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The GSMC Taste Masters 2023

At the end of every round of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions, our judges choose the best of the best – the Taste Master. Here, we highlight the expressions that stood out in 2023.

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A Taste Master is an outstanding expression from each of the GSMC categories

A great deal of care and consideration goes into every award given during The Global Spirits Masters Competitions (GSMC). Each contest gives spirits brands from around the world the chance to win a Silver, Gold, or Master medal, provided they meet the rigorous standards expected by experienced, independent judges.

In addition, those that successfully attain the top Master award have the chance to be considered for the ultimate accolade: the Taste Master.

At the end of each blind tasting, the Master medallists are resampled and the judges vote for their favourite liquid from the day.

The exception to the rule is The Design & Packaging Masters, which assesses entrants on aesthetics, not flavour. In this case, a Best in Class award is given to the standout design.

The GSMC has grown to more than 20 competitions annually, covering everything from gin, vodka and rum to all styles of whisky, Tequila, mezcal and speciality spirits – all chaired by The Spirits Business.

Here are the Taste Master winners from 2023, and look at each product in greater detail.

De Kuyper Zero 0% Margarita

De Kuyper Zero 0% Margarita - Taste Master

Low & No Taste Master 2023

In a flight of non-alcoholic apéritifs, De Kuyper blew the judges away with its De Kuyper Zero 0% Margarita – which went on to collect the Taste Master award.

The judges enjoyed “sweet and sour” notes, with distinct lime, orange and agave flavours. It was “fresh and citrusy”, and the judges also noted: “This definitely smells and tastes like a Margarita. A mild spiciness and sour-sweetness at the end.”

The Dutch firm released the alcohol-free, ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail in 2021 – marking De Kuyper’s first move into alcohol-free products.

It was created by Myriam Hendrickx, master distiller at De Kuyper, and Henk-Jan Schoute, research and development at the company.

Lokita Mezcal Tepeztate

Lokita Mezcal Tepeztate

Tequila & Mezcal Taste Master 2023

This mezcal made a lasting impression on the judges during the Tequila & Mezcal Masters 2023, securing the top award in the 100% Agave Mezcal – Joven – Artisanal –
Tepeztate heat.

One judge noted: “Wow, what a nose – so expressive. Wonderful mouthfeel with hints of milk chocolate, burnt agave, and green vegetal notes.”

The mezcal is produced by BBC Spirits, and rests at 47% ABV.

The mezcal is made with Maguey Tepeztate agave, which takes 20 years to fully mature for optimal harvest. It is distilled twice in copper stills.

The brand recommends that it is served either neat or mixed in a cocktail.

Additional tasting notes include “spicy and fruity” flavours, said to be “well-balanced with herbal notes”.

Elizabeth Yard – Traveller Distillery – Ungrogged American Oak No 1 Char Octave

Elizabeth Yard – Travellers Distillery – Ungrogged American Oak No 1 Char Octave - Taste Master

Rum & Cachaça Taste Master 2023

In the Dark Rum – Aged over 13 Years flight in The Rum & Cachaça Masters 2023, Edinburgh’s Holyrood Distillery delivered a standout expression.

The distillery’s Elizabeth Yard – Traveller Distillery – Ungrogged American Oak No 1 Char Octave won a Master medal for its “light spiciness with just the right amount of sweetness”.

Holyrood also took home four additional Master medals in the competition, including one for Elizabeth Yard – Trinidad Distillers – Spanish Oak PX Sherry Octave.

Franklin & Sons Pineapple & Almond Soda

Franklin & Sons Pineapple & Almond Soda

Tonic & Mixer Taste Master 2023

“Marzipan” and “pineapple-upside-down-cake” are the showstopping opening notes when sampling Franklin & Sons Pineapple & Almond Soda, owned by Global Brands.

Additional tasting notes for the Taste Master winner include “tinned pineapples and sugared almonds”.

