IWSC judging blog: The 2021 spirits judging has officially started

Spirit news

Fri 18 Jun 2021

By Pip Mortimer

The annual IWSC spirits judging is well underway for 2021 and this year, for the first time, we have brought the judging to London. We were delighted to welcome familiar faces and new talent to our judging at the China Exchange in the heart of Soho, and whilst temperatures soared in the most unlikely English way; the judges stayed cool as they sniffed, sipped and savoured their way through a wide range of spirits.

With social distancing rules still in place, this week our panels judged rum, brandies, Asian spirits, liqueurs and some of our gin categories, with ready to drink cocktails also dominating entries. The Spirits Judging Committee kept a firm hand on proceedings with David T Smith, Joel Harrison, Ian Burrell and Marie Cheong-Thong overseeing the judging of 1,700 samples between them. With more spirits to be tasted next week, we have got a sneak peek of the trends coming from the start of the judging.

microsoftteams-image-2.pngIWSC Spirits Judging Committee, David T Smith from Summer Fruit Cup

This was a bumper year for gin entries, with the largest number of entries ever received at the IWSC, from 50 different countries. With styles ranging from London Dry to local botanicals, wood rested to revival Old Tom. We can’t wait to see what comes out on top when the results are released on the 30 June. Judges included Olivier Ward, Editor of Gin Foundry; Rachel Sutherland of Warner’s Distillery - our Emerging Talent in Spirits winner; and Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers.

Rum was another area that saw a sustained growth in entries, with over 300 samples tasted by a variety of judges, including Sly Augustin of Trailer Happiness, Bryan Rodriguez from Harvey Nicholas and Michal Vachon of Maverick Drinks – all overseen by the watchful eye of Spirits Judging Committee member and rum aficionado Ian Burrell.

Ready to drink cocktails and pre-mixed drinks are a huge area of influence with sales showing that people love their easy nature and convenience. Over 100 pre-mixed cocktails have been assessed in cans, bottles and even an ice pop or two! The panels included Carmen O’Neal from 58 Gin, Rosie Milsom from Atom Brands, Aidy Smith of The Three Drinkers and Luca Missaglia from Italicus.


It was a brandy showdown on Wednesday with Cognac and Armagnac being tasted by Neil Ridley, Dawn Davies MW of Speciality Drinks, Adamo Varbaro of Drinks Merchant and Nate Brown of Twin Province. 22 other countries entered grape brandy including South Africa, USA, India, Australia, and Spain.

Asian spirits showed they were here to stay with solid growth in entries. A wide range of Shōchū was entered, from the brown sugar Awamori to Satsuma Imo Shōchū and beyond. Over 100 entries of Baijiu were also represented in the Asian spirits this week. Marie Cheong-Thong, Spirits Judging Committee member for Asian spirits said "the quality and styles were impressive".

Liqueurs had one of the highest entries this year, with styles ranging from classic fruit crèmes to infused herbal botanicals, flavoured coffees and decadent chocolate. Judges included Sam Boulton of Vanguard Bars and Steph DiCamillo of Cocktails by Mail, as well as veteran judge Eric Zwiebel MS of Summer Lodge Hotel.

The spirits judging will continue next week with more gin categories to be tasted, as well as worldwide whiskey, tequila, mezcal and fruit spirits. The results will be released on 30 June and we can’t wait to share the findings of the biggest IWSC spirits tasting ever.