The DB & SB Spring Blind Tasting 2022 results
In our second annual Spring Blind Tasting event, the judges were bowled over by the range and quality of spirits on offer. But which took a coveted Master medal?
As the days become longer and flowers start to bloom in the Northern Hemisphere, we at The Spirits Business are looking forward to spring. It’s the perfect time to enjoy drinks in warmer weather, particularly as fresh produce is plentiful. It’s also a great time to launch seasonal spirits, and try new and refreshing tipples.
The Global Spirits Masters staged its second DB & SB Spring Blind Tasting in February, held in partnership with our sister title the drinks business. From pre‐mixed cocktails to Scotch and low‐and‐no options, the best products available on the market were assessed by an expert group of judges, who gathered at London venue Park Row for a day of tasting.
Chaired by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, the first panel comprised: Emilia Wrelton, bar manager at Electric House; and Dimitrios Gryparis, Wonderland Group head of bars at Park Row.
The second panel was chaired by Ivan Dixon, independent drinks consultant; with Elise Craft, co‐host of The Whisky Squad; and Kate Malczewski, freelance drinks writer, forming the panel.
Chairing the third panel was David T Smith, spirits consultant, writer and founder of the Craft Distilling Expo; who was joined by Dimple Athavia, founder of All Things Drinks; Sara Jane Davis, freelance spirits writer and founder of Negroni Club UK; and Derek Millar, retired whisky shop sales advisor.
The fourth and final panel comprised: chair Bernadette Pamplin, freelance spirits writer and founder of the Under the Ginfluence blog; Evan Prousaefs, bar manager and assistant general manager of Los Mochis restaurant in Notting Hill; and Alan Uresti, head of agave spirits at Annabel’s in London.
The first category to be assessed was vodka, with Royal Mash Vintage Vodka 2020 walking away with a Gold medal for its “lemon drop sweetness” and “lovely citrus”. Next up came a flight of gins, where the first Master medal of the day was discovered. The top accolade went to Highclere Castle Gin, which was lauded by Smith for its “fruity nose with berries, a little bit of sweetness, and good texture”.
Six Golds were also dished out, including Gravit8 Gin for its “slight caraway nose” and “pleasant complexity”, and Terlingham Bacchus Dry Gin with its “spicy coriander on the nose”. Seven Silver medals completed the flight.
Moving onto rum, and a selection of white rums were sampled. A Gold was given to Takamaka Rum Blanc, which offered “light tropical aromas” and would make a great Daiquiri or Piña Colada, according to Kiely. The judges then moved onto gold rums with two Golds awarded to Keepr’s Honey Infused Spice Rum and Lost Years Navy Strength.
Dixon praised the former for its notes of “vanilla, dried orange and clove with honey undertones”. Malczewski singled out the navy strength bottling for its “bright and tropical palate, with pineapple, papaya and the spike of alcohol that you’d expect from a navy strength without being overpowering”.
Melted burnt butterscotch
The final rum flight saw several dark rum variants put to the taste test. Judges deemed Takamaka Dark Spiced and Cuban rum Eminente worthy of Gold medals. The Takamaka bottling was praised by Craft for its palate of “melted burnt butterscotch ice cream and banoffee pie”.
The competition then progressed to Scotch, with blends put forward first. A Silver medal was given to The Sassenach, which impressed the judges with its “toffee fudge nose, lovely dates and woody aroma”.
A round of single malt Scotch whiskies saw four Golds go to “floral and bright” Nc’Nean Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky, “elegant and grassy” Benromach Contrasts: Organic, “sweet and smoky” Benromach Aged 15 Years and “treacle‐like and woody” Spiritfilled Mythical Beasts – Glenrothes 15 Years Old.
Speyside distillery Benromach also grabbed a Silver for its Aged 10 Years bottling. Wrelton said there were some “good Scotches” in the category but noted they were more for mixing. She highlighted the Glenrothes 15 Years Old as the standout. “It was distinguished among the others; it had a very good flavour profile,” she said.