The soda water is said to blend perfectly with fruit and coconut-flavoured rums, according to the brand’s website. A 200ml bottle contains 20 calories, 4.8g of carbohydrates, and it is suitable for vegans.

The soda water is made using ‘natural’ pineapple and lime, said to give a tropical hit while the almond adds a smoky finish.

The soda is available in packs of 20 200ml bottles, priced at RRP £20 (US$25) per pack.

Cognac Frapin – Millésime 1990

Cognac Frapin – Millésime 1990 - Taste Master

Cognac Taste Master 2023

Closing The Cognac Masters 2023 was a flight of Vintage – Single Cru. It was here that the Taste Master medallist was discovered: Cognac Frapin – Millésime 1990.

The mouthfeel was “luxurious”, enhanced further by tastes of “tropical fruit, peach and apricot compôte, warming woody spices and cinnamon dryness in the background”.

The 1990 vintage withstood climatic challenges. It was recollected, distilled on the lees, and aged at Frapin’s home in the heart of Grand Champagne.

Only 3,000 bottles of Cognac Frapin Millésime 1990 were produced, and they were bottled at 41.8% ABV.

Jiangyuxin-Red 52

Jiangyuxin-Red 52

Asian Spirits Taste Master 2023

This year’s Asian Spirits ­Masters had a dedicated Baijiu flight, and it proved one of the strongest in the competition, with three Masters – all from one spirits producer – being awarded.

Taking home the prize for Taste Master, however, was Shanghai Guijiu Co’s Jiangyuxin-Red 52, which the judges praised for its “wonderful mouthfeel and texture”, with “the alcohol perfectly integrated. Outstanding.”

The baijiu is bottled at 52% ABV. Its tasting notes state it is “soft in the mouth, sweet and refreshing”, with a “harmonious fragrance” and a “long aftertaste”.

Shanghai Guijiu Co says the company is rapidly expanding – and with three Masters under its belt, that’s no surprise.

Craigellachie 13 Years Old

Craigellachie 13 Years Old - Taste Master

Scotch Whisky Taste Master 2023

The Scotch Whisky Masters always has entrants of a high calibre, but the judges were particularly impressed by the standard last year.

The Taste Master – Craigellachie 13 Years Old – was described by the judges as “a stunner”. Craigellachie is a Speyside distillery owned by Bacardi. The expression was judged in a flight of Speyside single malts aged between 13 and 18 Years, and was awarded a Master alongside one other expression in the round before being selected as Taste Master for the whole Scotch category.

Resting at 46% ABV, this single malt Scotch was initially matured in a mixture of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, after which 50% of the ‘blend’ was finished in first-fill Sherry casks, and the rest in first-fill Bourbon.

Sparklys Hard Seltzer Holunder

Sparklys Hard Seltzer Holunder

Hard Seltzer Taste Master 2023

The reports of hard seltzers’ death are greatly exaggerated, as we discovered in May when two in the category were awarded Masters, and many more Gold medals.

In the Fermented category, Swiss brand Sparklys shone, winning two medals – with its Holunder expression selected as the overall winner. Holunder – which means elderberry in German – was praised for “delightful floral notes and sweetness from the elderberry, with some funk in there too – complex and interesting”. One judge particularly liked the hard seltzer’s “good elderberry on the nose” and its “rich and jammy” palate with “fruity and floral notes”.

The hard seltzer has an ABV of 5% and 1.8g of sugar per 250ml can.

Starward Fortis

Starward Fortis - Taste Master

World Whisky Taste Master 2023

Australian distillery Starward had a strong showing in The World Whisky Masters last year, receiving 10 awards – a brilliant showing for any brand, but particularly for one founded in 2007.

But it was its Fortis expression – which was matured in 100% American oak casks that previously held Australian red wines, mostly from Barossa Valley wineries – that won the Taster Master award. After maturation, Fortis is bottled at 50% ABV without chill-filtration.
One judge described the Australian single malt as having “caramelised ripe banana and oak on the nose. A sweet palate opening with some fresh apple syrup, a touch of citrus and plenty of pepper.”

