The Pre-Mixed & RTD Masters 2023 results
Consumers have taken the ease and convenience of ready-to-drink and pre-mixed cocktails to their hearts. But our judges were on a mission to discover whether the quality of the liquid matches the satisfaction of the format.
The popularity of ready-to-drink (RTD) and pre-mixed beverages has soared in recent years. The convenience they offer and the vast variety available mean consumers can’t get enough.
While the sector is forecast to continue growing until 2027, growth has recently slowed. The latest data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis showed volume growth for the RTD category in 10 markets is expected to slow to 12% between 2022 and 2027, compared with the previous projection of 24% from 2022 to 2026. (The 10 markets examined in the RTDs Strategic Study 2023 report by IWSR were: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the UK and the US). Much of this slowdown has been linked to the sales decline of hard seltzers in the US. In value terms, the RTD category is predicted to reach US$40 billion by 2027 in 10 key markets.
Four panels of independent, expert judges gathered at The Knight of Notting Hill in west London to put the category through its paces. One panel was chaired by Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog. He was joined by Claire Filer, spirits consultant, and Ruchira Neotia, wine and spirits consultant.
Anne Jones, partner and drinks experiences manager at Waitrose, led another team. She was accompanied by Sarah Miller, founder of the Gin A Ding Ding blog, and Herchelle Perez Terrado, founder of consultancy firm Drinks Partnership.
Dan Greifer, supervisor at Black Parrot in London, and Rich Patchouli, general manager and whisky specialist of London-based Milroy’s, joined David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo, on a third panel, on which Smith acted as chair.
A fourth group comprised: Richard Legg, founder of Distilled Knowledge; Tatti Sukamongkol, wine and spirits specialist at Eataly UK; and Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business magazine, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions.
You couldn’t ask for a better start to a blind-tasting competition than a double-Master result – which is what occurred in the opening Vodka-Based flight. The first Master was awarded to Wicker Basket Tea Spritz: Vodka, Darjeeling Tea, Pear & Cardamom. The judged detected all the flavours, and described the product as having a “gentle sparkle; elegant and innovative, with good balance”. The Master-winning Espresso Martini from The Drinks Bureau offered notes of “chocolate and caramel” on the nose, leading to a “nice strong profile, and good depth of flavour”.
“These were good examples of vodka-based products playing on the classics, and doing it really well,” noted Sukamongkol.
Building on the double-Master success, the Vodka-Based flight also produced 13 Gold medal winners. From Espresso Martinis to twists on the Mule cocktail, the judges enjoyed the variety they discovered. Gold winners included Apple Mule by Contraband, which had “nice zestiness and freshness”. Striganov Vodka Crush Guava also secured a Gold medal, for its “fresh guava character and sweet tropical fruity aromas”.
The competition went from strength to strength as the judges moved onto the Gin-Based heat. Here, four Master-worthy products were celebrated. The first award went to Moth Aperitivo Spritz. This was found to have “good bitterness, balanced sweetness and some fruitiness – accessible”.
NIO Cocktails bagged the top accolade for its Dry Martini. The judges noted a “good harmony between vermouth and spirit – delicious”. Six Wives in a Can by Hampton Court Spirits delivered “bitter orange with a nice level of juniper, and lovely fresh thyme coming through as well – superb”, securing itself Master status.
The fourth Master in this round went to Edinburgh Gin Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn RTD. The two flavours were deemed to “work well together, and are harmoniously done”, with the added benefit of “good carbonation levels on the palate”.
Nine Gold medals were also awarded, including two for Berry Bros & Rudd: No.3 London Dry Gin Gimlet, and No.3 London Dry Gin Vesper Martini. The latter product had a pale Gold colour, plus “plenty of elegance, smooth texture and well-integrated alcohol”.
“The more successful examples still show a core of juniper with balanced sweetness/bitterness,” noted Jones.
From there it was time to look at one of the industry’s hottest spirits categories at the moment: Tequila/Mezcal/Agave Spirit-Based. Once again, four Master medals left lasting impressions on the judges. The Spiced Tommy’s Margarita from The Cocktail Society secured one of the Master awards. Greifer said: “The spice is amazing, the flavour is amazing, and it’s clear, which was not expected.” The Master-winning Spicy Margarita from The Drinks Bureau offered a “savoury” profile with “lots of bell pepper notes – interesting and good interpretation”, the judges noted.
Proximo Spirits’ 1800 The Ultimate Margarita also impressed, winning a Master medal for “zestiness, sweetness and a slight salinity”. Smith added: “This is nicely made and balanced – I can imagine it would be great when properly chilled.”
