The Brandy Masters 2023 results
Brandy is unencumbered by strict rules of production, meaning brands are able to let their imaginations run riot – and some are proving to be medal-worthy endeavours.
Unlike Cognac, brandy can be made anywhere in the world, with far more relaxed rules. For some, unfortunately, this is a gateway to sub-par spirits production; but for others, it is an invitation to innovate without limits.
At the annual Brandy Masters blind tasting, the aim is to separate the brands bottling inadequate liquid and those creating intriguing points of difference through delicious, medal-worthy spirits.
The 2023 edition of the tasting took place at The Carriage in the Great Northern Hotel, in King’s Cross, London. Judges were split into two panels, the first of which was chaired by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions (The GSMC). She was joined by: Ruchira Neotia, partner – Collectivino; and Ed Bates, founder of Distilled London.
Team two was chaired by Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog. He was accompanied by: Evan Prousaefs, bar manager at London’s Sexy Fish; and Dr Winnie Bowman, Cape wine master, wine and spirits judge and writer.
The tasting started with a round of Other French Brandies, exploring those products that sit outside of any French brandies with appellations (such as Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados). Five Gold medals left the judges happy, four of which came from La Martiniquaise-Bardinet. French brandy Beehive XO bagged a Gold award for its aroma of “dates and fresh, loose tobacco”, leading to flavours of “dried fruits, a touch of spice and apricot” on the palate.
Stablemate Bardinet XO also secured a Gold award. Bates described this brandy as “easy-going, well-balanced, with soft integrated sugars”. Beehive Honey was also enjoyed for its Gold-worthy notes of “runny honey” and “good balance of sweetness and brandy character”. Also in the same portfolio was Bardinet VSOP, which picked up a Gold award for its “fruity aroma with stewed apple and pastry”, leading to “dried fruits and a hint of dark chocolate” on the palate.
The fifth Gold was awarded to Seven Tails Brandy XO. Tasting notes included aromas of “fruit, raisins and a hint of orange peel”, with the palate delivering “more orange peel, vanilla, oak, a little clove and warming spice”. Five Silver medals completed the opening round, with medallists including Seven Tails Spiced, which had flavours of “warm spice, vanilla and cinnamon”, and St-Rémy XO, which had a “bold and expressive nose” and “silky, sweet” palate. While the medallists were celebrated by both panels, the judges noted they would have enjoyed better integration of flavours from some products in this category, and a more “judicious, careful use of sugar” at times.
The following flight of brandies were grouped under ‘Other Region’, and delivered two standout bottlings. One of two Gold medals was awarded to Black Bottle Classic Brandy. Hailing from Australia, this brandy was celebrated for its “lovely mouthfeel with delicate sweetness, and something floral and grassy on the palate”. Chambers added: “Lovely balance with some sweetness and some wood spice – delicious.”
A Gold medal was also awarded to Chateau Vartely Aqua Vie Rachiu de Tescovina. This brandy is made in Moldova, and was described as having a nose of “pot pourri – quite aromatic”. The palate brought more floral aromatic flavours, with “some peppery spice and bold flavour”.
Bates noted: “This was clearly going for a grappa style. The palate was quite clean and fresh; I love the very soft, long finish – that was the best thing about it.” Four Silver medals gave the flight a boost, with awards given to Martha’s Old Brandy XO Port Cask, which offered “some sweet coffee notes, light fruit, and some plum on the palate”, and Black Bottle XO Brandy, which offered “big wine flavours – a welcome surprise”, following “caramel, light fruit” on the nose.
From there, the judges shifted to brandies from South Africa, where two Silver medallists were discovered. Distell collected the awards for its Van Ryn’s 12 Years Old Single Pot Still Brandy, and Van Ryn’s 10 Years Old Single Pot Still Brandy.
The 12-year-old delivered notes of “caramel with a hint of treacle on the nose”, which resulted in “raisins, currants, and slight woody/spicy notes in the background”.
The 10-year-old was found to have a “delicious mouthfeel”, with “caramel, dark chocolate, good structure and a lovely warming finish”.
The final flight of the day was Flavoured Spirit Drink, which awarded a Gold medal to Bardinet Coffee.
“This had a lovely coffee aroma with hints of dark chocolate,” noted Kiely. “The palate is sweet, with sugary coffee, a hint of brandy – a touch more would have enhanced this even further.”
The judges agreed they could see producers from different regions endeavouring to put their own stamp on the brandy category. As this continues, they forecast that scrutiny of the category would be increasingly rigorous, to ensure consumers can access the best of the brandy category – examples of which can be found in this year’s deserving medal winners.
Earlier this week, the results from The Cognac Masters 2023 were announced.
|Other French Brandies|
|Seven Tails Distillers||Seven Tails Brandy XO||Gold|
|St-Rémy||St-Rémy Cask Finish Collection Finished in Port Casks||Silver|
|Seven Tails Distillers||Seven Tails Spiced||Silver|
|Black Bottle||Black Bottle Classic Brandy||Gold|
|Chateau Vartely||Chateau Vartely Aqua Vie Rachiu de Tescovina||Gold|
|Chateau Vartely||Chateau Vartely Tribut XO||Silver|
|Chateau Vartely||Chateau Vartely VSOP||Silver|
|Martha’s Wine & Spirits||Martha’s Old Brandy XO Port Cask||Silver|
|Black Bottle||Black Bottle XO Brandy||Silver|
|Distell||Van Ryn’s 12 Year Old Single Pot Still Brandy||Silver|
|Distell||Van Ryn’s 10 Year Old Single Pot Still Brandy||Silver|
|Flavoured Spirit Drink|