The DB & SB Autumn Blind Tasting 2023
As the nights draw in and the mercury dips, consumers’ thirst for warming drinks goes up. The Spirits Business’ and the drinks business’ autumn tasting uncovers the products to carry everyone through to spring.
In typically British fashion, we have bemoaned the lack of summer across the UK these past few months. Instead of sun-soaked days and bright blue skies, June to August has been more grey-tinged and tepid than anything – and the mini heatwave at the start of September felt like the season decided to use its quota for warmth all at once.
This final burst of sweltering heat has left many ready for the cool of autumn, for cosy evenings, crunchy, copper-coloured leaves, and the feeling of a fresh start that comes as a new season begins.
In the spirits world, it presents a time for brands to showcase their finest products, knowing the festive season is just around the corner. The annual DB & SB Autumn Blind Tasting was established to give spirits producers an opportunity to highlight the tipples they think consumers should be drinking during the cooler months – and the medals attained by this year’s entrants showed there is much to enjoy.
For this year’s tasting, four panels of esteemed judges gathered at the Punch Room at the London Edition to tackle the vast assortment of entries. Leading the first team was Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions, who was joined by Emilia Wrelton, bar manager at Electric House private members’ club in London.
A second panel comprised Matt Chambers, whisky and spirits writer, and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog. He was joined by Ruchira Neotia, drinks consultant at Darjeeling Express, and Antony Moss, spirits judge and consultant.
David T Smith, spirits writer and consultant, and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo, chaired the third panel. He was accompanied by Anne Jones, drinks experience at Waitrose and John Lewis, and Claire Filer, spirits judge, writer and consultant.
The fourth and final team comprised: chair Bryan Rodriguez-Curtis, buyer at Harvey Nichols; Keegan Menezes, spirits consultant; and Zalorén González Fonteles, assistant manager of Hometipple.
A strong opening flight of Gin set the standard for the rest of the competition, with the inaugural Master of the day given to Gordon’s London Dry Gin. This classic expression was enjoyed for its “pronounced nose with berries and juniper” enhanced by a “good citrus hit”.
A trio of Gold medals were also praised, including Highclere Castle Gin, which was described as having notes of “citrus peel on the palate, complementing aromas of pepper and cardamom”. A Silver medal completed the first round. “A lot of these entrants were moving away from being heavily citrus-forward, which was refreshing to see,” noted Wrelton.
The next round looked at vodka, with a Master medal awarded to Absolut Lime. “Superbly tangy on the palate, fresh lime zest followed by lime marmalade – good structure and late peppery spice,” enthused Chambers.
Five Gold medals were also celebrated in this round, including Lex by Nemiroff. The judges found this vodka to have a “sweet and vibrant nose”, leading to “a hint of zestiness” on the palate. Four additional Silver medals made for a strong round.
The judges moved from white spirits to brown spirits, starting with Scotch Whisky.
One of two deserving Master medals went to The Sassenach. Jones noted: “Layered and complex, lovely balance of alcohol and flavours of fruit and wood spice. Tropical and also elegant with polished wood and nutmeg – beautiful finish.”
Whisky of Voodoo: The High Priest also secured the top accolade. Tasting notes included “clotted cream” on the nose, leading to a “robust character with some smoke, and a bold balance of creaminess, fruit and smoke” on the palate.
Two Gold medals were also awarded in this heat, one of which went to Wolfie’s Whisky, co-founded by rock star Rod Stewart. The whisky presented “Sherry sweetness” on the nose with “a touch of sea spray over rich soft fruit”.
Spearhead Single Grain also won a Gold medal, enjoyed for its “rich creaminess, some fruitiness and lingering warmth”. Five Silver medals closed the flight. “Some examples really showed how alcohol can carry flavour through to the finish and enhance the overall expression,” said Jones.
A solid flight of Gold medals followed as the tasting turned towards the World Whisky flight. Old Hunter’s Bourbon Cask 40% scooped one of three Gold medals for being a “decent mixing whisky” due to flavours of “stone fruit, a little vanilla, and a “wine-like character”. The remaining two Gold medals were collected by St Kilian Distillers, one of which went to the German producer’s Peated – Rich & Smoky bottling. The judges praised this whisky’s “good mouthfeel” and “lingering finish with wispy smoke”.
