judges noted the variety of styles and flavour nuances exhibited during the day, as well as the reasonable prices of some of the expressions on offer. Swedish vodka producer Purity’s success was extensive throughout the competition, and the brand secured no fewer than 24 medals in numerous vodka sub­categories.

In the Organic Vodka round, the “very smooth and well balanced” Purity Vodka 34, along with stablemate Purity Vodka 51, grabbed a Master medal.

“I loved the mouthfeel of this vodka,” one judge said of Purity Vodka 34. “I loved the development of salinity juxtaposed with vanilla. It’s super luxurious.”

Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise Crystal Decanter

Cognac Taste Master 2018

The Cognac Masters 2018 awarded seven Master medals across all categories, with the top Taste Master accolade going to Hermitage Cognac Marie Louise Crystal Decanter in the Vintage – Single Estate round.

The expression offered “hints of sulphur, burnt peach/almond” on the nose, leading to “vanilla, ginger, orange” sweetness on the palate. One judge said: “When Cognac is done well, it is exceptionally good at ageing.”

Of the competition, a member of the panel said: “This Masters, which I haven’t seen in others, was a very solid, consistent competition, where we saw a certain standard presented across every flight.”

Produced by Hermitage Cognacs, the expression is a 60­-year-­old Grande Champagne. It was released in a limited run of 50 decanters produced by Cumbria Crystal, the last producer of completely hand­blown and hand-­cut, full­-lead, luxury English crystal in the UK. The expression was released in November 2017, priced at £1,732 (US$2,186).

Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy

Brandy Taste Master 2018

From Armagnac to South African pot still and Spanish to French, the Brandy Masters 2018 showed that there is a wide array of high­-quality fruit-­based expressions on the market.

The only Master medallist in the competition was bestowed upon Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy in the Fruit Brandies round. It achieved the top accolade in a competition that had more than 40 other medallists.

The 25.4% abv expression is made with sweet and sour cherry varieties “to give optimal sour­-cherry flavour”, and VSOP and XO Cognacs.

“It tastes genuinely of cherries, has real complexity and there’s cherry tartness to balance the liqueur level of sugar,” one judge said. Another expert praised the product’s quality: “It’s an over­saturated market of people doing this the wrong way, but this shows how to do it the right way. They’ve not compromised. It’s robust, full of flavour.”

Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old

Scotch Whisky Taste Master 2018

Nineteen entrants walked away with the Master accolade in our comprehensive Scotch Whisky Masters, but it was Distell’s Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old that grabbed the ultimate prize.

The competition assessed drams spanning all regions, varieties, ages and prices on the quality of the liquid alone.

In the Aged 19­-30 Years Islay round, Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old was described as “slightly hot” with a “soft and fruity palate” that gave way to a “rancio end”.

The competition demonstrated that “price and age are not necessarily synonymous with ‘better quality’”.

Produced by South African drinks group Distell, Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old has been fully matured in ex­-Sherry casks and bottled at 46.4% abv. Described as “sweet and spiced” with an “unmistakeable salty sea air influence”, the whisky is non­-chill­-filtered and bottled without colouring.

The Melbourne Gin Company Single Shot

Gin Taste Master 2018

Last year’s Gin Masters competition saw an impressive number of medals awarded, with the count in 2018 four times what it was five years ago.

Ultra Premium proved to be one of the strongest rounds of the day, resulting in 12 Golds and 10 Silvers. One of two Masters in the flight, The Melbourne Gin Company’s Single Shot, was applauded for its “excellent botanical recipe” and “good length”. One judge called the gin “big and flavoursome”, and loved the bold nose of lemon and orange peel.

The gin is made in a single distillation. Seven botanicals were selected for use, including juniper berries, orange peel, angelica root, Australian bergamot, cardamom pods, Tasmania leatherwood honey and lavender.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

American Whiskey Taste Master 2018

One of only three Master medallists in the American Whiskey Masters 2018, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked was praised for its notes of “espresso”, “nuts”, “black pepper” and “barbecue” in the Bourbon – Super Premium round.

Spanning rye, corn, wheat, Bourbon and single malts, the competition proved that distillers have been upping their game when it comes to quality.

Produced by Brown-­Forman, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked has been matured in two separate white oak barrels.

The first barrel is crafted from oak that has been seasoned outdoors for nine months and is completely toasted and charred on the inside.

The second barrel has been toasted for more than twice as long as the first barrel and is then very lightly charred.

The 90.4 proof (45.2% abv) Bourbon, which launched in 2012, became Woodford Reserve’s first permanent line extension.

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy

Irish Whiskey Taste Master 2018

In total, 12 expressions walked away with the Master title in the 2018 Irish Whiskey Masters, demonstrating the quality and growing diversity of the category.

The strongest round of the day, Single Pot Still – Ultra Premium, awarded three Master medals, including one to Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, which was said to “taste like golden fruit, laden with honey”.

Launched in 2011 by Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers unit, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy was named after the Midleton master distiller at the time. It was introduced as part of the firm’s relaunched range of pot still whiskeys, and was the first permanent Midleton single pot still Irish whiskey to join the range.

Bottled at 46% abv, the whiskey combines Bourbon cask-­matured liquid with some whiskey from a new American oak barrel. Aged for 12 years, the expression is non-chill­-filtered.

Sullivans Cove American Oak Single Cask HH0317

World Whisky Taste Master 2018

Looking beyond the traditional whisky producing regions of Scotland, Ireland and the US, The World Whisky Masters 2018 celebrated expressions from Scandinavia, Italy, Wales, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia and beyond.

It was Australian distillery Sullivans Cove that grabbed the Master accolade, along with two other products. The producer’s American Oak Single Cask HH0317 impressed with its “herbaceous, salty and sweet” flavours of “apricot, vanilla and honeysuckle” in the Australasia Single Malt – Super Premium flight.