Starward was also the producer of 2022’s World Whisky Taste Master, Tawny #2.

Redbreast 27 Years Old

Redbreast 27 Years Old

Irish Whiskey Taste Master 2023

Premium doesn’t always mean best – though it certainly proved so in The Irish Whiskey Masters 2023.

The Taste Master was Redbreast 27 Years Old, featured in the Single Pot Still – Ultra Premium (£91 and above) flight. Matt Chambers, co‐founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog, was full of praise for the expression: “Deliciously fruity and sweet on the nose, red fruits and raisins with a hint of cereal spice. So much depth and complexity, milk chocolate and cocoa, a hint of marzipan and evolving nuttiness.” Redbreast 27 Years Old is the oldest permanent whiskey in the brand’s portfolio, and was also named Irish Whiskey Taste Master 2022.

Hernö Navy Strength Gin

Hernö Navy Strength Gin - Taste Master

Gin Taste Master 2023

A 57% ABV gin is no joke, and it’s easy for the higher alcohol strength to throw off the balance completely.

But Swedish distiller Hernö has mastered the art of high-proof distilling, as proven by its multi-Master-winning Hernö Navy Strength Gin. “Very smooth at 57% ABV, with a good structure,” noted one judge in the first part of The Gin Masters 2023, while another said: “Lovely balance of citrus and herbal, sugary hit up front and bittersweet finish.”

Botanicals used to make Hernö Navy Strength Gin include black pepper, cassia, coriander, lemon peel, lingonberries, meadowsweet, vanilla and, of course, juniper. This is the same recipe used to make the brand’s flagship bottling, which sits at 40.5% ABV.

Eagle Rare 17 Years Old

Eagle Rare 17 Years Old

American Whiskey Taste Master 2023

This Kentucky Straight Bourbon, created by Sazerac, spends almost two decades in oak barrels.

Its lengthy maturation impressed the judges during The American Whiskey Masters 2023, where the brand took the top award in the Ultra Premium Bourbon flight. Eagle Rare 17 Years Old was celebrated for its “nice malty aroma with sweet coffee notes”, leading to a “silky texture with a touch of heat and spice”.

Upon retasting the Master medallists from the blind-tasting competition, the judges were drawn back to the Bourbon’s “strong minerality and huge complexity”, making it a firm favourite with the pros.

It’s not the first time Sazerac scooped the Taste Master accolade, with WL Weller 12 Years Old taking home the 2022 title.

Desi Daru Mango Vodka

Desi Daru Mango Vodka - Taste Master

Vodka Taste Master 2023

“The palate is smooth, pleasant, good level of mango flavour and good level of enjoyability. The mango has a brilliant freshness. Chilled out of the fridge or freezer, this vodka would be brilliant to enjoy,” said one judge during The Vodka Masters 2023.

The remarkable freshness and authenticity of mango flavour really was what set Desi Daru Mango Vodka apart from other flavoured expressions at the tasting.

“Tonnes of fresh mango on the nose, fresh pulp with bitterness from skin, soft and sweet on the palate with a very complex flavour profile, lots of fresh mango. It’s juicy and delicious,” said another judge.

The vodka is made with Indian Alphonso mangoes, and is distilled seven times. It is bottled at 40% ABV.

Rémy Martin XO

Remy Martin XO

Travel Retail Taste Master 2023

The Cognac category is one that has garnered a reputation in The GSMC for top-quality liquid – and last year, Master-winning Rémy Martin XO did not disappoint.

The XO bottling presented “woody and tropical” notes on the nose, such as “peach and apricot with delicate spice”. “Very elegant palate with plenty of dried fruits, orange oils and delicate spices, warming baking spice, good depth and complexity,” one judge added.

The Cognac is made from eaux-de-vie from the Petit Champagne and Grande Champagne regions of Cognac.

The expression is bottled at 40% ABV.

