The results of the London Spirits Competition are out. This is a competition where spirits are judged keeping end consumers in mind. Spirits are rated with three main criteria: quality, value, and packaging. To be a medal winner, Spirits must show a high rating in all three factors with the most weightage on quality.
A record number of entrants this year were vying for the much-coveted bronze, silver, and gold medals, with about 2000 spirits brands entering from more than 80 countries. The competition prides itself on consistently being assessed by a top panel of judges, consisting of some of the world’s leading figures from the hospitality sector.
Some of the country’s top bartenders and spirits buyers gathered on March 22-23-24 at St Mary's Church in London’s Marylebone, sniffing, swirling, and spitting their way through a vast array of gins, vodkas, and whiskies as well as a range of more esoteric spirits, as the judging of the London Spirits Competition was going on.
2023 London Spirits Competition Judges
The 2023 Competition saw 367 entries from Australia as the top entrant country, followed by 303 products from the United Kingdom and 138 from the United States. 695 Gins made Gin the top category entrant followed by Rum and Whiskey. There was a solid growth in participation of Rums showing signs that Rum is expected to grow in 2023.
The stellar line-up included independent drinks brand consultant and spirits buyer Ivan Dixon; Harvey Nichols spirits and beer buyer Bryan Rodriguez; bar owner and industry consultant Salvatore Calabrese, director of the mixology at the Donovan bar Federico Pavan, Soho House’s Diana Aladzic, Electrics House bars manager Emilia Wrelton, Duke’s Hotel head bartender Enrico Chaippini; Michal Fink, bar manager at One Hundred Shoreditch; and Minas Kotoulas, head of bars at Brasserie Zedel to name but a few.
“The London Spirits Competition is becoming more widely known in the trade with each passing year, and as a result, we are receiving an increased number of entries,” commented Sid Patel, CEO of Beverage Trade Network, which owns and manages the event. “I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at the increased number of entries this year as the pandemic resulted in many drinks companies putting their NPD on hold and focusing on their core operations instead. This is just a testament to the increasingly good reputation of the competition as word spreads in the industry that we offer something a bit different from other events.”
But what did the judges think of this year’s entrants? With hundreds of bottles to sniff, swirl, and sample, it was no mean feat to be tasked with, but the consensus of opinion was that not only was the number of entrants slightly up on last year, but the quality was even better.
This was certainly the opinion of Duke’s Hotel head bartender Enrico Chiappini who confirmed that the quality of the spirits this year was “high compared to last year,” adding that he was particularly pleased to note the growing variety of entries coming from overseas.
For many of the judges, the standout category this year was the low and no alcohol sector. Driven largely by a younger demographic who are shunning their parents’ boozy drinking habits in favour of a healthier lifestyle, it’s a trend that has become increasingly apparent in the past year. “There are now so many great low and no alcohol products out there,” confirmed Matteo Torresin, head bartender at the Artists’ bar at the Dorchester Hotel. “The way they mimic the spirits is really impressive. Seedlip was one of the first along with Lyres, and now there are so many more. It’s really interesting to see how popular they have become.” He particularly liked a non-alcoholic version of sweet vermouth, which he thought would make the perfect no-alcohol Negroni, while reporting that at the Dorchester he is seeing increased demand for low and no-alcohol sparkling wine and Champagne.
And it’s a trend that Giusy Castaldo, bartender at Mayfair-based Kwant bar has also noticed. “Customers are increasingly asking for non-alcoholic drinks, but the biggest increase has been in lower alcohol – people still want to drink, but don’t necessarily want to get drunk, so low abv drinks tick all the boxes.” And she was suitably impressed by a number of new low and no-alcohol products that she had tasted during the judging process.
However, at the Coral Bar at the Bloomsbury Hotel where Judge Tyriq Pitts is a bartender, customers are still asking for the hard stuff, and increasingly requesting Mezcal. ”I feel like it’s really starting to pick up,” he said. “We offer a good selection of Mezcals and I think that there used to be a bit of a stigma around it as people said it was too smoky. But we make a Margarita with Mezcal rather than tequila which is really popular and visitors specifically ask for it.”