This single malt Tasmanian whisky was bottled from a single American oak cask that had previously been filled with Bourbon.

Distilled from 100% Tasmanian barley in Sullivans Cove’s 2,500­litre pot still, this whisky was laid down in the early days of the business and aged for more than 17 years – making it one of only a handful of casks left from that era, and one of the oldest Australian whiskies ever bottled.

SMWS Cask No. 76.137 Complete Nirvana

Luxury Spirits Taste Master 2018

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s (SWMS) Cask No. 76.137 Complete Nirvana secured a Master in the Luxury Masters 2018 for its flavours of “grass, pear, citrus, ginger and cooked banana”.

The competition aims to reward those brands in the super­-premium and ultra-premium sectors that have produced liquid worthy of a lofty price. One member of the judging panel said of Complete Nirvana: “It was really nice to see something that isn’t a Sherry bomb do so well; sometimes it’s a bit easy to rest on that. This was a really oily, satisfying whisky.”

The 30­-year-old expression has been matured in a refill ex­-Bourbon hogshead cask and is limited to 180 bottles. It is bottled at 50.5% abv, was distilled on 22 September 1987 and is sweet, fruity and mellow.

Just Another Vodka

Vodka Taste Master 2018

One of 11 Master winners in the Vodka Masters 2018 competition, Just Another Vodka walked away with the top accolade in the Microdistillery flight. Described as “complex and distinct”, one judge said of the round: “If you’re looking for something different, microdistillery is the place to go to.” From standard to super­-premium, organic to smooth, the competition ranked entries from producers of all scales. Produced at the Netherlands­-based Eaglesburn Distillery, Just Another Vodka is made with pure grain alcohol, water filtered through Veluwe sand, and a 14ml drop of Eaglesburn Distillery Dry Gin. The addition of gin is said to give the vodka a “softer taste” and floral notes. The vodka’s name is inspired by the United States Secret Service, which referred to its rifles as ‘Just Another Rifle’. As well as vodka, Eaglesburn Distillery produces barrel-­aged dry gin, cask­-aged rum, navy strength gin and a strawberry-flavoured liqueur.

Jack Daniel’s Bottled In Bond

Travel Retail Taste Master 2018

The Travel Retail Masters exemplified class and diversity across a number of categories including Scotch, American whiskey, rum and gin.

In the American Whiskey Travel Retail-Exclusive round, Jack Daniel’s Bottled In Bond was awarded a Master medal for its “incredibly smooth” profile and flavour of “desiccated coconut”. One judge said the whiskey was “well made and traditional, but so contemporary at the same time”.

Produced by US drinks company Brown-Forman, Jack Daniel’s Bottled In Bond adheres to the Bottled in Bond Act, which was passed into law by The United States Congress 1897.

The act requires whiskeys to be aged for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof (50% abv) at one distillery within a single season. The expression is available in a one­-litre bottle format in select duty free outlets.

Giffard Rhubarb Liqueur

Liqueur Taste Master 2018

Nine Masters were given to a number of brands in The Liqueur Masters 2018, demonstrating that liqueurs are more than just a way to add sweetness to cocktails.

In the Fruit Liqueurs round, Giffard’s Rhubarb Liqueur was deemed Master­-worthy for its likeness to “rhubarb and custard sweets” and “full mouthfeel”.

Produced by French liqueurs and syrups maker Giffard, the expression is made from an infusion of green and red rhubarb chunks and is bottled at 20% abv.

It was created following a boom in rhubarb-­flavoured spirits and mixers. The flavour can be found at some of the world’s leading bars, according to Giffard, including The Savoy’s American Bar and Dandelyan in London, The Clumsies in Athens, and Dead Rabbit in New York.

Recommended served in a Rhubarb Collins, the expression is said to “achieve a perfect balance between tart and sweet”.

Joseph Cartron Poire Williams

Speciality Spirits Taste Master 2018

One of only two Masters in the competition, Joseph Cartron Poire Williams was commended for its notes of “pear, mint, grape and grappa” in the Fruit Eaux­-de­-Vie flight. One judge said: “It’s got a nice sweetness that drops off into dryness. I get pear and melon skins, and it’s dusty in a really nice way – exactly what eaux-­de-­vie is to me.”

The expression is produced from pears grown in the Burgundy terroirs of the Hautes Côtes de Beaune and the Monts du Lyonnais near Lyon, France.

The orchards where the pears are grown are bought in their entirety. The fruits are picked, brought to maturity, crushed and fermented at the fruit farm.

Fermentation takes place in vats and lasts for several weeks. The distillers separate the first and last runnings from the core of the distillation, which is kept at an alcohol volume of about 50%. The eaux­-de­-vie is then aged in an attic for between two and five years before blending is carried out.

Salcombe Gin ‘Mischief’: A collaboration with Mark Hix MBE

Design & Packaging ‘Best in class’ 2018

Master winner Salcombe Gin ‘Mischief’ was deemed by one judge as being “outstanding” in the Design & Packaging Masters 2018.

The competition – sponsored by capsulated natural cork stopper range Amorim Top Series – assessed entries on appearance alone. ‘Mischief’ gin is produced by English gin brand Salcombe Gin. It is the second expression in the Salcombe Gin Voyager Series, a collection of limited edition gins, developed in collaboration with a world-renowned chef or winemaker.

Named ‘Mischief’, after one of the famous Salcombe Fruit Schooners, the expression has been created in collaboration with English chef Mark Hix.

Limited to 1,200 bottles, the gin is presented in a white ceramic bottle featuring an embossed outline of the iconic gin pennant and a bespoke debossed copper stopper commissioned for the series. An intricate magnetic box contains the bottle.

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