IWSC 2024 Spirits Judging: judges’ deliberations on Vodka and Fruit Spirits

Spirit news

Tue 21 May 2024

By Mila Gorchakova

The recent two days of our Spirits Judging have left our experts in awe. Hardly any entries were left unawarded and gold and gold outstanding medals were showered upon vodkas and fruit spirits from around the world. "It was just a delight!” exclaimed David T Smith, our Spirits Judging Committee member who oversaw the judging.


“This year is possibly the best year we’ve ever had for vodka at the IWSC,” shared David T Smith. “There were highlights in the wheat, potato, rye and rice vodkas. Sometimes the judges couldn't believe the quality of what they were tasting.”

The panels agreed that the vodka category stood out this year with the impressively consistent quality of entries. “The rise in quality of vodka is at the fore and has progressed massively over the past 10 years,” said our judges.

The rice vodka flight was a particular highlight.We always have a few rice vodka entries, but this year the quality was phenomenal. Some of them were beautifully luxuriously clean and others really captured the rice character. Both were fantastic and both were well received by our panels", said David T Smith.

Many medals were awarded to rice vodkas with one entry reaching the heights of gold outstanding, the judges praising its clean and neutral aroma, lovely texture with light citrus elements”.

Our experts noted the high standard of mixed grain vodkas with “some surprising and enticing character coming from these neutral spirits, from Maltesers to chocolate fudge to orchard fruit, apple crumble and shortbread”. Indeed, one of the gold outstanding winners, a mixed grain vodka, delivered rich aromas of “melted chocolate fudge cake, cereal, cake", as well as "rich texture on the palate, sweet and creamy, fudge sauce continues on the length”.

Wheat vodkas put on a stellar performance scooping up medals, including over a dozen golds and several gold outstandings. The judges admired the complexity of flavours with one of the entries wowing the panel: “creamy on the nose with lovely vanilla mouthfeel. Hints of white pepper with a touch of stone fruit on the palate. Light herbaceous notes, with floral finish. Apricot and peach undertones with a buttery finish.

The corn vodkas also delivered this year, with good balance across the board and the clear character of the base material shining through. Several gold outstanding medals were awarded, with one of the entries praised for its “fruity notes on the nose with light honey sweetness. Berry character with lovely creamy undertones, soft and well-balanced body with hints of white pepper.”

The judges highlighted the quality of barley vodkas, noting that the spirits on show were “smooth and creamy with some hints of pepper coming through showing wonderful character”.

Grape vodkas showed quality across the board, with one standout spirit awarded a gold outstanding medal. The judges compared its flavours to a "Pavlova meringue dessert", admiring the beautiful berry notes on the nose with well-balanced vanilla mouthfeel, hints of strawberry and raspberry on the palate. Lovely creamy character with hints of white pepper.”

Further on, the potato and rye vodkas were “outstanding this session, with an exceptionally high baseline for quality level across those categories,” said the judges.

Nearly all rye vodka entries received golds, with some gold outstanding medals awarded to the standout spirits. One of them impressed our judges with its “super perfumed nose with violets and lifted quince. Silky mouthfeel with a clean integrated lift. Surprisingly restrained heat and spice.”

The judges appreciated the variety of base raw materials on show this year, noting that an apple vodka was a particular highlight: “cooked apples on the nose with velvety caramel sweetness. Great viscosity with lovely balanced floral and fruity character. Mouthfeel delivers notes of apple crumble with vanilla custard and is well-balanced with peppery flavour.”

As for flavoured vodkas, the array of styles and flavours was truly mind-blowing and the judges noted “a shift to a more refined character and away from adding sugar/sweeteners to carry flavour." Our experts also highlighted: "Quality of base spirit feels like it is being paid attention to more than ever before.”

Many medals went to flavoured vodkas with one standout entry, a mango-flavoured vodka, scoring as high as 99 points and earning a strong gold outstanding award: Fresh mango on the nose with lovely natural mango and tropical flavour on the mouthfeel. Light vanilla sweetness is well balanced with peppery undertones. Smooth and balanced sample that delivers lovely tropical flavours on the palate.”

Another panel enjoyed the mix of spices used in flavoured vodkas noting that, “the Indian spices were exceptional and delivered clear complexity and flavour”. Gold medals were awarded toa tamarind flavoured vodka, a cardamon flavoured vodka, and a chilli flavoured vodka.

Fruit spirits

The judges were treated to some exceptional flights of fruit spirits this year with hardly any entries left without a medal – a testament to the high quality that this growing category can deliver.

“When it comes to fruit spirits, we've had highlights from some unusual places. There were fantastic raspberry spirits, which you might expect, but we also had starfruit, blood orange, and hazelnut. And we had a great banana eau de vie as well. There's a whole range of things that you can make spirits out of - and it's so lovely to have them here and have them appreciated by our judges,” shared David T Smith.

The panels shared a similar sentiment, noting that the variety of fruit spirits was amazing to see. While we expected to have some great entries in traditional fruits like pear and raspberry, the standout of the day was the more exotic fruits like lychee, cacao fruit and blood orange,” said the judges.

The above-mentioned banana eau de vie impressed our pannels so much that they not only awarded it with a gold outstanding medal, but also described it as "the standout of the day". The judges admired the well-defined “fruit cake aromas and tropical fruits on the palate, such as banana and pineapple. Warmth complements spiced flavours. Long complex finish.”

Moving on to more traditional fruit spirits, the raspberry ones performed well, with one particularly impressive entry awarded a gold outstanding medal. The spirit showed a “beautiful, vibrant nose and great palate with well-pronounced raspberries.”

The other highlights included a mirabelle plum spirit that received a well deserved gold outstanding, the judging raving about the expressive “ripe mirabelle plum on the nose, softly candied violet and silky texture, bright fruit and lilac notes all through the palate, good balance between the sweetness and tart nature of the fruit, nice long finish.”

Quince fruit spirits also performed well with several medals awarded, one of the standout gold winners described as “honeyed on the nose, rich and fruity with a honeyed citrus note on the palate, long smooth finish that reveals the richness of the quince”.

With more than 20 golds and many gold outstanding medals awarded to fruit spirits, the judges were highly impressed with the innovations happening in this category, noting that “these innovations and the category's expansion will lead to a rise in its popularity.”

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