Meanwhile, Mihal Fink, the bar manager at One Hundred Shoreditch, has noted Mezcal's increasing popularity. “I’d say that both tequila and Mezcal are growing for us, but Mezcal is taking over because of the shortage of agave.” As a judge for the second year running, he said he had discovered a selection of spirits he would consider listing, including an “amazing” rum from the US, while the low and no alcohol entrants impressed him with their quality.
The judges not only applauded the quality of this year’s entrants, but also felt that the criteria used to judge the competition, where the drinks are assessed on their packaging, design, and commercial viability as well as taste was not just a gimmick, but something that gave the awards more credibility and gravitas.
“These factors are really important,” said Pitts. “It’s easy to just focus on the taste and flavour, but at the end of the day if it doesn’t appeal to consumers and doesn’t sell, it’s pointless.”
While this additional information and feedback are invaluable to buyers trying to make sense of the category, it’s also massively helpful to the brands themselves entering the competition, who benefit from the wisdom of the expert panel, something that would otherwise be hard to come by – not to mention very costly.
“One great benefit is that brands are able to advertise themselves to some top industry experts, and get their name known,” continued Pitts. “A lot of these guys have a big following on social media, which can really help a brand gain recognition.”
For new brands in particular, one of the most important things is to get recognition and visibility,” confirmed Rui Tavares, manager at the London Marriott Hotel County Hall. “I’ve run a gin bar for over five years and there are a few brands that I’ve never seen before. I’ve discovered an amazing Swedish gin brand I’d like to include on my list, so the competition is a great way to increase awareness in the trade of great new products. And of course, winning an award gives consumers, particularly those who are not very knowledgeable about spirits, more confidence in the brand.”
As for packaging and design, Tavares, who has been a judge at the LSC for the past five years, said its importance should not be underestimated.
“It’s pretty key as people eat and buy with their eyes, and the more appealing the packaging, the more likely they are to invest in it,” he said. “I’d say that the majority of our customers know next to nothing about gin, so they are reliant on either our recommendations or how the product looks on the shelf, so from the on-trade point of view, the visual aspect is crucial.”
Spirit of the Year: Downpour Scottish Dry Gin by North Uist Distillery at 98 points
2023 London Spirits Competition Winners:
Spirit of the Year: Downpour Scottish Dry Gin by North Uist Distillery at 98 points, United Kingdom.
Distillery of the Year: Virginia Distillery Company, United States.
Best Spirit by Value: Dry As A Nun by Distillers Republic at 95 points, Latvia.
Best Spirit by Quality: Young Henrys Gin And Tonic by Young Henrys Brewing and Distilling Company at 97 points, Australia.
Best Spirit by Packaging: Ukiyo Japanese Rice Vodka by Kirker Greer Spirits at 96 points, Japan.
Vodka of the Year: Ukiyo Japanese Rice Vodka by Kirker Greer Spirits at 96 points, Japan.
Rum of the Year: Bodegas Papiamento Rum Caribbean Carnival by Bodegas Papiamento Aruba at 95 points.
Tequila of the Year: Jaja Tequila by Jaja Spirits at 94 points, Mexico.
Gin of the Year: Downpour Scottish Dry Gin by North Uist Distillery at 98 points, United Kingdom.
Whisky of the Year: Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky by Virginia Distillery Company at 98 points, United States.
Brandy of the Year: Apricot Brandy by Tamborine Mountain Distillery at 96 points, Australia.
Liqueur of the Year: De Kuyper Sour Rhubarb Liqueur by De Kuyper at 92 points, Holland.
Cognac of the Year: Courvoisier Cognac XO Royal by Courvoisier at 95 points, France,
Mezcal of the Year: Defrente by Tequila Defrente at 93 points, Mexico.
RTD of the Year: Young Henrys Gin And Tonic by Young Henrys Brewing and Distilling Company at 97 points, Australia
Non-Alcoholic of the Year: Sober - Whisky 0.0% by Sober Spirits Sas at 92 points, France.,
View All Winners Here.
About the London Spirits Competition
The London Spirits Competition is an international spirits competition organized by Beverage Trade Network. The competition looks to recognize, reward, and help promote brands that have successfully been created to tick all the boxes - quality, value, and packaging.
Contact the London Spirits Competition at email@example.com..
Call us at +44 330 097 0138 | +1 302 803 4758.