The contest then moved from Scotland to Ireland. The Irish Whiskey – Blended flight saw a Master go to McConnell’s Irish Whiskey. Craft said the bottling was “a lovely example of the category and very drinkable”, while Malczewski called the whisky “approachable” with a nose of butterscotch and malty notes, and a “peppery bite on the finish and some lovely caramel character”. The flight ended with a Silver for Molly Malone Small Batch Whiskey.
One Irish single malt entrant, Limavady, grabbed a Gold, praised for its “rich and indulgent nose of vanilla, dried fruit and oak”. Dixon was impressed by the Irish whiskeys. He said: “These were very different styles of Irish whiskey; there’s something for everyone. All very drinkable and traditional without feeling old fashioned.”
The tasting moved on to American whiskeys from Tennessee, with Uncle Nearest securing two Masters and two Golds. Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition and Uncle Nearest 1820 Premium Single Barrel Whiskey – US‐53 were the worthy Master medallists. Prousaefs called the former a “very well‐ made spirit” with “incredibly complex aromas of vanilla, oak and coconut”.
The single barrel bottling had “beautiful honey and cream around the palate” with red fruit notes and cigar smoke on the finish, Pamplin said. The “rich and woody” Uncle Nearest 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey and Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey, with its “cream cinnamon on the nose”, took home Gold medals.
Next up was a flight of World Whisky, where three Master medals were discovered. The first was given to Aber Falls 2021 Single Malt Welsh Whisky. Athavia praised Aber Falls for its “luscious notes of bananas and tropical notes – lovely and soft and quite flavourful”. Mashiro Pure Malt Whisky was the second Master winner, which Davis called “custardy, slightly floral and almost dessert‐like on the nose, with zingy ginger and warm spice”.
Shin Blended Whisky Mizunara Oak Finish completed the trio of Master medallists. Millar noted it had a nose of “salty umami” with a light delicate palate and hints of smoke, honey, and spice on the finish. Three Golds were given to products from Japan: Masahiro Pure Malt Whisky 12 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Cask, Shinobu 10 Years Old Pure Malt Whisky Lightly Peated Mizunara Oak Finish and Shinobu Pure Malt Whisky Lightly Peated Mizunara Oak Finish.
The VS Cognac and brandy flight saw a Silver go to Martell VS, while its stablemate Martell VSOP secured a Gold medal in the next flight, Cognac and Brandy – VSOP. Martell VSOP was described as a “great entry‐level option” by Athavia, who applauded its “very aromatic palate with a hint of sweetness, lots of lovely notes of butterscotch, caramel, toasty and oaky notes without too much tannin or rancio notes”.
The Cognac and Brandy – Other round saw Martell secure an additional two Golds for its Cordon Bleu and Noblige expressions. Curu Rio Grande was awarded a Silver medal.
A flight of Speciality Spirits saw a Master go to Baldoria Vermouth Rosé. Wrelton enjoyed the “lovely orange and sweet spice aroma”, and recommended serving it neat over ice during the summer”. Kiely also noted its “floral aroma, lots of fruitiness and a hint of cinnamon spice on the palate”. Golds were handed to the “very sippable” Martell Blue Swift and Baldoria Vermouth Dry Umami, which had a “lovely mushroom aroma with herbal elements”. Two Silvers concluded the flight.
The following flight saw liqueurs put to the test. Four Golds were awarded to: Tobago Gold Rum Cream, Spirit of Aloha 65, Antique Pelinkovac and Villa Massa Limoncello. Pamplin said of the Tobago bottling: “There was mint chocolate on the nose. The mint is quite subtle on the palate, but some nutty vibes come through. The chocolate element is quite dark. A rich and delicious tipple.” Prousaefs enjoyed Spirit of Alohas 65’s notes of “pineapple and light ginger and lemon on the nose”.
