IWSC 2024 Spirits Judging: Judges’ deliberations on Gin

Spirit news

Wed 22 May 2024

By Ciaran Griffiths

Gin is one of the biggest categories in the IWSC, with entries from all across the world in many different styles and expressions. Our judges spent three days tasting gins from each different category, led by Olivier Ward.

Earlier this year we reviewed our gin categorisation, reflecting the changes happening in the gin world. The updated gin categories at the IWSC are Classic/Traditional Gin (including London Dry), Contemporary Gin and Flavoured Gin. The judges noted that these changes evidently helped brands enter the right category - there was less re-categorisation needed to be done during the judging. Moreover, these changes ensured a fairer and more accurate judging process for all entries. “With the new gin groups, we are seeing some interesting new notes coming through that maybe we haven't in previous years under 'London Dry' which makes for a more interesting selection,” said the judges.

What was really interesting to see was that there were so few re-categorisations. I think there's much better understanding of what we're looking for from a classicism perspective that's been great for producers making sure they enter into the right category. From a judging point of view it has been really helpful because it's allowed us to give much more objective evaluations. We have clarity over the definition of categories and it helped us be more consistent,” Spirits Judging Committee member Olivier Ward said of the changes.

Classic/Traditional Gin

The Classic/Traditional gin category performed admirably this year, with gins from every country gaining medals. Interestingly, our judges noticed a slight shift in the style as a whole, with the incorporation of new notes and balances.

Classic gin, especially from Europe is less classic than it was 10 years ago. So whilst there's a sense of establishment and traditionality in gin, the juniper is still there, for instance, I think it's softer than it previously was,” shared Olivier Ward.

Classic/Traditional gins from Europe were the most consistent in this style with less variety but improved quality compared to previous years.

“The quality of samples continues to improve this year, there is less variety which indicates that the gin category has started to settle down,” the judges agreed, with most entries being awarded medals.

One standout gold medal winning gin scored 96 points, with the judges praising the “balanced and delicate flavours of vanilla with a hint of clove spice – some fun flavours!

Another European Classic/Traditional gin was highlighted by the judges for its “citrus forward, broad complexity on the midpalate with a strong juniper core throughout,” and was awarded a gold medal.

The Classic/Traditional gins from Oceania surprised our judges with some uncommon aromas. One such gin was awarded a silver medal after impressing the judges with a “sweet, rooty finish with a delicate floral backing.”

Another gin from Oceania that was well-received by our judges served as an excellent textbook example of a classic gin. “Immediate notes of fresh juniper, hints of black pepper, followed by a pleasant finish of juniper,” shared the judges, awarding a silver medal.

The judges were hopeful about the future of gins from Oceania sharing, “We’ve seen more strong entrances for the Classic/Traditional gin category from Oceania, and we’re excited to see what the future brings as consumers are hungry for more well-made spirits!”

The gins from Asia were extremely impressive this year, winning a high amount of silver and gold medals.

Today we saw probably the most exciting flavour combinations, flavour sequences and flavour journeys, coming from the Asian gins for the second year in a row,” praised Spirits Judging Committee member Olivier Ward.

“Great quality from the Asian contingent, which boasted expressions of commendable quality and balance which were incredibly well made and bright. Lots of bronzes and generally well-made spirits,” agreed the judging panel.

The judges awarded a gold medal to an Asian gin they saw as a “classic example of the style with an intense nose of lemon zest and juniper, with a complex and long finish.”

Another standout from the Asian gins was praised for its “rooty and earthy character spice and juniper. It was nicely rounded and balanced with a reasonable persistence.

On the Asian gins as a whole, Olivier Ward added “these gins were diverseand far more interesting and intricately layered flavour sequences then we’ve seen before. I think there is much more of a regional identity coming out of the Asian gins, whether it's the base spirit, whether it's the botanicals, whether it's the nuance, whatever it might be, Asian gins are finding their feet, and finding their identity more so than in previous years.”

With a good amount of silver medals, and one gold outstanding, the Classic/Traditional gins from South America were another highlight for our judges.

There were really good South American entries, the quality is high overall, and it is interesting to see that this region is quite classic, juniper-forward, given the botanical availability that they have. They are making fantastic gin,” praised Olivier Ward.

The gold outstanding South American gin deeply impressed the judges with its balance and intensity. “Wow! Booming juniper, full mouthfeel and great intensity that makes use of the ABV. There’s just so much to love here!”

Contemporary Gin

The Contemporary gin category saw a wide variety of entries with some high-scoring gold medals awarded to those gins that pushed the boundaries while still keeping a clear balance.

