The Speciality Spirits Masters 2023 results
Thanks to the popularity of Negronis, vermouth has become increasingly sought after, as have other speciality spirits, such as aquavit, pisco and bitters. Our judges put the best that are on offer to the taste test.
From traditional spirits such as vermouth to aquavit from Nordic countries including Sweden and Norway, speciality spirits are often used in cocktails or consumed neat as pre- or post-dinner drinks. The movement towards health and wellness has helped certain spirits segments to shine in lower-alcohol serves, while interest in regional products from well-loved foodie destinations such as Italy are boosting grappa and vermouth.
While small compared with categories such as gin and vodka, speciality spirits are soaring among apéritif-crazy consumers, who are becoming more experimental in their choice of beverage.
To assess this diverse and flavourful category, four panels of judges gathered at The Leaf and Cane bar in London’s Blackfriars to taste a selection of speciality spirits, spanning vermouth, aquavit, pisco, bitters and low- and no-alcohol.
Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business, chaired a panel comprising: Anne Jones, partner and drinks experiences manager at Waitrose; Herchelle Perez Terrado, managing director of Drinks Partnership and DP Brands; and Dan Greifer, bar supervisor at London’s Black Parrot.
David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant, and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo, chaired a second team. He was joined by: Sara Jane Eichler, founder of the Negroni Club UK; and Richard Legg, founder of Distilled Knowledge. Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog, led the third group. Judging with him were: Tobias Gorn, co-founder and senior partner at International Drinks Specialists; and wine and spirits consultant Ruchia Neotia. Evan Prousaefs, bar manager of Sexy Fish, chaired the fourth group, which included Sarah Miller, founder of the Gin A Ding Ding blog; and Claire Filer, spirits judge, writer and consultant.
Soft and vegetal
The first flight of the day in The Speciality Spirits Masters saw a Gold medal awarded to Nuet Dry Aquavit in the Aquavit round. Eichler praised the expression, describing it as “soft and vegetal on the nose, supper peppery with lovely dill notes – dry and vegetal, nice complexity”.
The next flight, White Whisky, resulted in a Master and Gold for Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company. Master-winning Ve De Single Malt White Whisky impressed Legg, who noted its “very pronounced cereal aromas, quite earthy and complex — very interesting.” Smith enjoyed its “superb integration of alcohol with the soft mellow grain notes and a little cereal sweetness”. Stablemate Ve De Di Corn White Whisky took home a Gold for its “sweet and smooth” palate and “fragrant corn on the nose”.
A lengthy Vermouth round saw nine Golds and one Master dished out, with the latter going to St Petroni Branco. Prousaefs was a fan of this expression: “Gentian, oxidised wine and honeysuckle on the nose. What a smell. Full-bodied, slightly oxidised notes, great balance and depth, and complexity.”
Filer added: “A subtle nose, like a dry Riesling, with floral notes, citrus and tart stone fruit, and spice. A sweet and tart palate, with zingy acidic citrus and earthy spices, perhaps slightly overly balanced towards the sweetness – a delicate profile needs a drier base.”
A Gold was also awarded to St Petroni Vermello, enjoyed for being “earthy and fruity with bitter green herbs on the nose”. Campari Group walked away with six of the nine Gold medals that were awarded, including one for Cinzano Vermouth Bianco, which was described as having “a balance of sweet, bitter and tart notes on the palate, with bittersweet citrus peel, bitter wormwood, earthy and sweet spices”.
Campari’s Del Professore impressed the judges with its flavours of “rich dark fruit” and its “herbal nose”. Fellow Gold medallist 1757 Vermouth di Torino G.I. Extra Dry was described as having a “fantastic bianco/sweet vermouth nose but a very crisp dry palate”.
Spain’s Zamora Company grabbed two Golds in this round for its “fresh and vibrant” Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Tradizionale, and Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Mediterranean Dry, enjoyed for its “floral and bitter herbal notes”.
Filer said of the Vermouth round: “Really interesting examples here, both of the classic expected vermouth profile, and of a more wine-led, delicate style.”
A solid Silver medallist was found in the Pisco flight with Macerado del Peru 1615 by Coya, lauded for its “peppery spice and earthy background notes”.
Bitters were put to the test next with Pernod Ricard’s Suze l’Originale securing a Gold. The expression offered a “distinctively bitter nose with citrus, roots and spices. Very bitter on the palate, balanced with some sweetness”.
A tasting of Botanical Spirits came next, with M1 Nonzero Spirit winning a Silver. The final flight of the day, Low & No Alcohol, awarded a Silver to another Pernod Ricard expression: Suze Tonic Zero.
It was time to taste the Master winners to decide which expression was worthy of the top Taste Master title. After retasting St Petroni Branco and Ve De Single Malt White Whisky, the judges decided to award the former with the accolade.
What was evident among this year’s Speciality Masters tasting was the high level of quality found in the Vermouth flight, a category that has soared in recent years as consumers turn to lower-alcohol expressions and gravitate towards bitter-sweet cocktails such as Negronis.
|Nuet||Nuet Dry Aquavit||Gold|
|Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company||Ve De Di Single Malt White Whisky||Master|
|Thi Mau Spirits Joint Stock Company||Ve De Di Corn White Whisky||Gold|
|St Petroni||St Petroni Branco||Master & Taste Master|
|St Petroni||St Petroni Vermello||Gold|
|Campari Group||Cinzano Vermouth Bianco||Gold|
|Campari Group||Cinzano Vermouth Rosso Sweet||Gold|
|Campari Group||1757 Vermouth di Torino G.I. Sweet NV||Gold|
|Campari Group||Del Professore Vermouth di Torino Rosso||Gold|
|Campari Group||Del Professore||Gold|
|Campari Group||1757 Vermouth di Torino G.I. Extra Dry||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Tradizionale||Gold|
|Zamora Company||Villa Massa Vermouth di Giardino Mediterranean Dry||Gold|
|Bodega San Nicolas||Macerado del Peru 1615 by Coya||Silver|
|Nonzero||M1 Nonzero Spirit||Silver|
|Pernod Ricard France||Suze Tonic Zero||Silver|