The Asian Spirits Masters 2023 results
In our annual look at spirits from the Asia region, our judges found producers are making superb liquid, especially when it comes to baijiu.
There’s a thirst for ‘status spirits’ in Asia. Brands that are eligible to be called as such must retail for US$100 or more. According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, these bottlings are growing “significantly ahead” of the total global spirits market.
Towards the end of 2022, the IWSR Status Spirits Strategic Study showed the value of status spirits (excluding baijiu) was worth US$8.3 billion, and grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7% from 2014 to 2018. In comparison, the total global spirits market grew by a CAGR of 2% by value.
The Asian Spirits Masters offers a platform for products made in Asia to demonstrate their quality – and this year’s competition did not disappoint the judges. From Asian gins, vodkas and whiskies to baijiu and shochu, the assortment of entries was vast.
Two panels met at the recently opened Gouqi in London to assess the 2023 entries. The first group was led by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business magazine, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions (The GSMC). She was accompanied by Jamie Rowe, bar manager at Gouqi; and Ruchira Neotia, partner – Collectivino.
The second panel was chaired by Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog. He was joined by Dr Winnie Bowman, Cape wine master, wine and spirits judge and writer, and Bryan Rodriguez-Curtis, wine and spirits buyer at Harvey Nichols.
A Master medal in the opening flight – Vodka Made in Asia – got the contest off to a flying start. Short Story Grain Vodka was awarded the top accolade for its “aromatic and savoury” aroma, with “some lime peel, hints of clove and warming spice” on the palate. A Gold medal was also awarded to “vibrant, creamy” Archipelago Lava Rock Vodka. “This round tapped into showcasing vodka with flavour,” noted Rowe.
A large flight of Gin Made in Asia was shared between the two groups, and resulted in a trio of Master medals. Two of these awards went to bottlings from the Full Circle Craft Distillers Co: Archipelago Barrel Reserve Gin and Archipelago Navy Strength Gin. The Barrel Reserve Gin was enjoyed for its “white chocolate, almost fudge-like” notes on the nose. “The palate really shines with citrus, lime and lemon zest, pine aromatics, and a long and spicy finish,” said Rodriguez-Curtis. “It shows a good barrel-aged gin.”
The brand’s navy strength stablemate picked up a Master for its “juniper, pleasant citrus notes and well-balanced higher ABV”.
Trading Tides Gin by Third Eye Distillery was the third Master recipient. The product was described as “light, bright and fresh” on the nose, with “a hint of Parma Violets on the palate”. “Complex and well made,” said Kiely.
Five Gold medals were secured in this flight; including 135˚ East Hyogo Dry Gin, described by Chambers as “fresh and vibrant on the nose with plenty of zest on the palate”. Rodriguez-Curtis added: “This impressive flight shows Asia is upping its game for gin with interesting flavours, showing a mix of classic and contemporary styles.”
From gin, the judges turned their attention to Rum Made in Asia, where they enjoyed three Gold medallists and four Silver winners.
Samai Gold Rum proved to be ‘Gold’ by name, Gold by nature, securing the coveted award for its “Jamaican-funk-like aroma” and “ripe tropical fruits” on the palate.
Short Story White Rum secured a Gold medal for its “classic rum nose – tropical fruit, woody vanilla notes and lots of dried citrus fruits”. Gold-winning Tanduay Double Rum reminded the judges of a barrel warehouse with its “oaky, vanilla” aroma. Tasting notes included “a touch of cinnamon, caramel ice cream, and light spice”.
In the Indian Whisky flight, John Distilleries secured a Silver medal for Paul John Nirvana Indian Single Malt Whisky, which had “hints of peach/apricot, tropical fruit and caramel sweetness” on the palate.
The Japanese Whisky contingent created two more Master winners: Hayashi 8 Years Ryukyu Whisky, and Kamiki Whisky.
The former was described as “very multi-layered” by Rowe, who found “lots of aromatics and some salinity”. “I love Clynelish, and this reminds me slightly of that salinity. It’s the kind of whisky that if I heard about it and didn’t have it, I’d go somewhere that did – it’s delicious.”
Kamiki Whisky was celebrated for “orange notes on the nose with a slight ‘meaty’ smokiness”. Rowe noted how the “peatiness doesn’t detract from the other tasting notes”, creating a “perfectly balanced whisky”, added Neotia, who said: “With Japanese whisky, there is such precision, balance, elegance – it always shines through. They’re not afraid to push boundaries.” Three Gold medals and a Silver award completed the flight. Gold medals were bestowed upon: “deliciously malty” Hayashi 24 Years Ryukyu Whisky; “nicely balanced with good texture” Hayashi Koyo Ryukyu Whisky; and “fruity” Hatozaki Small Batch Pure Malt.
Chambers’ panel was excited about the following flight, which resulted in two Gold medals. His team were impressed by the two shochu entries from Nikaido Shuzou Co. The first Gold winner, Oita Mugi Shochu Nikaido, was enjoyed for its “aromatic nose with a slight sake character, orange floral blossoms, apple and pear fruits”. The palate offered “hints of floral and touches of stone fruit”. The second Gold was awarded to Kitchom. Tasting notes included “soft stone fruits, a little citrus and some florals”. Chambers noted: “Expressive and fragrant nose, delicious and creamy mouthfeel.”