The Irish Whiskey contingent took the standard up a notch, delivering a Master medallist in the form of The Donn by The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Rodriguez-Curtis was full of praise for this expression: “A rich nose with a rye-like dusty character, a beautiful deep amber colour, Port-like red fruit notes on the nose. The palate is very rich – pure luxury; it makes you stop, it demands your attention and delivers indulgence, complexity, a full-bodied texture, and wonderful, complex flavours. This is a divine whiskey that should be sipped slowly and savoured with good company. Superb.”
A strong Gold award was bestowed upon Hyde No. 6 President’s Reserve, enjoyed for its “pleasant texture, malty character” and for being a “good session whiskey to enjoy over ice with friends”. “A brilliant round. Two fantastic Irish whiskeys,” added Rodriguez-Curtis. “These showed how good Irish whiskey can be.”
The American Whiskey heat also proved to be a popular round, with one Master, four Golds and one Silver medal awarded. Uncle Nearest took home the top accolade for its Single Barrel Black Label. The nose was described as “rich, with varnished mahogany and yellow fruits”. The palate was also noted as being “rich and full-bodied”. Rodriguez-Curtis added: “It feels like an expensive whiskey, beautifully made and perfect for slow sipping – fantastic.”
Three out of the four Gold medals were handed to Uncle Nearest, while the fourth was presented to Never Say Die Small Batch Bourbon. This American whiskey impressed the judges with its “soft nose, good character, woodiness and stone fruits”. Uncle Nearest Single Barrel Rye rounded off the flight with a Silver medal.
Onto the Brandy flight where Distell performed well, securing one Master and one Gold medal – the former going to Van Ryn’s 12 Years Old Single Pot Still Brandy. The judges enthused about the Master-winning brandy’s aromas of “pear, caramel and oak”, leading to “warming spice, raisins and cooked apples” when sipped.
St-Rémy’s performance was almost as strong, being awarded two Golds for St-Rémy Signature and St-Rémy XO. The Signature expression gave aromas of “polished wood, baked apricots with vanilla and cinnamon”. “An opulent and approachable style with rounded texture and a touch of warmth on the finish,” noted an impressed Jones. Meanwhile, Smith detected aromas of “dark red fruits and chocolate” on the nose with “some light citrus” on the finish.
A trio of Silver awards were also given. “I liked that regionally, you could feel how producers are putting their own unique stamp on their products – and some were doing this particularly well, notably the South African brandies,” said Kiely.
After Brandy, the following flight looked at a variety of Rums – and found a high-scoring spirit in the form of Ten To One White Rum. The Master-winning liquid was found to be “vibrant”, offering “fresh sugarcane mixed with molasses and lemon juice – yum”, noted one judge. A trio of Golds were given to: Ten To One Dark Rum, Takamaka Overproof and Tobago Gold Chocolate Rum Cream. Neotia said of the entries: “This was a pleasing rum flight, a total mixed bag but one that shows the modernity of rum production that lets the raw materials shine, and lowering the obvious sweetness.”
The penultimate flight of the tasting was one of the largest of the day – Pre-Mixed. Myatt’s Fields Cocktails secured a Master medal for its Invisible Margarita. “Bright agave notes on the nose, the Tequila jumps out of the glass,” noted Kiely. “Some light citrus, leading to a zesty palate, well-balanced with the Tequila and well-integrated sweetness. Very consumer-friendly.”
The brand’s Invisible Lychee Martini also collected a Gold medal. Wrelton noted the cocktail’s “clarified, clean appearance” and said the aroma, in particular, was “perfect”.
Six additional Gold medals were also given in this round, with all but one – a Gold for Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola – awarded to Pals. A trio of Silver medals completed the flight, making way for the final heat of the day: Low/No-Alcohol.
The two Gold medals in the final round went to Intune Drinks for the brand’s Ginger & Lime + CBD Drink, and Elderflower & Hops CBD Drink. The Ginger & Lime entrant had a “proper ginger kick on the nose along with lime, very reminiscent of a Moscow Mule sans the mint”.
