IWSC 2024 Spirits Judging. Judges’ deliberations on Grape Brandy and Asian Spirits

Spirit news

Thu 16 May 2024

By Kristen Dougall

As we close the doors on another day at our Spirits Judging, our judges were left with smiles on their faces thanks to the impressive quality of spirits on show. With many gold and gold outstanding awards across the day of judging, it’s not a surprise why.

Grape Brandy

Our judges were treated to many grape brandies from around the world, including Cognac, Armagnac, Grappa and Brandy de Jerez. The panels were led by our Spirits Judging Committee member, Joel Harrison, a member of Compagnie des Mousquetaires d’Armagnac in the world of brandy.

One of the standout flights was the Brandy de Jerez. Joel Harrison commented, “this category usually punches above its reputation. With experts hand-selected by the IWSC, these entries were judged by professionals, so judges were blinded by the bombastic nature of brandies on offer, as it is quite a big flavoured product, but our judges were looking at the quality of these brandies sat amongst their compatriots in the world of grape brandy.”

An impressive 3 gold medals were awarded to the Brandy de Jerez category, with one standout entry receiving a gold outstanding. Judges praised the brandy as a “textbook example of this style, simply stunning. There were notes of old cream sherry with some desiccated coconut and toffee. Lovely bright grape character on the palate, with some orange blossom, bright grapefruit and good supporting oak. A long, fruit-driven finish which shows lovely balance”.

Cognac was also another highlight from this year’s judging. Our judges were impressed to see the sheer number of entries for this category, with the level of incredible consistency making it even harder for our judges. The Cognacs that shone through and were awarded the highest scores showcased the balance of different grape varietals, different ages and different levels of complexity.

Our judges were pleased to see some great examples of fruit-driven spirits, using oak judiciously rather than aggressively, which allowed the terroir and characteristics of the cru to be expressed. Judges commented on the “continuing trend toward lower sugar and expressive spirits”. The XXO category surprised our judges, there can be a tendency to see this style overworked and overdone, but the expressions on show were “brighter and more generous without too much added sugar and stewed oak character.”

A standout Cognac was a Cognac XO - Grande Champagne that was awarded a gold outstanding, with judges highlighting the “nice barrel character, with notes of peaches, chestnuts and honey, as well as a juicy sweetness with spices on the finish”.

The flights of Armagnac also impressed our judges, with the grape-forward expressions demanding high scores from our experts. The vintage Armagnac offered superb diversity of style, whilst maintaining a consistently high quality. A 1974 vintage was awarded a gold outstanding, with judges impressed by the Armagnac’s “prune and dark chocolate nose, leading through to bake spice and pastry aromas. Nice texture and good length that help a nice intensity of stone fruit and grape juice.”

Grappa had a strong representation at this year’s judging. The last four years of judging, Grappa has shown real consistency in its performance. Our judges awarded top medals to Grappas with exceptional grape quality that shone through, as well as Grappas with balanced alcohol, not too harsh or hot on the palate, and of course maintaining a lot of flavour and personality. A gold outstanding was awarded to a Grappa that demonstrated, “well-matured blue cheese on the nose, with a nice weight of red grape must, blackcurrant and a touch of leafy eucalyptus. Bright, zingy and freshness on the palate, with some well-defined citrus fruit supported by green pear and elderflower blossom. Nice length, which shows some darker fruit and a touch of spice. Very nicely made.”

Pisco also showed that the consistency of the category remains high, with our judges praising the flights of Chilean Piscos in particular for delivering great quality across the board. A Reservado was awarded a gold outstanding, judges noting the Pisco’s “complex nose of Seville orange and lemon blossom, its creamy mouthfeel with mango, passion fruit, grape and a light floral touch on the finish.”

A special mention goes to the Moldovan brandies, our judges were blown away by the quality from this country. With one of our on-trade judges commenting that they would be “keeping an eye on the results to find out the producer of one standout Moldovan brandy”. Luckily, the IWSC share full details of all the winners with our judges, highlighting the scores our judges awarded the entries they judged. This information is vital for building connections between brands and the trade.

Asian Spirits


Our judges were blown away by the incredibly high standard of Shochu entries this year. The expert panels were overseen by Spirits Judging Committee member Marie Cheong-Thong.

The flights of Mugi (barley) Shochu made with Black Koji showed real depth of flavour and were expertly balance with the alcohol. A gold outstanding was awarded to a Mugi Shochu that showcased a “pretty aroma of flowers, melon and pear. A delicate palate and excellent finish”.

The Imo (sweet potato) Shochu using White Koji displayed wonderful fruity profiles, a more subtle style of shochu. Medals were awarded to every Shochu in these flights, with a gold outstanding given to an Imo Shochu, praising the “citrus notes that come through on the palate, with umami notes and a long, delicious finish”.

The Awamori flights were “outstanding this year”, exclaimed Marie Cheong-Thong. The long-aged expressions particularly surprised our judges. A 14YO Awamori was awarded a gold outstanding for its “lovely vanilla and maple notes great smoothness and balance of flavours.”

Korean Soju

The flights of Soju sparked our judges’ interests with the variety of styles showcased across the category. A gold outstanding was award to a Korean Soju that demonstrated “great balance and character, with dried grass on the nose and a apple fruitness on the incredibly long finish.”


Head judge Marie Cheong-Thong was particularly impressed with the quality of Baijiu at the judging, stating that “the quality of Baijiu over the years has increased tremendously.”

The flights of Sauce Aroma Baijiu really stood out to our judges, the consistency was very high, with almost every entry being awarded a medal. The aged Sauce Aroma Baijiu category performed very well, with a standout 7YO entry receiving a gold medal. Our judges praised the “pear, green apple and sesame notes that were well balanced yet expressive. The exceptional complexity showcased fruitiness and umami characteristics in perfect harmony”.

The flights of Light Aroma Baijiu exceeded our judges’ expectations, performing exceptionally well. A gold outstanding was awarded to a Light Aroma Baijiu that had “tropical aromas of pineapple, guava and mango on the nose, as well as floral notes of jasmine and rose on the palate. An enjoyable Baijiu with great balance”.

Finally, the flights of Strong Aroma Baijiu were said to offer the most consistency, where purity and precision were the key characteristics our judges were looking for in the medal-winning Strong Aroma entries. “Mixed aromas of floral, fruity, aniseed and fennel, with well-integrated alcohol and a well balanced finish with a touch of sweetness” were the tasting notes given to a gold-medal Sauce Aromas Baijiu. Our judges were also greatly impressed by the aged Strong Aroma Baijiu that were entered, with a gold outstanding going to an entry that was over 30YO. Our judges praised the “understated and measured nose with dried fruits and notes of blue cheese. The layered and complex finish showed real intensity on the palate with great depth.”

Stay tuned for more Spirits Judging results over the next few days, with results announced on 3 June.