Contraband’s Paloma cocktail also met the Master standard, impressing with its “fresh grapefruit aroma, good carbonation”. Kiely said: “This could be a real crowd-pleaser – the Tequila is balanced just right.”
Of the eight Gold medals awarded, one went to Mirror Margarita with “plenty of agave, lime and peppery warmth”.
The flight concluded with five Silver awards.
“This was a fairly strong flight,” noted Miller. “Some good examples of classic cocktails done best when the character of base spirit comes through – especially important with the distinctive nature of agave spirits.”
In the Rum-Based heat, five Master medals made for some happy judges. Three of the awards were collected by Curatif: Curatif Ron Colón Peach Ice Tea, Curatif Ron Colón Corn and Oil, and Curatif x Jacoby’s Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. Master-winning Curatif Ron Colón Corn and Oil was found to have notes of “orange-scented bitters with exotic spiced tropical fruit and plenty of ginger”. The palate, meanwhile, was described as being “smooth with well-integrated alcohol and a long finish”.
Moth Piña Colada won the top accolade with its “superb nose”, filled with notes of “pineapple, coconut and good rum underneath – delicious”. Served Piña Colada also secured the top award for its “creamy coconut” aroma with “great balance and a distinctly Piña Colada profile”.
Stablemate Served Mojito was one of six Gold medallists in this flight, with “good levels of mint and lime, with subtle rum”. Six Silver medals gave the flight a boost.
Terrado enthused: “A fantastic flight – perhaps the best today. A couple of great examples of classic Piña Coladas and Mai Tais, these really celebrated rum in an RTD cocktail.”
In the Cognac/Brandy-Based flight, a Master medal was awarded to Kokomo after the judges enjoyed notes of “dried apricot, orange peel, apple and citrus”. The Sidecar from NIO Cocktails collected Silver.
A flight of ready-to-drink whisky serves delivered two Masters for Starward (New) Old Fashioned, and Starward Whisky Ginger Beer and Zesty Orange.
The latter was found to be “refreshing, bright and juicy” on the palate with ” fresh ginger” notes. Three Golds and four Silvers completed the round.
From there, the judges progressed to RTDs and pre-mixed expressions served with a liqueur or speciality spirit base. Three Master medals added to the already sizeable haul, with winning products from Contraband’s Milano Spritz, NIO’s Tea Sour, and Casa Redondo’s Amarguinha Sour.
The Milano Spritz was said to be “very complex, with lovely balance of sweetness and bitterness”. “This would be a great lower-ABV option for Negroni lovers,” noted Kiely.
The Tea Sour also impressed with its “fresh breakfast tea” on the nose, leading to a “lovely texture and beautiful tea notes coming through on the palate”. “Delicious – great product, and it doesn’t feel like it’s as strong as 19.3% ABV; very approachable,” Kiely added.
“A really cool rendition of an Amaretto Sour,” is how Smith succinctly described Master-winning Amarguinha Sour. “Lots of almond and marzipan.”
Seven Gold medals and two Silvers were also enjoyed in this heat. Among the Gold winners were two expressions from Lucas Bols: the Pornstar Martini Cocktail and the Espresso Martini Cocktail. The Pornstar Martini Cocktail was liked for allowing the passion fruit to “really shine” alongside “some vanilla notes”.
Weekend Drinks picked up a Master medal for its Negroni cocktail in the Spirit Blend-Based round. “Bright, bittersweet orange nose, with herbaceous notes on the palate,” found Chambers. Three Gold medals were handed to: “spicy, effervescent, balanced” Himkok Oslo Mule; “zesty, enjoyable” Himkok Oslo Paloma; and “rounded, bittersweet” Funkin Cocktails Aperitivo Spritz.
In the Partially-Made Cocktail flight, a Silver medal was delivered to Fever-Tree Mojito, with “bright, bold mint and lime”.
Low & No
Four Gold medals and two Silver awards were found in the Low & No flight. The Gold winners included Lillet Tonic, which had a “very floral nose, with something akin to tea or camomile”. The palate presented a “touch of bitterness for added complexity”.
The Vegan entry – Joluca Cocktails Rum & Cola – blew the judges away in the following heat, securing a Master medal. Greifer found notes of “fresh and slightly herbaceous cola on the nose – some tropical fruit esters, a hint of banana and spice”.
