The Asian Spirits Masters 2022 resultsBy Melita Kiely
Asian producers are taking traditionally Western spirits and putting their own distinctive twists on them, with remarkable results, as our annual blind-tasting competition shows.
From food and drink to fashion and technology, Asia has long been looked to as a continent of inspiration. The Asian spirits scene has ignited innovation in Western producers, who have added their own spins on historical specialities, such as baijiu, shōchū and soju. Similarly, Asian producers have taken spirits more commonly associated with the west, and added their own creative flair to gin, vodka and rum.
This year’s Asian Spirits Masters returned to its usual in‐person format, and took place at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s new bar and restaurant, The Aubrey. Entries were packed and shipped anonymously by Sensible to ensure each sample was assessed based purely on the liquid in the glass.
A panel of four judges took on the day’s tasting, including: Dimple Athavia, founder of All Things Drinks; Evan Prousaefs, bar manager and assistant general manager of Los Mochis in Notting Hill, London; and Pietro Rizzo, bar director at The Aubrey. Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business and chair of The Global Spirits Masters, chaired the tasting.
As previously touched upon, gin has been growing in popularity in Asia – and there are now myriad Asian versions on the market. From classic styles to expressions celebrating the vibrancy of Asian ingredients, there was a great deal to explore in this heat.
The opening flight produced a worthy Master medallist: Ki No Tea. The Japanese dry gin was found to offer “light tea aromas” and was “fresh and fragrant”. Upon sipping, the judges found a “woody dryness from the tea” complemented by “aromatic spices”. “The higher ABV holds up well; very interesting and different,” the judges noted. Rizzo said: “The tea is there, it’s also fruity and well balanced, and stands out on the palate.”
Eight Gold medallists also left a lasting impression on the judges. Stranger & Sons Gin from Third Eye Distillery bagged a coveted Gold award. The gin was hailed for its “vibrant juniper nose, lots of citrus”, with a “juniper‐led palate, sweet liquorice and a little herbal spice”. “Round and full of flavour, this would make a deliciously complex G&T,” the judges agreed.
BBC Spirits secured three Gold medals in this flight, one of which went to Etsu Double Orange Japanese Gin. The spirit delivered “sweet mandarin” aromas, and was “nicely balanced”. Gold‐winning Etsu Pacific Ocean Water Japanese Gin was “salty and intriguing”, and would “make a delicious Martini”, according to the judges. A Gold was also given to Etsu Japanese Gin, enjoyed for its “citrus” palate, full of “lime zest and lemon peel”.
Gold medals were also awarded to “rounded, smooth and complex” Royal Sedang Gin, “juniper and citrus‐forward” Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin, and higher‐ABV Ki No Bi Sei, described as a “classic, citrusy gin”. Botani’s Tanglin Singapore Gin also took Gold. “There was a great standard across the board,” noted Prousaefs.
Athavia agreed, and added: “Asian gins seem to be finding their identity. There are some very balanced gins, with lovely Asian touches – and even just a few years ago that wasn’t necessarily the case. It was a very strong round.”
Time for whisky
Moving on to Japanese whisky, and three Gold medals were awarded – all to BBC Spirits‐owned bottlings. A Silver was handed out too. Fuyu Blended Japanese Whisky secured Gold for its “silky texture” and “sweet vanilla, Bourbon‐esque notes” that shone through on the palate.”
Hinotori Blended Japanese Whisky – 5 Years Old also won a Gold medal. The whisky was found to give “tropical notes on the nose, light grapefruit, apricot and mango”, leading to a “malty palate with a touch of resin”.
Fujimi Blended Japanese Whisky – Small Batch was found to be deserving of a Gold medal for its “approachable style”, and flavours of “vanilla, raisins and sweet spices”.
Athavia was particularly fond of Fuyu Blended Japanese Whisky. She added: “This was light, fresh and would be amazing in a Highball – it was smooth as anything, perfect for summer.”
The judges then turned their attention to Rum Made in Asia. Tanduay Asian Rum Silver impressed the judges, who awarded a Gold medal to the Philippine expression. “This was a more classic style of white rum, with smooth notes of tropical pineapple, coconut, some citrus – not too funky,” noted Athavia.
Four Silvers completed the flight: “funky, almost agricole‐like” Kiyomi Okinawan White Rum; “sweet, treacly” Tanduay Double Rum; “slightly dry” Tanduay Asian Rum Gold; and Minoki Rum, with a “little spice” on the palate.