The following flight of Baijiu also generated excitement in both panels, which were taken by the category’s broad spectrum of flavours.
Three Master medals were presented in this round, all for products by Shanghai Guijiu Co. The first accolade was bestowed upon Jiangyuxin-Red 52. “The palate is delicious,” enthused Rodriguez-Curtis, “sweet pineapple juice, lots of aniseed, almost Pernod-like aniseed; brilliant concentration of flavour. The mouthfeel and texture are wonderful, and the alcohol perfectly integrated. Outstanding.” With such high praise also coming from other judges, Jiangyuxin-Red 52 was also voted Asian Spirit Taste Master at the end of the tasting, following a retasting of all the Master winners of the day.
Stablemate Gaojiang Zhuangyuan Qing also secured a Master medal in the Baijiu heat. It delivered “malty, chocolate notes – like Hershey’s chocolate”, complemented by “nuttiness, and a lingering finish”.
Jundao Guiniang – Chinese Zodiac Rabbit also received a Master medal for being a “chocolatey and nutty baijiu”. Tasting notes included “savoury and umami-rich, with lots of dark chocolate and citrus”.
Eight Gold medals and one Silver made for a very strong flight. Gold medals included Guijiujiang Gold, Junxing 1927, and Juhui 10. “I am so impressed with the quality of baijiu being entered,” said Rodriguez-Curtis. “The Masters show how good the product can be. Baijiu is growing in the UK and we will only see more on offer for customers.”
The closing flight was Liqueurs Made in Asia, which ended the tasting on a high note. The final Master medal of the day was awarded to Creamy Creation’s Cream Liqueur Coconut with Baijiu Concept. The business-to-business liqueur manufacturer secured the award for its concept thanks to the product’s “indulgent creaminess and vibrant coconut flavour, complemented by subtle baijiu, which adds depth to the liqueur”. The producer also received a Gold medal for its Cream Liqueur Chocolate with Baijiu Concept, with its “rich, luscious” palate. A second Gold medal and a Silver award completed the flight.
The judges were thrilled to see a baijiu scoop the Taste Master award. “It’s great to see this historic category celebrated, and I wish more people had the opportunity to discover the amazing flavour that can be found in baijiu,” said Rodriguez-Curtis.
|Vodka Made In Asia|
|Third Eye Distillery||Short Story Grain Vodka||Master|
|Full Circle Craft Distillers Co||Archipelago Lava Rock Vodka||Gold|
|Gin Made In Asia|
|Full Circle Craft Distillers Co||Archipelago Barrel Reserve Gin||Master|
|Full Circle Craft Distillers Co||Archipelago Navy Strength Gin||Master|
|Third Eye Distillery||Trading Tides Gin||Master|
|Kaikyo Distillery||135° East Hyogo Dry Gin||Gold|
|Full Circle Craft Distillers Co||Archipelago Black Bamboo Gin||Gold|
|Full Circle Craft Distillers Co||Archipelago Botanical Gin||Gold|
|Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company||Vè Dê Di Good Gin||Gold|
|Third Eye Distillery||Stranger & Sons Gin||Gold|
|Singapore Distillery||Coconut Pandan Gin||Silver|
|Third Eye Distillery||Short Story Dry Gin||Silver|
|Rum Made In Asia|
|Samai Distillery||Samai Gold Rum||Gold|
|Third Eye Distillery||Short Story White Rum||Gold|
|Tanduay Distillers||Tanduay Double Rum||Gold|
|Tanduay Distillers||Tanduay Asian Rum Silver||Silver|
|Tanduay Distillers||Tanduay Asian Rum Gold||Silver|
|Samai Distillery||Samai Kampot Pepper Rum||Silver|
|Tanduay Distillers||Especia Spiced Rum||Silver|
|John Distilleries||Paul John Nirvana Indian Single Malt Whisky||Silver|
|Hayashi Whisky||Hayashi 8 Years Ryukyu Whisky||Master|
|Yoshino Spirits Co||Kamiki Whisky||Master|
|Hayashi Whisky||Hayashi 24 Years Ryukyu Whisky||Gold|
|Hayashi Whisky||Hayashi Koyo Ryukyu Whisky||Gold|
|Kaikyo Distillery||Hatozaki Small Batch Pure Malt||Gold|
|Kaikyo Distillery||Hatozaki Finest Blended||Silver|
|Nikaido Shuzou Co||Oita Mugi Shochu Nikaido||Gold|
|Nikaido Shuzou Co||Kitchom||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Jiangyuxin-Red 52||Master & Taste Master|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Gaojiang Zhuangyuan Qing||Master|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Jundao Guiniang – Chinese Zodiac Rabbit||Master|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Junxing 1921||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Guibafang Jinxiuzhenguan||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Jundao Guiniang Shanhe||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Guijiujiang Gold||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Jundao Guiniang Shaohua||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Jundao Guiniang Diancang||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Junxing 1927||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Juhui 10||Gold|
|Shanghai Guijiu Co||Guibafang Guangyaokaiyuan||Silver|
|Liqueurs Made In Asia|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Cream Liqueur Coconut with Baijiu Concept||Master|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Cream Liqueur Chocolate with Baijiu Concept||Gold|
|Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company||ve Dê Di Creme de Cacao||Gold|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Cream Liqueur with Baijiu Concept||Silver|