IWSC 2024 Alternative Drinks Judging: Judges’ deliberations on RTDs (Ready To Drink)

Alternative drinks

Tue 28 May 2024

By Kristen Dougall

The Ready To Drink (RTD) category continues to grow at the IWSC, with so many diverse flavours, cocktails and spirit mixers entered, our judges were delighted to taste their way through the hundreds of entries across two days of judging.

Our panels of RTD experts were overseen by Judging Committee member Shannon Tebay. Shannon was encouraged by the year-on-year growth in the number of entries and the quality, “The RTD category is one that was largely built out of Covid, yet it keeps getting stronger and stronger. It is a category that isn’t going anywhere, and we are still seeing development and innovation.”

The aforementioned innovation was ever-present at this year’s RTD judging. With so many exciting flavours entered each year, our expert judges are looking for the key flavour, that a producer denotes their RTD as, to be the obvious flavour, that there the taste is not artificial in flavour and that they can still identify and taste the dominant spirit within the pre-mixed cocktail. “It is very important that the RTD has to be evocative of the core cocktail the RTD is claiming to represent” stressed Shannon.


Negroni continues to be a firm favourite with consumers, and entries into the IWSC RTD Awards mirrored the popularity. Our judges were pleasantly surprised with the RTD Negronis they tasted, there were some “curveballs” that kept our judges on their toes, with different base spirits and different flavours layered into the classic Negroni. One standout Negroni, that our judges awarded a gold medal to, was a Coffee-flavoured Negroni. Our judges praised the “roasted coffee aromas that shine through, complementing the other spirits, with a pleasant creaminess and touch of sweetness on the finish. A nice medley of flavours.”

Espresso Martini

Espresso Martinis are still a very popular cocktail, and our judges commented that “tasting Espresso Martinis side-by-side is a great opportunity to see what a wide range of products are available to consumers”. Two gold medals were awarded to our flights of Espresso Martinis, the judges said of one of the gold-medal winners, “there was an attractive cream head on the pour, with notes of chocolate and coffee and a long finish”. The other gold winner was praised for its “rum on the nose with dark, sweet toffee and butterscotch which complemented the coffee and vanilla”.

Another standout Espresso Martini was a salted caramel entry, our judges enjoyed the “restrained coffee aromas with caramel coming through and finishing with the salt. Great texture, silky and unctuous on the palate with caramel that lingers on the finish”.

Piña Colada

Piña Colada is always a fun category for our experts to judge. We had a wide range of entries this year, with our judges commenting that the wide variety meant “there is something for everyone, even if you don’t like coconut!”. This year, there was even one entry that was effervescent, showcasing a “new and exciting twist on the classic cocktail”. This effervescent Piña Colada really stood out to our judges and was awarded a gold medal for its “roasted pineapple and rum forward nose, offering a lovely rum spiciness on the palate”. Shannon agreed with the judges’ scoring, noting that the addition of effervescent made the cocktail “enjoyable and also cut through the richness of the creamy cocktail”.


The lucky panel that was able to taste through the flight of flavoured Daiquiris exclaimed that it was the “top flight of the day!”. Often a cocktail that many believe doesn’t translate well as an RTD, surprised our judges, and when executed well, this cocktail really stands out. A stellar Strawberry Daiquiri really impressed our judges and was awarded a gold medal for its, “bright and juicy strawberry jam nose, with fresh strawberries on the palate along with an attractive tart and sour finish.”

Gin & Tonic

Gin & Tonic entries are always present in large numbers at the IWSC. This year our judges were excited to see the category showcasing a more “bespoke citrus/floral element”. A gold winner was praised for its “pine forest and herbal nose, with nice sharp bubbles and balanced sweetness, a rounded palate with botanical depth. A good drinking experience”. The Pink Gin & Tonics were also praised this year for their “well-integrated fruit notes”.


Margarita flights were another interesting category for our judges, with entries ranging from the classic Margarita to flavoured ones. The classic version of the cocktail performed very well, with 3 gold medals awarded. One of the gold winners was complimented for its “citrussy nose, savoury agave and hint of orange aromas. The zesty palate has a touch of salinity and spice.”

Many more exciting categories of RTDs were tasted by our judges, so stay tuned for the full results announcement on 29 May.