IWSC 2024 Spirits Judging: Judges’ deliberations on Spirit and Mixer Awards

Spirit news

Fri 24 May 2024

By Kristen Dougall

The IWSC is always trying to aid the trade in their purchasing decisions, and in turn help consumers make informed buying decisions. This was what ignited the birth of our Spirit and Mixer Awards. Our judges are provided premixed samples (ensuring we maintain the blind aspect of the judging) comprising one part of the spirit and three parts of the chosen mixer (no ice or garnish is used). Franklin & Sons are our mixer sponsor, pioneers of top-quality drinks and mixers since 1886. Our judges agree that Franklin & Sons is the perfect pairing to spirits “as they don’t overwhelm the spirits” but complement them.

Our panels of experts were overseen by Judging Committee member, Shannon Tebay, a master of all things mixology. Shannon commented on why the IWSC’s Spirit and Mixer Awards are so important: “When you dilute or add effervescent to something that normally is very intense and very strong, so many nuances and idiosyncrasies come out, that you wouldn’t see otherwise”.

Gin and Tonic

The Gin and Tonic category is always a strong category and this year the great consistency was evident, with a number of highlights. For Shannon, the standouts "still remained true to the spirit characteristic, but had a particular edge to them". Medals were awarded to the quintessential G&Ts, as well as a number of entries that pushed the boundaries and had a “je ne sais quoi and a different layer to them that made them stand out”.

Within our Spirit and Mixer Awards, the Gin and Tonic category is the largest, with flights categorised by style of gin and then by proof.

Our judges were delighted by the Gin & Tonics tasted this year, noting that “this year’s entries showcased why this serve will continue delighting consumers”. One standout gold-medal winner was praised for its “bold and juicy berry fruit nose, with violets and raspberries coming through on the palate and nice balance with tonic notes. The juniper shows up on the finish.”

Vodka Tonics

An array of Vodka Tonics that really excited Judging Committee member Shannon Tebay, who was pleased with the diverse range of vodkas made from varying base materials, showing how “fun” this often-considered neutral spirit is. An impressive 3 gold medals were awarded to this category. One of the gold winners was praised for its “great aroma, with vodka clearly coming through on the nose and palate. A lovely combination with a peppery, bitter finish”.

The Vodka Tonics category also included flavoured vodkas. The judges praised the “variety of flavours showcased”. A gold medal was given to a standout flavoured vodka, that presented “fabulous dill flavour, a refreshing touch of anise and fennel”, with one judge exclaiming it was “pleasant drinking and I would go back for more!”.

Agave and Tonic

Our judges found the Tequila and Tonic category to be a fun mix of entries. A highlight for the judges was an unaged tequila mixed with tonic that allowed the “grassiness of the spirit to shine through. Peppery agave notes on the nose and the tequila continues to come through on the palate.”

Our judges exclaimed that the Mezal and Tonics that were tasted were “a treat to judge”. The highlights had bold underlying spirits and were “the perfect partner for the bitter citrus tonic”.

Whisky Highball

The Whisky Highball flights offered our judges a diverse range of flavours, from the big peaty Scotch to the younger American Ryes. Our judges always delight in the opportunity to showcase diverse whiskies in a new light than the neat serve, “moving into warmer weather, these are the perfect serves to try with your favourite whisky, rather than banishing the bottle to the back of your cupboard until autumn.”

The judges were so impressed by the Whisky Highballs presented this year that they awarded a staggering 4 gold medals. One particular gold winner was praised for its “super peaty and ashtray smoke aromas, with the smokiness continuing on the palate with some vanilla and gentle coconut flavours”.

Rum and Tonic

Our judges expressed that the Rum and Tonic category was an “interesting path for consumers to follow”. The judges praised the examples where “the tonic really accentuated the rums”. A gold medal was awarded to a standout Rum and Tonic that showcased “grassy notes, the lightness of the rum was very pleasant and stood out and paired perfectly with the spices on the tonic. The tonic helped the aromas of the rum to lengthen”.

New to 2024

This year, we introduced three new categories into our Spirit and Mixer Awards. Always staying close to consumer trends, we are delighted to include the Paloma, Whisky and Ginger Ale and Rum and Cola categories.

Paloma (Agave spirit and Grapefruit soda)

Our judges felt that the Paloma category was a “great addition to the judging”. The examples that our judges particularly liked “allowed the spirit to sing and had a touch of salinity that worked really well”. 4 gold medals were awarded to the flights of Palomas. The highest-scoring gold-medal winner, with 96 points awarded, was praised for its “fruity character from the mezcal that worked nicely with the soda, offering complexity, balance and smokiness on the finish and a pleasant acidity on the palate.”

Whisky and Ginger Ale

The thought behind introducing this new category, was ignited by our bartender judges who believe this spirit/mixer pairing is a very “approachable way for consumers to drink a spirit that they may not necessarily enjoy on its own”. The Ginger Ale adds a little bit of sugar and spice to the Whisky. The flights of Whisky and Ginger Ale were very strong, showing real consistency from the whiskies entered. A high-scoring, silver-medal winner delighted our judges with its “balance, the ginger ale highlighted a lot of fruit aromas but the whisky still stood out more than the ginger ale”.

Our judges exclaimed that they were “excited to see where this category takes us in the next few years!”.

Rum and Cola

This new category delighted our judges with its “unique flavour profiles”. One Rum and Cola entry that really impressed our judges was awarded a gold medal, showcasing “cake flavour with star anise and ester notes from the rum, a really pleasant and complex pairing.” Judges were pleased to see brands entering a variety of rums and saw a move away from the neutral white rum, where the cola pairing can often dominate, to more complex rums demonstrating how much you can do with this spirit/mixer pairing.

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