Uresti called Antique Pelinkovac a “nice bitter liqueur with a strong herbal presence”. Pamplin said of Villa Massa Limoncello: “Quite sweet, bright and zingy. I would like a little more tartness but this is a solid limoncello.” Villa Massa’s Amaretto bottling secured a Silver medal.
The competition advanced to a tasting of cocktails and signature serves, with New London Light’s Shore Elevation serve grabbing a Gold medal. Davis praised the cocktail for being “lovely and creamy” and “sharp and citrusy” with notes of lemon sorbet. The serve combined alcohol‐free New London Light with green tea, sage syrup, lemon juice and aquafaba. Stablemate Start Point Gin grabbed a Silver for its Lady Alice serve.
Ready‐to‐drink and pre‐mixed products were the next flight to be assessed. A Master medal was bestowed upon Cucumber & Elderflower Eclipse from Pimentae Drinks, a 15% ABV blend of El Tequileño Blanco Tequila, cucumber, mint and elderflower.
Kiely lauded the expression for having “light elderflower and a touch of citrus on the nose. The elderflower is distinctive on the palate and complemented by fresh cucumber. The flavours are very well integrated, along with the Tequila that gives just enough bite from the alcohol. Approachable and delicious.”
Three Gold medals were also handed out to Kocktail Espresso Martini, The Hardscatto, and The Perfect Cosmo by SJP. The latter was praised by Prousaefs for its “distinctive aroma and flavour of orange and cranberry”, greatly resembling a Cosmopolitan cocktail. The round ended with six Silver medals.
Low and no
Next up was a lengthy Low & No Alcohol round, with an impressive six Master medals awarded. The first Master medallist, Lyre’s Apéritif Dry, was praised by Kiely for its “wine‐like quality” and “vermouth‐like aroma, which follows through to the palate”. Lyre’s Amalfi Spritz secured the next Master, impressing Prousaefs with its “clear and complex orange aroma” and “slight bitterness at the end”.
Clovendoe Sprout 24 also took the top accolade, described as a “lovely low‐ABV gin alternative” with notes of “black liquorice and aniseed” on the nose and “fragrant orange blossom” on the palate.
Pamplin enjoyed Master medallist Everleaf Mountain, saying: “ It had an incredible smell and flavour. Really complex and interesting with a lovely floral element that is quite balanced with its sweetness. Rich with lots of delicious jammy notes to get into.”
Stablemate Everleaf Forest was noted by Prousaefs as “very complex on the nose with vanilla and saffron. It’s very expressive on the palate as well, with sweetness and spices, then a slight bitterness at the aftertaste.” Haysmith’s Cucumber & Mint was the final Master medallist of the flight.
Pamplin said: “The mint is beautifully fresh on the nose. Freshly picked mint that has been rubbed through the fingers. On the palate it builds into an incredible spice.” A whopping 21 Gold medals were given in this flight, including alcohol‐free Sipsmith Free Glider, which impressed with its “clementine fizz candies on the nose, hints of hibiscus and unripe tropical fruit, passionfruit and mango” on the palate.
Other Gold medallists included Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso, lauded for its “flavours of wormwood, herbs, cloves and cinnamon”, Clovendoe Seed Zero, with its notes of dried rosemary and ginger, Lyre’s Italian Spritz, described as a “great long drink alternative”, and Three Spirit – Livener, with its “tropical aroma and distinctive guava on the nose”.
Fifteen Silver medals were also awarded in the round, including East Forged Black Tea & Yuzu, Caleño Dark & Spicy Tropical Non‐Alcoholic Spirit and Ceder’s Classic.
Dixon said of the low‐and‐no flight: “It was very strong and surprising as a category – a mix of classic twists and innovation. It’s exciting to taste such a general improvement within low/no. The products seemed to deliver more flavour, balance and complexity than experienced previously.”
The final round of the contest was Tonics & Mixers, with the final Master medal of the day going to Two Keys Pink Grapefruit. The expression was hailed for being “very refreshing” with notes of pink grapefruit and citrus, followed by a sweet finish. Actor Blake Lively’s mixer brand Betty Buzz secured one Gold for its Tonic Water and three Silvers in this flight.
