The Speciality Masters 2019 results

6th November, 2019 by Amy Hopkins

Speciality spirits such as aquavit and absinthe have carved out a real niche for themselves in the industry. Add ready-to-drink expressions to this list and it meant our annual competition was full of surprises.

Many of the world’s more niche spirits categories, historically confined to local markets, are increasingly finding a global audience. Curious consumers who want to discover more about the tastes of other cultures are exploring spirits such as aquavit, grappa and cachaça, while bartenders are also embracing these ingredients to give their cocktails an exotic twist.

The Speciality Masters sought to shine a light on such categories, and in particular this year’s competition showed the growing prevalence of the ready‐to‐drink (RTD) sector. According to Nielsen figures, the RTD cocktail category grew by 40.7% last year, boosted by demand for flavours, lower‐ABV options and convenience.

As such, it came as no surprise that the Pre‐Mixed Drinks flight was the largest of the competition, which was judged by Nicola Thomson, director at Fifteen71; Derek Millar, retired whisky retailer; Dan Greifer, bartender at Ladies and Gents; and Melita Kiely, deputy editor of The Spirits Business, who chaired proceedings.

But before the panellists cracked open their bottles and cans, they awarded a Silver medal to Roots Distillery’s Chameleon Fruit Vodka – Cornel expression in the Fruit Eaux de Vie round. According to Thomson, the drink would “pair well with sushi” with its flavour of “cayenne pepper, green bell peppers and plum”, while Millar detected notes of anise on the finish.

In the next round, Absinthe, judges were impressed by Scotland’s Loch Ness Absinthe Blanche, which was awarded a Gold medal and was praised by the panel. “This was incredibly smooth and the alcohol was really well balanced,” enthused Greifer. “I loved the fact that it tasted of pure aniseed, with a lovely citrus note that cut through it.”

THE RISE OF AQUAVIT

Next came a category that has been tipped to be big in established spirits markets, hot on the heels of gin. Aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit known for its fresh botanical profile and dominant flavour of caraway. The flight produced a Gold medal for OP Anderson Aquavit by Altia, which was said to have “good flavour components and texture”. In particular, Thomson enjoyed the “green 64 tomato stalk note that carries through”. Also in the round, “grassy, fruity” Bivrost Aquavit and “zesty, complex” Bivrost Cask Aquavit won Silver medals.

Judges then turned their attention to a large flight of Pre‐Mixed Drinks, which produced an impressive 13 Gold medals and six Silvers. A highlight of the round was Gold medallist Single Estate Reposado Margarita by Tom Savano Cocktails, which was deemed to be “extremely well made” with notes of “fresh agave” on the nose, along with “pepperiness and a touch of smokiness” on the palate.

Millar also enjoyed the “great fruity flavours” of Bottleproof Cocktails’ Scaffa Orchard Edition, while Thomson described Striganov Vodka Crush Lemon Lime as a “very well balanced citrus drink”. For Greifer, Striganov Vodka Crush Guava and Striganov Vodka Crush Watermelon “stood out more than anything else in the round”, while Bottleproof’s pre‐mixed Negroni and Old Fashioned “really resembled the cocktails they were meant to be”.

Reflecting on the day’s round, the panel highlighted the improving quality of ready‐to‐ drink products. “Many of the pre‐mixed cocktails we tried were really solid – equivalent to the standard of bartender‐ made drinks in some places. I was pleasantly surprised,” said Greifer. Thomson also said the RTD drinks were “on the whole, very well balanced”, but noted that the higher‐ABV entrants generally scored more highly than the lower‐alcohol products.

Click through to the following page for the complete list of medal winners from The Speciality Masters 2019.

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