SB’s best-performing spirits companies of 2021By Melita Kiely
In each of our Global Spirits Masters competitions the company that wins the most number of medals is awarded the title of Grand Master. These are the producers that secured the accolade in last year’s tastings.
The Global Spirits Masters blind-tasting series achieved its biggest year to date in 2021.
A total of 21 rounds were held throughout the year, alongside two additional seasonal tastings in partnership with The Spirits Business’ sister title, the drinks business: The DB & SB Spring Blind Tasting and The DB & SB Autumn Blind Tasting. A number of new competitions joined the fold last year, including The Low & No Masters, The Hard Seltzer Masters and The Cocktail & Signature Serve Masters.
Many of these trends have been driven by changes in consumer demand because of the pandemic, creating a surge in new product development and exciting tastings for The Global Spirits Masters’ judges.
After each iteration of the competition, the individual medals awarded to each company were tallied up, with different weightings awarded to Silver, Gold and Master medals. The company that generated the highest number of points in each round was selected to be the Grand Master of its respective category.
From the 2021 list, it’s clear to see that it’s not just the big players that are dominating the spirits scene; up‐and‐coming, fledgling brands are also proving their worth and taking home multiple medals for top-quality products.
It’s the ultimate seal of approval for products because the competition is judged by leading independent judges with no brand affiliations, who enter the tasting with no brand information – meaning success is based solely on the liquid inside the bottle (bar The Design & Packaging Masters).
“Each Grand Master winner has demonstrated a sound commitment to quality in their respective fields,” said Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business. “It’s been fantastic to see this continue despite the pandemic, and I look forward to seeing what fresh innovation comes to the table in 2022.”
Here, we highlight each Grand Master winner from the 2021 series.
For the best-tasting spirit from each competition, check out our round-up of 2021’s Taste Master winners.
Low & No Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 4
With so many low‐ and no‐alcohol offerings coming to market, 2021 seemed like the perfect year to launch The Low & No Masters. The competition aimed to assess the lower‐alcohol and booze‐free options on the market.
Curated Beverages wowed the judges with four medal‐worthy bottlings: Abstinence Cape Spice, Abstinence Cape Citrus, Abstinence Cape Fynbos, and Abstinence Blood Orange Aperitif. The Abstinence range hails from South Africa, and is thought to be the country’s first alcohol‐free brand. The range comprises two apéritifs and four ‘spirits’ in total.
Tequila & Mezcal Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 6
Agave‐based spirits keep growing in popularity. Off‐trade Tequila sales in the UK during the 12 months to 11 September 2021 grew by double digits.
Paradise Spirits, producer of the El Tequileño Tequila range, was crowned The Tequila & Mezcal Grand Master after securing six medals in last year’s competition.
The company accrued the greatest number of points with its medal‐worthy: El Tequileño Blanco, El Tequileño Platinum, El Tequileño Reposado, El Tequileño Reposado Gran Reserva, El Tequileño Añejo Gran Reserva, and El Tequileño Reposado Rare.
Groupe BBS – Campari
Rum & Cachaça Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 7
The Rum & Cachaça Masters is one of the largest competitions in The Global Spirits Masters series. The judges assessed everything from spiced to overproof, flavoured and super‐premium-and‐above expressions.
Winning the highest number of points in the tasting was Groupe BBS, owned by Campari Group, which garnered seven medals.
The judges were impressed by medalwinners Trois Rivières Cuvée de l’Océan, Maison La Mauny XO, Maison La Mauny VSOP, Trois Rivières VSOP, Trois Rivières Triple Millésime 99‐00‐10 and Trois Rivières Blanc 50°.
Tonic & Mixer Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 7
As imbibers look for more premium offerings from their spirits, the tonic waters and mixers they’re paired with are also being more closely scrutinised.
Today, there are a number of premium tonic and mixer brands available, and our dedicated blind tasting sought to reward the best on offer.
Germany’s Thomas Henry bagged the top accolade with seven medals. Among the brand’s most notable medals were a Master for Thomas Henry Tonic Water in a round of Indian tonic waters. The brand’s Botanical mixer also picked up a Master award in the Tonic Water – Other round.
Cognac Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 5
Expectations are always high going into The Cognac Masters blind tastings – and last year’s edition did not disappoint.
Taking the title of Cognac Grand Master 2021 is Camus, which received five medals during the tasting. Camus Extra picked up a Gold medal in the No Age Statement – Ultra Premium heat. Meanwhile, Camus XO collected the top award in the XO – Super Premium contingent.
Five generations have been carefully creating Cognac at Camus since 1863. The brand claims its unique production method results in Cognacs that are seven times more aromatic than regularly distilled expressions.