With the competition over, judges reflected on the rounds, with the low‐and‐no alcohol round leaving a lasting impression.
Uresti said: “It’s a category that is rising, these samples are well executed and are offering more options to the public in terms of flavour and profile, which is very exciting.”
Wrelton added: “It’s interesting to see how much low/no variation there is; people are trying everything at this point. It’s also nice to see vermouth making a comeback, and good to see people experimenting more, and hopefully by the summer there will be more out there.”
|Royal Mash||Royal Mash Vintage Vodka 2020||Gold|
|Highclere Castle Spirits||Highclere Castle Gin||Master|
|William Grant & Sons||Hendrick’s Neptunia Gin||Gold|
|Gravit8 Gin||Gravit8 Gin||Gold|
|Tiger Gin||Tiger Gin||Gold|
|Terlingham Vineyard||Terlingham Bacchus Dry Gin||Gold|
|Thalmania Exim||Gay Hussar||Gold|
|Union Distillers||Two Birds Watermelon Gin||Gold|
|Gin 1689||1689 Pink Gin||Silver|
|Bartender Collective||Trade Secrets Irish Dry Gin||Silver|
|Union Distillers||Dodd’s Citrus & Spice Organic||Silver|
|Union Distillers||Two Birds Strawberry & Vanilla Gin||Silver|
|Union Distillers||English Heritage Organic Dry Gin||Silver|
|Union Distillers||Two Birds Rhubarb Gin||Silver|
|Wattshot||Wattshot – Gin and Cherry Blossom||Silver|
Rum – White
|Takamaka||Takamaka Rum Blanc||Gold|
Rum – Gold
|Union Distillers||Keepr’s Honey Infused Spiced Rum||Gold|
|Cane & Able Spirits||Lost Years Navy Strength||Gold|
|Compagnie des Indes||West Indes||Silver|
|Takamaka||Takamaka Rum Zenn||Silver|
Rum – Dark
|Takamaka||Takamaka Dark Spiced||Gold|
Scotch Whisky – Blended
|Sassenach Spirits||The Sassenach||Silver|
Scotch Whisky – Single Malt
|Nc’nean||Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky||Gold|
|The Benromach Distillery Company||Benromach Contrasts: Organic||Gold|
|The Benromach Distillery Company||Benromach Aged 15 Years||Gold|
|Spiritfilled||Spiritfilled Mythical Beasts – Glenrothes 15 Year Old||Gold|
|The Benromach Distillery Company||Benromach Aged 10 Years||Silver|
Irish Whiskey – Blended
|Belfast Distillery Company||McConnell’s Irish Whisky||Master|
|Molly Malone Whiskey||Molly Malone Small Batch Whiskey||Silver|
Irish Whiskey – Single Malt
American Whiskey – Tennessee
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition||Master|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest 1820 Premium Single Barrel Whiskey – US‐53||Master|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey||Gold|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey||Gold|
|Aber Falls Distillery||Aber Falls 2021 Single Malt Welsh Whisky||Master|
|Shin Group||Masahiro Pure Malt Whisky||Master|
|Shin Group||Shin Blended Whisky Mizunara Oak Finish||Master|
|Shin Group||Masahiro Pure Malt Whisky 12 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Cask||Gold|
|Shin Group||Shinobu 10 Years Old Pure Malt Whisky Lightly Peated Mizunara Oak Finish||Gold|
|Shin Group||Shinobu Pure Malt Whisky Lightly Peated Mizunara Oak Finish||Gold|
Cognac and Brandy – VS
|Martell & Co||Martell VS||Silver|
Cognac and Brandy – VSOP
|Martell & Co||Martell VSOP||Gold|
Cognac and Brandy – Other
|Martell & Co||Martell Cordon Bleu||Gold|
|Martell & Co||Martell Noblige||Gold|
|Southern Land||Curu Rio Grande||Silver|
|Earnest||Baldoria Vermouth Rosé||Master|
|Martell & Co||Martell Blue Swift||Gold|
|Earnest||Baldoria Vermouth Dry Umami||Gold|
|Nc’nean||Nc’nean Organic Botanical Spirit||Silver|
|Badel 1862||Badel Hrvatska Stara Šljivovica Premium Selection||Silver|
