The Speciality Masters 2022 resultsBy Melita Kiely
While smaller spirits categories such as vermouth and aquavit may lack the sales power of the likes of gin and vodka, when it comes to taste, they more than hold their own, as our annual competition shows.
The Pick ’n’ Mix of products that are presented in the annual Speciality Masters truly make the judges feel like kids in a sweet shop. This most unique of categories collects those products that don’t quite fit in traditional spirits segments. Everything from amaro and vermouth to absinthe and arak are welcome in this blind tasting, which looks to reward the best products on the market.
The Speciality Masters 2022 took place at the Novotel Hotel in London Bridge, where a three groups of expert panellists put entrants to the taste test. Comprising the first group were: Sara Jane Eichler, founder of the Negroni Club UK; Bernadette Pamplin, freelance drinks writer and founder of the Under the Ginfluence blog; Herchelle Perez Terrado, director of Drinks Partnership; and Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions.
A second panel was chaired by Matt Chambers, co‐founder of the Whisky for Everyone blog and the North London Whisky Club. He was accompanied by Anne Jones, drinks experience and events at Waitrose, and; Tobias Gorn, co‐founder and senior partner at International Drinks Specialists.
The third team was chaired by David T Smith, spirits consultant, writer and co‐ founder of the Craft Distilling Expo. He was joined by: Evan Prousaefs, bar manager at London’s Sexy Fish; and Dimple Athavia, founder of All Things Drinks.
In the opening flight, Amaro, a Gold medal got the tasting off to a strong start. The winner, Nordic EtOH Amaro, was found to have “herbal, rich tannins, tea”, and was described as “complex with orange and spice”.
The next flight was Armagnac – a French brandy that is slowly gaining traction in the spirits industry, but still remains small in comparison with its cousin spirit Cognac. Bhakta 50, Barrel No.26 Pickerell impressed the experts to secure a Gold medal.
Smith said about the Armagnac: “Rich with some Sherry notes and Port. Good dryness, some rancio notes, coffee and liquorice.”
Aquavit is another category that is gaining a wider audience of drinkers; this is thought to be inspired by the rise of gin. Typically, the dominant flavours of aquavit are caraway or dill.
Showcasing the best of what the aquavit category has to offer was the first Master medallist of the competition: Nordic EtOH Aquavit. Prousaefs enthused: “Toasted caraway on the nose. Warm on the palate, with that toastiness coming through. Long, complex and a pleasant finish.”
North Atlantic Akvavit secured a Gold medal in this flight. Tasting notes from the judges included “woody caraway and dry on the palate”.
A Gold medal also went to Nordic EtOH Dill Aquavit. Athavia liked the “distinct, clear” flavours of dill on the palate. Prousaefs found a “saltiness” on the palate, with some “aniseed notes on the aftertaste”.
Aqvavit from Psychopomp Microdistillery completed the flight, with a respectable Silver medal. The final flight of the day was dedicated to Vermouth, which has also been experiencing a surge in favourability thanks to the rise of the low‐and‐no sector.
Another Master medal was celebrated in this heat: Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Tradizionale. Created by Zamora Company, Chambers said about the vermouth: “This was a delicious marriage of flavours on the palate – absolutely superb.”
Jones found notes of “sweet spices, aromatic herbs and distinct rooty, deep fruit character”. She continued: “Quite a lot of sweetness on the palate, but personality persists on the finish. Really excellent.”
Four Gold medals made Vermouth the strongest flight of the contest. Zamora Company collected a Gold for its Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Mediterranean Dry.
The judges described the aroma as “deliciously fresh and vibrant”, with a “slight herbal edge and bright, sharp fruitiness” on the palate. Joseph Cartron collected two Gold medals in the Vermouth flight as well.
The first went to “soft and fruity” Vermouth Rouge, which also offered “subtle spices and herbs”. The producer’s Vermouth Blanc also received a Gold medal for its “delicious mouthfeel with nice acidic fruit, great balance and freshness”.
Maison Villevert concluded the flight with a Gold medal for La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge. The vermouth was liked for being “very expressive” on the nose, leading to “orange peel, earthy spice and a luscious mouthfeel”.
The two Master winners were then pitted against each other to determine The Speciality Taste Master 2022. Opinions were split straight down the middle, with half the judges infatuated with Nordic EtOH Aquavit, and the other half fully backing Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Tradizionale.
As the two products were incomparable – “yet equally exceptional”, the judges agreed – both products were deserving of a joint Taste Master title.
Chambers noted in particular the diversity found in the vermouths. He added: “This was a strong category with a mix of tradition and more modern styles. It was interesting to see how boundaries are being pushed.”
The clear takeaway from The Speciality Masters 2022 was that those sometimes lesser‐known categories should certainly not be underestimated.
|Nordic Ethanol||Nordic EtOH Amaro||Gold|
|Balthazar Rex||Bhakta 50, Barrel No.26 Pickerell||Gold|
|Nordic Ethanol||Nordic EtOH Aquavit||Master & Taste Master|
|Faer Isles Distillery||North Atlantic Akvavit||Gold|
|Nordic Ethanol||Nordic EtOH Dill Aquavit||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Tradizionale||Master & Taste Master|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Mediterranean Dry||Gold|
|Joseph Cartron||Vermouth Rouge||Gold|
|Joseph Cartron||Vermouth Blanc||Gold|
|Maison Villevert||La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge||Gold|
|La Quintinye||Vermouth Royal Blanc||Silver|