“Flavours of baked apple and raisin”, adding to the Cognac’s “lovely complexity”, secured it the 2023 Travel Retail Taste Master title.

Uncle Nearest Single Barrel

Uncle Nearest Single Barrel - Taste Master

Luxury Taste Master 2023

Distilled, aged and bottled in Tennessee, Uncle Nearest Single Barrel was the standout expression in last year’s Luxury Masters.

The competition looks at spirits priced in the super-premium-and-above categories to determine if the liquid is worth the cost. The whiskey is created by Uncle Nearest’s master blender, Victoria Eady Butler, and sits at 59.2% ABV.

It impressed the judges with its “very typical nose, some baked apple and peanuts”.

Additional tasting notes included: “Intense, with flavours of caramel, vanilla oak and a touch of pepper.”

O’Donnell Moonshine Wild Berry

O’Donnell Moonshine Wild Berry

Liqueur Taste Master 2023

“This was inviting; the flavour is deep and rich, with plenty of berry character. Well-judged alcohol and sweetness integration,” said one judge about The Liqueur Taste Master, O’Donnell Moonshine Wild Berry.

The liqueur soared to victory in the large Fruit flight of the blind tasting.

It is made from natural flavours of fresh berries and red summer fruits, offering notes of blackberry, raspberries, and currants.

At 25% ABV, O’Donnell Moonshine Wild Berry comes packaged in a mason jar.

The brand was inspired by the bootleggers of US Prohibition, and was named after Edward ‘Spike’ O’Donnell (1890-1962), leader of the South Side Gang in Chicago during the Chicago Beer Wars.

St Petroni Branco

St Petroni Branco - Taste Master

Speciality Taste Master 2023

In a large flight of vermouth, St Petroni Branco made a memorable impression on The Speciality Spirits Masters judges.

The vermouth is created by Vermuteria de Galicia in Padrón, Spain.

It is crafted from Albariño grapes, which are then fermented and vinified on the lees, which is said to enhance the aromas, taste and texture of the wine. Finally, 29 herbs and botanicals – including mint, bay leaves, lemon verbena, orange peel, lemon pulp, hibiscus flowers, and camomile – are macerated in alcohol before blending with the wine.

The judges’ tasting notes included: “Gentian, oxidised wine and honeysuckle on the nose. What a smell. Full-bodied, slightly oxidised notes, great balance and depth, and complexity.”

Spiced Tommy’s Margarita

Spiced Tommy’s Margarita - Taste Master

Pre-Mixed & RTD Taste Master 2023

Taking the fuss out of at-home cocktails is the Master-winning Spiced Tommy’s Margarita from The Cocktail Society.

The judges were so impressed by the quality of this bottled cocktail that they also saw fit to award it the Pre-Mixed & RTD Taste Master accolade. “The spice is amazing, the flavour is amazing, and it’s clear, which was not expected,” praised the judges about this top medallist.

The cocktail is made with 100%-agave AquaRiva Reposado Tequila, lime juice, and it is infused with two types of fresh chillies, Longhorn and Bird’s Eye. Agave syrup is used to add a touch of sweetness to balance.

Each 500ml bottle contains five cocktails, and once opened will last for up to three months in the fridge.

Nc’nean Quiet Rebels Gordon

Nc’nean Quiet Rebels Gordon

Design & Packaging – Best in Class 2023

“The bottle is stunning,” remarked one judge. The panels were immediately drawn to Nc’nean Quiet Rebels Gordon during The Design & Packaging Masters 2023.

“I love the screen-printed design on the glass, and the gift tube, which is simple and holds the bottle safely,” a judge said. “The label tells you it is a B Corp company, which is great for its sustainability story, and the glass also tells you that it is a zero-carbon product.”

This Scotch whisky is the third seasonal release from distiller Nc’nean. Part of the Quiet Rebels series, the collection aims to represent the team spirit of the distillery, with this bottling picked by Nc’nean distillery manager Gordon Wood.

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