|Tobago Gold||Tobago Gold – Rum Cream||Gold|
|Big Wave Brands||Spirit of Aloha 65||Gold|
|Badel 1862||Antique Pelinkovac||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Limoncello||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Amaretto||Silver|
Cocktail & Signature Serve
|Salcombe Distilling Co||New London Light – Shore Elevation||Gold|
|Salcombe Distilling Co||Start Point – Lady Alice||Silver|
RTD & Pre‐Mixed
|Pimentae||Cucumber & Elderflower Eclipse||Master|
|Kocktail||Kocktail Espresso Martini||Gold|
|Thomas Ashbourne||The Hardscatto||Gold|
|Thomas Ashbourne||The Perfect Cosmo by SJP||Gold|
|Tea Venture||Noveltea Celebrate||Silver|
|Pimentae||Tommy’s Chilli Margarita||Silver|
|In The Loop Drinks||Popcorn Rumhattan||Silver|
|NIO Cocktails UK||Sidecar||Silver|
|Thomas Ashbourne||The Classic Old Fashioned||Silver|
|Thomas Ashbourne||The Margalicious Margarita||Silver|
Low & No Alcohol
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Apéritif Dry||Master|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Amalfi Spritz||Master|
|Clovendoe Distilling Company||Clovendoe Sprout 24||Master|
|Everleaf Drinks||Everleaf Mountain||Master|
|Everleaf Drinks||Everleaf Forest||Master|
|Aldi||Haysmith’s Cucumber & Mint||Master|
|Pernod Ricard||Ceder’s Crisp||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Coffee Originale||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Dark Cane Spirit||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Italian Orange||Gold|
|Sipsmith||Sipsmith Free Glider||Gold|
|Aldi||Haysmith’s Rhubarb & Ginger 0.0%||Gold|
|Clovendoe Distilling Company||Clovendoe Stem Zero||Gold|
|Clovendoe Distilling Company||Clovendoe Seed Zero||Gold|
|Clovendoe Distilling Company||Clovendoe Sprout Zero||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s American Malt||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Apéritif Rosso||Gold|
|Clovendoe Distilling Company||Clovendoe Seed 24||Gold|
|Clovendoe Distilling Company||Clovendoe Stem 24||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Italian Spritz||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Dark ‘N’ Spicy||Gold|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s American Malt & Cola||Gold|
|Beyond Alcohol||Three Spirit – Livener||Gold|
|Beyond Alcohol||Three Spirit – Nightcap||Gold|
|Caleño Drinks||Caleño Dark & Spicy Tropical Non‐Alcoholic Spirit||Silver|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s White Cane Spirit||Silver|
|East Forged||East Forged Post Fermented Green Tea & Pitaya||Silver|
|East Forged||East Forged Black Tea & Yuzu||Silver|
|Pernod Ricard||Ceder’s Rose||Silver|
|Pernod Ricard||Ceder’s Classic||Silver|
|Everleaf Drinks||Everleaf Marine||Silver|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Spiced Cane||Silver|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Agave Reserva Spirit||Silver|
|Pernod Ricard||Ceder’s Wild||Silver|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Pink London Spirit||Silver|
|Beyond Alcohol||Three Spirit – Social Elixir||Silver|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Agave Blanco Spirit||Silver|
|Lyre’s||Lyre’s Orange Sec||Silver|
|East Forged||East Forged White Tea & Calamansi||Silver|
Tonic & Mixer
|Two Keys||Two Keys Pink Grapefruit||Master|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Tonic Water||Gold|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Sparkling Lemon Lime||Silver|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Sparkling Grapefruit||Silver|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Meyer Lemon Club Soda||Silver|