Whilst the classic spirits categories are more than standing up for themselves, with ever more innovative and crafted products in their own right, what the 2019 IWSC Spirits Awards demonstrated was just how global the spirits world has become. This year’s competition proved to be a breakthrough, at least in terms of trophies and medals, for growing spirits categories such as pisco, mezcal, baiju and shochu. Richard Siddle takes a look at the awards and picks out the key trends all spirits buyers need to be on top of.
The International Wine & Spirit Competition more than lived up to its name in this year’s spirits awards with trophies and medals won by producers in continents from all over the world.
Imagine a world where you going into the trendiest of trendiest of bars to find exactly the same line up of spirit brands and bottles to the last time you visited. How might this be even possible you might ask?
Thankfully in the real world the back bar is an every changing mix of different styles of spirits as not only new brands capture our attention, but new styles and combinations of spirits and flavours become that month’s must have drink.
The quickly changing spirits world was there for all to see both at this week’s Annual Spirits Tasting, hosted by the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), at the Vintners Hall in London, but also the announcement of the 2019 winners in the IWSC’s annual spirits awards.
Spirits buyers had the chance to see for themselves at the tasting some of the top medal and trophy winners chosen from the almost 3,000 spirits entered into the 2019 competition.
Highlights from this year’s competition included a first trophy for pisco, with 2019 proving to be a breakthrough year for this versatile spirit, as well as good wins for shochu and baijiu, demonstrating yet again just how global the spirits world truly has come.
But as well as all the relatively new kids on the block the 2019 awards also showed how strongly the classic categories are also still performing with more strong performances for whisky and gin. But with a twist. In the highly competitive gin category it was producers in Australia, Croatia and Switzerland that swept the board for trophies.
Here are some of the key trends to keep on top.
OK pisco does not really need an introduction, but 2019 was the first year that the IWSC introduced a dedicated trophy to recognise just how important and significant the pisco market has now come, with demand for Chile and and Peru’s equivalent of brandy, exciting bartenders, and their customers, across the country.
This year’s awards saw both Chilean and Peruvian piscos receiving Gold Outstanding medals with the IWSC trophy going actually to an acclaimed wine producer and the El Gobernador from Miguel Torres SA – a Chilean pisco made from Muscat grapes.
Christelle Guibert, chief executive of fine wine and spirits at the IWSC said it was “fantastic to recognise the quality of pisco with its own trophy following a growing popularity within the category”. “This year, there have been a number of outstanding entries, showing that this Chilean and Peruvian spirit is certainly one to watch,” she added.
Driving Asian spirits with Shochu and Baijiu
Both the Japanese spirit, shochu, and China’s best-selling spirit, baijiu, performed incredibly well at this year’s IWSC awards. There were five Gold Outstanding medals and 11 straight Gold medals for baiiju and four Golds for shochu.
Steve Beal, IWSC chair judge that oversaw the judging of these categories said “the eyes of the world are on Asian spirits” at the moment. Particularly the rise in shochu and baijiu. “This year we have been gifted with wonderful examples of some of the very best. The examples we judged were extraordinary and reflect the strength and growth of the Asian spirits category and their growing popularity in the west,” he said.
Pushing Tequila and Mezcal
Mezcal has so much to thank tequila for. In fact it is hard to imagine anywhere near the interest in mezcal if had not been for the enormous surge in quality we have seen amongst premium tequilas in recent years. Tequilas are no longer to be slammed and dunked and spoilt with salt and lime or lemon. No, they are to be treated with respect and sipped slowly over ice. At least the very best tequilas should be.
But as the tequila market has become ever more premium it has opened the way for more mezcals to come into the market. So much so that in some bars it is mezcal that has become the go to drink. There has even been a dedicated London Mezcal Week since 2016 as well as mezcal-only bars popping up around London.
So it was not surprising to see mezcal, for the second year in a row, sweep the board when it comes to the IWSC’s dedicated agave spirits trophy. Particularly impressive when there were far more tequilas entered the overall competition.
Mezcal’s popularity probably lies somewhere in the fact it is so much versatile than tequila with a myriad of styles and flavours available thanks to the act it can be produced from over 28 varieties of the agave plant from many areas across Mexico, whereas tequila is made from only one type of agave.
Rum – the next gin?
Rum has been tipped by spirits experts to be the ‘next gin’, and the IWSC’s results certainly show why with five rums awarded the Gold Outstanding medal, up from two in 2018. One of which went to an un-aged white rum from Worthy Park Estate, Jamaica. A rare accolade for a white rum.
Gin’s continued success
Gin continues defies the odds and proved once again just how popular a spirit it is with more entries from different countries around the world. Old Pilot’s Gin from Croatia won the London Dry Gin trophy against enormous competition. There were also trophy wins for distilleries from Australia and Switzerland this year.
Gin entries were once again up and show no sign of slowing down, particularly the rise in flavoured gins. The use of tea as a botanical both before and after distillation to bring complexity and structure to the spirit was also a stand out trend from this year’s awards.
- The International Wine & Spirit Competition is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary. The judging process continues to be enhanced and includes panels made up of Master Distillers, Masters of Wine, wine and spirit buyers and sommeliers; WSET qualified educators and respected wine and spirit journalists. Every single wine and spirit is blind tasted and assessed on its own merit within the context of its class. The competition receives entries from over 90 countries.