Three Silvers marked the end of The DB & SB Autumn Blind Tasting 2023.
This year’s competition proved there is a vast assortment of spirits to discover as autumn and winter approach. Not only that, but as these medal winners prove, although the seasons change, the quality of spirits on offer remains the same: extremely high.
|Diageo||Gordon’s London Dry||Master|
|Highclere Castle Spirits||Highclere Castle Gin||Gold|
|Distell||Old Buck Gin||Gold|
|Sassenach Spirits||The Sassenach Wild Scottish Gin||Gold|
|Puerto de Indias||Puerto de Indias Strawberry||Silver|
|The Absolut Company (Pernod Ricard)||Absolut Lime||Master|
|Nemiroff||Lex by Nemiroff||Gold|
|Royal Mash||Royal Mash Vintage Vodka 2020||Gold|
|Globefill||Crystal Head Vodka Aurora||Gold|
|The Absolut Company (Pernod Ricard)||Absolut Vodka Original||Gold|
|The Absolut Company (Pernod Ricard)||Absolut Peppar||Gold|
|The Absolut Company (Pernod Ricard)||Absolut Peach||Silver|
|The Absolut Company (Pernod Ricard)||Absolut Grapefruit||Silver|
|The Absolut Company (Pernod Ricard)||Absolut Citron||Silver|
|Palirna U Zeleneho Stromu||Hanacka Vodka Silver||Silver|
|Sassenach Spirits||The Sassenach||Master|
|Brave New Spirits||Whisky of Voodoo: The High Priest||Master|
|Wolfie’s Whisky||Wolfie’s Whisky||Gold|
|Coles Liquor||Spearhead Single Grain Scotch Whisky||Gold|
|Coachbuilt Spirits||Coachbuilt Whisky Build No. 001||Silver|
|Brave New Spirits||Lighthouse Unpeated||Silver|
|Brave New Spirits||Lighthouse Peated||Silver|
|Brave New Spirits||Old Smitty’s Single Malt||Silver|
|Brave New Spirits||Whisky of Voodoo: Blood Moon||Silver|
|Palirna U Zeleneho Stromu||Old Hunter’s Bourbon Cask 40%||Gold|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian – Peated – Rich & Smoky||Gold|
|St Kilian Distillers||St Kilian – Classic – Mild & Fruity||Gold|
|The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.||The Donn||Master|
|Hyde Whiskey||Hyde No. 6 President’s Reserve||Gold|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Single Barrel Black Label||Master|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition||Gold|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch Whiskey||Gold|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey||Gold|
|Never Say Die||Never Say Die Small Batch Bourbon||Gold|
|Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey||Single Barrel Rye||Silver|
|Distell||Van Ryn’s 12 Year Old Single Pot Still Brandy||Master|
|Distell||Van Ryn’s 10 Year Old Single Pot Still Brandy||Gold|
|Vinaria Bardar||Divin Bardar 5 years||Silver|
|Vinaria Bardar||Divin Bardar 7 Years||Silver|
|Vinaria Bardar||Divin Bardar 25 Years||Silver|
|Ten To One||Ten To One White Rum||Master|
|Ten To One||Ten To One Dark Rum||Gold|
|Tobago Gold Europe||Tobago Gold Chocolate Rum Cream||Gold|
|Myatt’s Fields Cocktails||Invisible Margarita||Master|
|Myatt’s Fields Cocktails||Invisible Lychee Martini||Gold|
|Coca-Cola Europacific Partners||Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola Ready to Drink||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Central Otago Peach, Passionfruit and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Red Peach, Yuzu and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals American Whiskey, Apple and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Mango, Pineapple and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Watermelon, Mint and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Gin, Lemon, Cucumber and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Lime and Soda||Silver|
|Intune Drinks||Ginger & Lime + CBD Drinks||Gold|
|Intune Drinks||Eldeflower & Hops CBD Drink||Gold|
|Intune Drinks||Grapefruit & Mint CBD Drink||Silver|
|Intune Drinks||Pomegranate & Ginger CBD Drink||Silver|
|Pernod Ricard France||Ceder’s Classic||Silver|