Brandy Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 8
With eight medals under its belt, Distell’s highest accolade went to Van Ryns Single Pot Still Brandy Aged 10 Years, which collected a Master in the South African – Pot Still Aged 10‐12 Years heat. Stablemate Van Ryns Single Pot Still Brandy Aged 12 Years secured a Gold medal in the same category. Three additional Golds and three Silvers were also awarded across Distell’s brandy portfolio.
Asian Spirits Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 7
During The Asian Spirits Masters, the competition gives its attention to products made in Asia. Categories span everything from gin and vodka to whisky and rum. But securing the coveted Grand Master medal is BBC Spirits, which collected seven medals for its broad portfolio of products.
The company’s gins fared particularly well, with three Gold medals awarded to Etsu Orange Gin, Etsu Double Yuzu and Etsu Japanese Gin. Tokyo Night Rum and Kiyomi White Rum also picked up Gold and Silver medals, respectively.
Hard Seltzer Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 4
Alcoholic sparkling waters have been a runaway success in the US, and have started rapidly expanding overseas. As such, it felt like the appropriate time to launch The Hard Seltzer Masters in 2021.
Distributor Proximo Spirits entered four hard seltzers into the competition last year, and walked away with the inaugural Hard Seltzer Grand Master title.
Master medallist Jose Cuervo Playamar Grapefruit impressed in the Spirit‐Based Hard Seltzer flight, as did Gold‐winning Jose Cuervo Playamar Mango, Jose Cuervo Playamar Black Cherry, and Jose Cuervo Playamar Lime.
Scotch Whisky Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 23
Scotch whisky is always a monster competition in The Global Spirits Masters series.
Despite the challenges the category has had to contend with – tariffs, Brexit and a global pandemic – producers have continued to bottle top‐quality liquid, as was evidenced in last year’s tasting. Distell delivered 23 medal‐worthy whiskies, and rightly claimed its position as Scotch Whisky Grand Master 2021.
Among its Master‐winning entries was Black Bottle Double Cask Blended Scotch Whisky, which had “intense fruit and spiced sponge cake” on the nose and palate.
Gin Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 21
Swedish distillery Hernö has a track record of exceptional gins. Last year’s Gin Masters was so vast the competition had to be divided into two instalments to give brands enough time and space to enter. But winning the Grand Master accolade was Hernö Distillery, which won an impressive 21 medals in the competition.
Notable wins included a Master medal for Hernö Navy Strength Gin and a Master award for Hernö Old Tom Gin. Last year, Hernö’s founder planned a national Gin & Tonic Day in Sweden to coincide with the brand’s anniversary. The Gin Masters 2021 blind tasting was sponsored by Bevica.
American Whiskey Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 26
A leader in American whiskey, it was unsurprising to see Sazerac Company secure The American Whiskey Grand Master title for 2021.
US firm Sazerac took home medals for a broad selection of whiskeys, including premium, super‐premium and ultra-premium Bourbons, and super‐premium and ultra-premium rye whiskeys.
The producer’s Benchmark Bourbon brand cleaned up nicely in the Bourbon – Premium heat, winning a trio of Master awards for Benchmark Small Batch, Benchmark Bonded and Benchmark Full Proof. Sazerac’s history
Irish Whiskey Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 30
Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers arm is the undisputed titan of Irish whiskey.
Last year, the producer secured the Grand Master award after winning 30 medals in The Irish Whiskey Masters. Master medals for the group included one for Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength, and a second for Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest.
Last November, Irish Distillers revealed plans to invest €13 million (US$14.7m) to redevelop the Midleton Distillery visitor experience in County Cork, which is expected to be completed by 2025. It will feature bar and restaurant facilities.
World Whisky Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 29
Kavalan is putting Taiwanese whisky on the map. The producer continues to find success in The Global Spirits Masters with its high-quality whiskies – and was crowned World Whisky Grand Master 2021.
Kavalan secured 29 medals in the Asia (excluding Japan and India) – Single Malt flight. The whisky also received the Taste Master accolade in recognition of Kavalan Solist PX Sherry Single Cask Strength.
Other Master‐worthy whiskies included Kavalan Oloroso Sherry Oak Single Malt and Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength.
Vodka Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 10
Vodka has been on an evolutionary journey over the past decade, from sickly sweet flavours to classic, neutral styles, and lighter, more natural flavours.
Proving how vodka can be done well in last year’s Vodka Masters was Anora Group, which secured 10 medals and The Vodka Grand Master accolade. The medal haul included a Master for Koskenkorva Vodka Organic. Koskenkorva Vodka Sauna Barrel, Koskenkorva Vodka Lemon Lime Yarrow, and Koskenkorva Vodka 7 Botanicals were among the Gold winners.