The closing flight brought a trio of medal-winning hard seltzers, two Golds and one Silver. All three medals went to the Coca-Cola Company, with one of the Gold accolades given to Topo Chico Hard Seltzer Tequila Lemon, described as having “gently salinity with some lemon”.
The judges’ final task was to resample the Master medallists to determine the ‘best in class’ product from this year’s competition. Securing the coveted Taste Master title for 2023 was the Spiced Tommy’s Margarita from The Cocktail Society.
With multiple top awards given in the majority of flights, our judges noted the quality of the pre-mixed and RTD category and how it has improved over recent years.
If this continues, although growth might be slowing, it won’t be unsurprising to see the ready-to-drink category reach its predicted double-digit-success.
|Wicker Basket||Wicker Basket Tea Spritz: Vodka, Darjeeling Tea, Pear & Cardamom||Master|
|The Drinks Bureau||Espresso Martini||Master|
|The Drinks Bureau||Dirty Shirley||Gold|
|Moth||Moth Espresso Martini||Gold|
|Dutch Cocktail Club||Espresso Martini||Gold|
|Weekend Drinks||Espresso Martini||Gold|
|Curatif||Curatif Espresso Martini||Gold|
|The Coca-Cola Company||Lemon Dou Signature Lemon||Gold|
|The Coca-Cola Company||Lemon Dou Salty Lemon||Gold|
|Charles Jacquin et Cie||The Roaster’s Daughter Espresso Martini||Gold|
|Aldi Stores (Australia)||Striganov Vodka Crush Lemon and Lime||Gold|
|Aldi Stores (Australia)||Striganov Vodka Crush Guava||Gold|
|The Mullet Company||Mullet Tea Peach||Gold|
|The Mullet Company||Mullet Tea Lemon||Silver|
|Dutch Cocktail Club||Pornstar Martini||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Watermelon, Mint and Soda||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Central Otago Peach, Passionfruit and Soda||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Red Peach, Yuzu and Soda||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Mango, Pineapple and Soda||Silver|
|Pals||Vodka, Pink Guava, Lime and Soda||Silver|
|Aldi Stores (Australia)||Striganov Vodka Crush Raspberry||Silver|
|The Coca-Cola Company||Lemon Dou Honey Lemon||Silver|
|The Coca-Cola Company||Schweppes Premium Drinks Vodka Citrus||Silver|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Orange Creamsicle 5% vol||Silver|
|The Drinks Bureau||Passion Fruit Martini||Silver|
|Funkin Cocktails||Funkin Nitro Cocktails Berry Woo Woo||Silver|
|Weekend Drinks||Pornstar Martini||Silver|
|Moth||Moth Aperitvo Spritz||Master|
|NIO Cocktails UK||Dry Martini||Master|
|Hampton Court Spirits||Six Wives in a Can||Master|
|lan Macleod Distillers||Edinburgh Gin Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn RTD||Master|
|Dutch Cocktail Club||Clover Club||Gold|
|Curatif||Curatif Tropical Gimlet||Gold|
|Myatt’s Fields Cocktails||Tuxedo||Gold|
|Myatt’s Fields Cocktails||Cold Brew Negroni||Gold|
|Joluca Cocktails||Joluca Cocktails Gin & Tonic||Gold|
|The Cocktail Society||Oak Aged Sloe Negroni||Gold|
|Berry Bros & Rudd||No.3 London Dry Gin Gimlet||Gold|
|Berry Bros & Rudd||No.3 London Dry Gin Vesper Martini||Gold|
|Wicker Basket||Wicker Basket Tea Spritz: Gin, Jasmine Tea, Lychee & Rose||Gold|
|6 O’clock Gin||6 O’clock Gin Damson & Ginger||Silver|
|The Coca-Cola Company||Schweppes Premium Drinks Gin Tonic||Silver|
|Pedro Leiva Tonics||La Condesa Gin & Rose||Silver|
|lan Macleod Distillers||Edinburgh Gin Gin & Tonic RTD||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Gin, Hawke’s Bay Lemon, Cucumber and Soda||Silver|
|Vacay||Gin Passionfruit Soda||Silver|
|Spicehaus Cocktails||Cherry Whiskey Sour||Silver|
|Spicehaus Cocktails||Gin, Lychee and Roses||Silver|
