This was the first year the People’s Choice Drinks Awards ran separate judging sessions, using professional spirits buyers, to help assess the eight standalone spirits categories it has introduced to the overall event. In keeping with the ethos of the People’s Choice Drinks Awards consumers were also invited to take part in the judging which was able to take place both in person and virtually. Here is the shortlist of brand owners, distillers and importers who make up the finalists.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way was very much the spirit (sorry) in putting on the judging for the spirits categories in the 2021 People’s Choice Drinks Awards.
You have stepped up your spirits coverage this year by having your own standalone awards – what sort of response have you had from the spirits industry?
We have been pleased with the response, particularly in a year which has been so difficult. We’ve had about the same amount of spirits as we had in wines the first year we began. We decided to start small and make sure we got the process right, hence only eight categories this year.
- Rum (sippers and spiced)
- Gin (classic and flavoured)
- Whisky/Whiskeys (easy weekday and treat yourself)
- Out of the Ordinary category (covering all spirits)
- Mindful Drinking (for no/low alcohol).
Any categories that stood out in terms of entries and interest?
We’ve had a lot of gin. We thought this would be the case as there are so many UK producers and it is a very competitive market. We’ve also had some from overseas, which is great to make the comparison.
We’ve been thrilled to have Double Dutch sponsoring the Classic G&T category and supplying its fabulous tonic waters. I’m sure we’ll be working with them as we expand the categories next year.
What are your plans for expanding your spirits awards?
We will be carefully expanding the numbers of categories. Having great judges and partners, such as The Three Drinkers, Dawn Davies MW, Speciality Drinks, Greg Dillon from Great Drams and Dave Marsland from the Rum Festival means that we are being advised on the latest trends as well as making sure the competition is meaningful for producers and suppliers submitting. The colour of some of the spirits in the storage facility has certainly brightened up our visits.
We will likely separate the competition altogether next year and have separate judging sessions and awards ceremony – we want to make sure it has the prominence it deserves and we don’t want to make our very entertaining ceremony too long and boring.
Here is the full list of professional spirits judges we worked with on the 2021 awards.
Did you have consumers involved as you do with the wine awards?
Yes, we’ve had consumers involved, just like with the wines, but in smaller numbers this year. We’ve been contacted by a number of gin and whisky groups which would like to get involved. They have quite fanatical followings, which is great for us.
How have you done the judging with the pandemic?
We followed the same procedures as we did with the wine judging. So during November, we were able to run some smaller judging sessions in business venues in Cheshire (a low tier area at the time) which had the space to safely distance people attending. All judges were local and we also enlisted the help of some local trade judges who were on furlough or who had recently lost their jobs. They were thrilled to help out.
No consumers were asked to travel outside of their home town to attend. Of course we had the full PPE too. Bearing in mind we usually carry out the judging over two days with around 100 people, we will have carried out 16 judging sessions (with the wine awards), including virtual judging.
The finalists are now out – any particular trends that stand out?
Gin – lots of it and the quality generally across all categories.The flavoured and spiced spirits are also extremely popular.
It is great to see the branding and labelling on spirits, as compared with wines. They do such a great job of telling the story behind the label and appealing to their consumer base, it is quite striking.
We want to thank so many people this year – the producers and suppliers who still had the head-space to submit their wines and spirits for a competition, the judges who were patient, despite an ever changing schedule and also our additional trade judges, helping consumers and us to complete the sessions under difficult circumstances.
We are now looking forward to our ‘virtual’ ceremony, scheduled for February 8.