“On the Contemporary gins - I think there's been a bit of a deviation: some are very much botanical spirit and really want to be very contemporary, and the others are just giving a fresh take on age-old classics with really very little juniper and others are actually a very fresh take on the idea of gin as a whole. So the Contemporary category is broader in spectrum, but actually more polarised,” shared Olivier Ward. “Over all three dayswe’ve seen some interesting and bold takes on the concept of gin with producers experimenting with the usage of botanicals and really pushing the boundary of innovation.”

The panels were happy to see that the Contemporary gins from Europe were of an overall high quality. Several gins from this region were awarded a gold, and one exceptional gin was awarded a gold outstanding for its adventurous use of flavour.  

This gin had a solid structure of the spirit, an incredible profile of kaffir lime which gave some much needed freshness. Even once it is diluted it maintains the great profile and is still balanced with the bouquet of flowers,” explained the judges, awarding 98 points.

The gold outstanding gin from Europe was really special, despite the huge flavour profile, it maintained its underlying structure,” agreed Olivier Ward.

Contemporary gins from Oceania also performed well at this year’s judging, with a high percentage of gold medals.

There was a wonderful array of spirits from Oceania this year with some incredible integration of the base spirit. Alongside a brilliant diversity of styles and intent, some stellar gins really showcased the area’s botanicals and flavour profiles. Just an excellent quality of distillation across the board, showing a more delicate and considered approach,” explained the judges.

The gold outstanding winning gin from Oceania stood out to the judges thanks to its “sharp, bold nose with pleasing sappy resinous juniper and a huge hit of citrus.”

Olivier Ward was very pleased with the Contemporary Asian gin category, finding the majority of the entries offered “depth and consistent quality.”

Almost all Contemporary gins from Asia got medals, with several strong golds awarded. One of the standout gins was awarded 96 points and a gold with the judges noting its “tropical fruity nose, pineapple and peppery spice on the palate with a soft creaminess in the palate, followed by a big peppery end note leading to a sweet fruity finish.”

A very interesting day overall. The gin coming out of Asia is super promising! They were the most exciting and consistent on quality and we witnessed some entries with some serious character which was pleasantly unexpected,” described the judges.

The judges were equally impressed with the standard of gins coming from South America.

There was a broad range of styles all with very good quality base spirits, and some beautiful representations of the region. With a few standout performers and great usage of single botanicals as signatures, we’re excited about the current state of South American Contemporary gin,” shared the judges.

One such standout South American gin gained praise for it’s interesting layering. “A mix of citrus and herbaceous flavours coming through the nose. Some tropical fruits such as melon, papaya on the palate, a pleasant gin with a solid citrusy, orange finish,” said the judges, awarding a silver medal.

I was pleased to see a good quality of entries from Africa this year, with one particular gin getting quite a lot of attention on the day.”Olivier Ward said of the African Contemporary gin.

One silver medal winning African gin impressed the judges with its “wide range of botanicals that were great on the nose, some good spice that was warming with a rounded body and a complex finish.”

Flavoured Gin

The Flavoured gins saw an excellent standard of quality this year, with some of the highest scoring gin results coming from this category.

“The judges were seeking a balance of flavour and gin character and found this done well. Those that scored high were more than worthy of their medals. The judges were also pleased to see more experimentation and a wider selection of flavours beyond berries and pink,” commented the judges on the overall state of Flavoured gins.

One of the highest scoring Flavoured gins was a shiraz-infused gin that deeply awed the judges with its depth and balance. “The length is good and persistent with a nice chocolate note, the alcohol feels harmonious with the rest,” explained the judges.

“The Shiraz grape infused gins continue to impress - that was something that was clear again,” agreed Olivier Ward, who also noted how impressed he was to see several golds across the wine-infused gin entries as a whole.

The other gold outstanding for the Flavoured gin came from a European Old Tom gin. The judges praised the clarity. “Quite clear for an Old Tom! Welcoming pine aroma with a chewy palate and perfectly balanced sweetness. A fantastic representation of an Old Tom gin,” shared the judges.

Another standout amongst the Flavoured gins was a smoked rosemary flavoured gin. The judges admired the “nicely integrated rosemary flavours in a spirit very classically rooted in gin. Juniper is prominent throughout with a nice clean finish.”

Several golds went to cask-finished gins that intrigued our judges. One of the most interesting ones drew attention for its “unusual cardamom spice aroma which is welcomed. Provides decent complexity and length, not classical but definitely interesting!”

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