Prousaefs said the flight was “diverse, and not traditional”. However, the judges agreed there was room for improvement. “I’d like to see more complexity,” he added.
The world’s biggest‐selling spirit brand, Jinro, collected two Silver medals in the Soju flight. “Light, delicate, slightly sweet” Jinro Chamisul Fresh Soju was one medallist, while the second award went to Jinro Chamisul Green Grape Soju. The latter award‐winner was deemed to be “approachable”.
A small round of Shōchū was presented the judges next. The Japanese spirit can be made from a variety of base ingredients, most commonly rice, barley or sweet potatoes. The judges enjoyed Nankai White Oak, and gave it a much‐deserved Gold medal. The spirit had flavours of “vanilla, lychee and banana” with some “woody notes – well balanced, great aroma”, the judges said.
Business‐to‐business (B2B) cream liqueur producer Creamy Creation had a stellar round in the closing Asian Spirit‐Based Cream Liqueurs flight. The producer won a Gold medal for its Shōchū Yuzu Cheesecake Concept.
Athavia said: “This was very delicious. Lots of lime notes, cheesecake base, and a lovely creaminess on the palate.” Creamy Creation’s Soju Coffee Cream Liqueur Concept nabbed a Silver medal for its “phenomenal nose”.
The producer’s Baijiu Cream Liqueur Concept also won a Silver, enjoyed for notes of “cereal, jackfruit, some coffee, coconut” and “creamy texture”.
After concluding the tasting, the judges reflected on the exceptional quality of this year’s Asian Spirits Taste Master, Ki No Tea. “The tea aromas, the fresh, fragrant style of the gin were fantastic,” Athavia added. The styles of spirits and the quality of brands coming out of Asia left the judges feeling optimistic about future innovation from the region.
“There are certain countries that are standing out more than others, like Japan, which is well‐known for quality products,” noted Rizzo. “Japanese producers are perfectionists, and this is also showing throughout the rest of Asia.”
Prousaefs was equally enthused about the Asian spirit category. He said: “Overall, the majority of spirits today were well crafted, with some great expressions across the board. It is showcasing the Asian market, and really expressing Asia’s locality at its best.”
Gin Made in Asia
|Pernod Ricard Japan||Ki No Tea Kyoto Dry Gin||Master & Taste Master|
|Third Eye Distillery||Stranger & Sons Gin||Gold|
|1888 Heritage||Royal Sedang Gin||Gold|
|Pernod Ricard Japan||Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin||Gold|
|Pernod Ricard Japan||Ki No Bi Sei Kyoto Dry Gin||Gold|
|BBC Spirits||Etsu Double Orange Japanese Gin||Gold|
|BBC Spirits||Etsu Pacific Ocean Water Japanese Gin||Gold|
|BBC Spirits||Etsu Japanese Gin||Gold|
|Botani||Tanglin Orchid Gin||Gold|
|Nao Spirits||Hapusa Himalayan Dry Gin||Silver|
|BBC Spirits||Etsu Double Yuzu Japanese Gin||Silver|
|Botani||Tanglin Singapore Gin||Silver|
|BBC Spirits||Fuyu Blended Japanese Whisky||Gold|
|BBC Spirits||Hinotori Blended Japanese Whisky – 5 Year Old||Gold|
|BBC Spirits||Fujimi Blended Japanese Whisky – Small Batch||Gold|
|Japanese Blends||Yugen Whisky||Silver|
Rum Made in Asia
|BBC Spirits||Tanduay Asian Rum Silver||Gold|
|BBC Spirits||Kiyomi Okinawan White Rum||Silver|
|BBC Spirits||Tanduay Double Rum||Silver|
|BBC Spirits||Tanduay Asian Rum Gold||Silver|
|Yoshino Spirits||Minoki Rum||Silver|
|Jinro||Jinro Chamisul Fresh Soju||Silver|
|Jinro||Jinro Chamisul Greengrape Soju||Silver|
|Nankai Group||Nankai White Oak||Gold|
Asian Spirit‐Based Cream Liqueurs
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Shōchū Yuzu Cheesecake Concept||Gold|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Soju Coffee Cream Liqueur Concept||Silver|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Baijiu Cream Liqueur Concept||Silver|