Nordic drinks firms Altia and Arcus merged to become Anora Group in September 2021.
Travel Retail Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 11
As worldwide travel restrictions started to ease in 2021, the global travel retail channel became an important shopping portal once again.
Last year’s Travel Retail Grand Master, Sazerac, boasts an impressive line‐up of products in the channel. Its Master medal haul included this year’s Travel Retail Taste Master, 1792 Small Batch, and stablemates 1792 Bottled in Bond and 1792 Full Proof. Sazerac’s Thomas S Moore Port Finished took away a Gold medal in the competition, along with Thomas S Moore Chardonnay Finished Bourbon.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Luxury Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 8
In The Luxury Masters, the judges set out to assess the standard of spirits that can be found in the super‐premium‐and‐above price brackets.
Proving its liquid was of the utmost quality was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), which was declared The Luxury Grand Master 2021.
SMWS received two Master medals in the Scotch Whisky: Single Malt – Super Premium flight, and the Scotch Whisky: Single Malt – Ultra Premium round. In the latter heat, the Master awards went to 76.145 – A beautiful, bountiful beast, and 29.269 – It rubs the lotion on its skin.
Liqueur Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 11
A rise in at‐home cocktails and a penchant for lower‐alcohol serves have breathed new life into the liqueurs category. The sweeter tipples have found favour among consumers looking for intriguing flavours to enhance their drinking experiences.
Impressing in The Liqueur Masters 2021 was Intercontinental Brands, which picked up 11 medals and The Liqueur Grand Master award.
A flurry of Gold medals were bestowed to Intercontinental Brands’ Palm Beach Pineapple & Salted Caramel Rum Liqueur, Palm Beach Banana & Butterscotch Rum Liqueur, and Palm Beach Mango & Passion Fruit Rum Liqueur in the Fruit flight.
Speciality Spirits Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 4
Speciality drinks such as vermouths and bitters have benefitted from the rise in at‐home cocktail making.
In The Speciality Spirits Masters 2021, Oslo Håndverksdestilleri received four Gold medals, which landed the producer with the title of Speciality Grand Master. The four Gold medals were presented to: Akevitt Teeling Whiskey Casks; Juleakevitt; Akevitt Blank; and Oslo Håndverksdestilleri Akevitt.
Established in 2015, Oslo Håndverksdestilleri was co‐founded by Marius Vestnes of Cask Norway, Marcin Miller of Number One Drinks, and Martin Krajewski.
Independent Distillers Canada
Pre‐Mixed & RTD Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 9
Ready‐to‐drink (RTD) tipples have rocketed in popularity over the past two years as the on‐trade was shuttered, and consumers turned to outdoor drinking occasions. RTDs give convenience and affordability in one neat little package. But what about the quality of the liquid?
Proving it has high‐standard liquid was The Pre‐Mixed & RTD Grand Master 2021, Independent Distillers Canada.
The producer accrued nine medals during the competition, including a Master for Dos Locos Tequila Seltzer Strawberry Lime, and a Gold for Vodka Mudshake Salted Caramel.
Pur Sang Vodka
Cocktail & Signature Serve Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 9
Making cocktails at home was one of the key trends to emerge from the Covid‐19 pandemic. Therefore it was fitting to launch The Cocktail & Signature Serve Masters in 2021.
Rising to the occasion to secure the first Cocktail & Signature Serve Grand Master award was Pur Sang Vodka, which collected nine medals in total.
Among the brand’s award‐winning cocktail recipes was Pur Sang Select Recipe No.7, which bagged a Master medal. The brand also won four Gold and four Silver medals.
Stranger & Stranger
Design & Packaging Grand Master 2021
Number of medals: 10
In contrast with all other Global Spirits Masters rounds, The Design & Packaging Masters was not judged on taste, but by aesthetics. Not only did the judges take into account the look and feel of a bottle, but its sustainability credentials were also carefully considered as part of the judging.
Design agency Stranger & Stranger continued to push boundaries, and impressed the panel with its thought‐provoking, beautiful designs, which secured it the title of Design & Packaging Grand Master 2021.
The Design & Packaging Masters 2021 was sponsored by Amorim Top Series.
Overall Grand Spirit Master 2021
Number of medals throughout the year: 69
Each year, The Global Spirits Masters awards an Overall Grand Spirit Master trophy to the company that generates the highest number of points throughout the year.
In 2021, that award was bestowed upon French drinks giant Pernod Ricard. The Overall Grand Spirit Master received 69 medals over a number of competitions, succeeding in everything from The Irish Whiskey Masters to the biggest blind tasting in the series, The Gin Masters.
There should be more intriguing products to come from Pernod Ricard – particularly with the recent opening of its Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery in China.