|Spicehaus Cocktails||Old Fashioned||Silver|
|Spicehaus Cocktails||Spicy Passion Fruit Margarita||Silver|
|Spicehaus Cocktails||Espresso Martini||Silver|
|Tequila/Mezcal/Agave Spirit Based|
|The Cocktail Society||Spiced Tommy’s Margarita||Master & Taste Master|
|The Drinks Bureau||Spicy Margarita||Master|
|Proximo Spirits||1800 The Ultimate Margarita||Master|
|Served Drinks||Served Margarita||Gold|
|Funkin Cocktails||Funkin Cocktails Lime Margarita||Gold|
|Lala Tequila||Lala Paloma||Gold|
|BadWater Drinks||BadWater Tequila Soda – Pineapple||Gold|
|Curatif||Curatif Tommy’s Margarita||Gold|
|Dutch Cocktail Club||Paloma||Gold|
|Mirror Margarita||Mirror Margarita||Gold|
|Mirror Margarita||Mirror Margarita Platinium||Silver|
|NIO Cocktails UK||Strawberry Margarita||Silver|
|Proximo Spirits||1800 The Ultimate Margarita Passion Fruit||Silver|
|BadWater Drinks||BadWater Tequila Soda – Strawberry||Silver|
|Weekend Drinks||Mezcal Margarita||Silver|
|Moth||Moth Piña Colada||Master|
|Curatif||Curatif Ron Colón Peach Ice Tea||Master|
|Curatif||Curatif Ron Colón Corn and Oil||Master|
|Curatif||Curatif X Jacoby’s Trader Vic’s Mai Tai||Master|
|Served Drinks||Served Piña Colada||Master|
|Served Drinks||Served Mojito||Gold|
|Dutch Cocktail Club||Piña Colada||Gold|
|Joluca Cocktails||Joluca Cocktails Rum & Cola||Gold|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Piña Colada 5% vol||Gold|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Piña Colada 13% vol||Gold|
|Creamy Creation (B2B)||Sparkling Mango Coconut 5% vol||Silver|
|Curatif||Curatif Pineapple Daiquiri||Silver|
|Bacardí Rum||Bacardí Ready to Drink Roasted Toasted Coconut Colada||Silver|
|Bacardí Rum||Bacardí Ready to Drink Mojito||Silver|
|Bacardí Rum||Bacardí Ready to Drink Roasted Pineapple Rum Punch||Silver|
|Bacardí Rum||Bacardí Ready to Drink Caribbean Espresso Rumtini||Silver|
|Dutch Cocktail Club||Kokomo||Master|
|NIO Cocktails UK||Sidecar||Silver|
|Starward||Starward (New) Old Fashioned||Master|
|Starward||Starward Whisky Ginger Beer and Zesty Orange||Master|
|Starward||Starward Whisky Negroni||Gold|
|Starward||Starward Coffee Old Fashioned||Gold|
|Coca-Cola Europacific Partners||Jack Daniel’s & Coca-Cola||Gold|
|Starward||Starward Whisky Soda and Tangy Finger Lime||Silver|
|Copper Canvas||Copper Canvas Whi2k3y Sour||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Whiskey, Hawke’s Bay Apple and Soda||Silver|
|NIO Cocktails UK||Tea Sour||Master|
|Casa Redondo||Amarguinha Sour||Master|
|Lucas Bols||Pornstar Martini Cocktail||Gold|
|Lucas Bols||Espresso Martini Cocktail||Gold|
|Intrepid Spirits||Little & Green Sneaky Orchard||Gold|
|Intrepid Spirits||Little & Green Shady Bramble||Gold|
|Curatif||Curatif X Bar Bambi Amaretto Sour||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Licor 43 Carajillo||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Cocktail 43 Milk||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Cocktail 43 Fresco Berry||Silver|
|NIO Cocktails UK||Disaronno Sour||Silver|
|Himkok||Himkok Oslo Mule||Gold|
|Himkok||Himkok Oslo Paloma||Gold|
|Funkin Cocktails||Funkin Cocktails Aperitivo Spritz||Gold|
|Partially Made Cocktail|
|Low & No|
|The Drinks Bureau||Shirley Temple||Gold|
|Bodegas Barbadillo||Barbadillo Mixed||Gold|
|Funkin Cocktails||Funkin Nitro Cocktails Alcohol Free Passion Fruit Martini||Silver|
|Joluca Cocktails||Joluca Cocktails Rum & Cola||Master|
|Coca-Cola Company||Topo Chico Hard Seltzer Tequila Lemon||Gold|
|Coca-Cola Company||Topo Chico Hard Seltzer Margarita Strawberry Hibiscus||Gold|
|Coca-Cola Company||Topo Chico Margarita Signature Lemon||Silver|