Judge profile: Tobias Gorn

Spirit news

Thu 15 Aug 2019

Tobias Gorn started his drinks industry career in 2003. As a Scotch Malt Whisky Society veteran and ex-head sommelier for Michelin star rewarded establishments, he gained a good understanding of unique premium drinks. 

Over the last decade, Toby has dedicated his main attention to fine wine, whisky, gin and Cuban cigars. He enjoys judging for most of the main wine and spirits competitions and is a panel chair judge with IWSC. He's also an enthusiastic clay pigeon shooter, official shooting instructor, coach and referee, and award-winning drinks and cigar writer and consultant.

Are there any trends you’re seeing in the spirits industry at the moment?

Gin is still growing – we had a record amount of entries this year. For new distillers or products, IWSC is the best and quickest way to get a benchmark quality check by industry experts.

We also had many nice American and world whiskies and a fantastic selection of rums, but my biggest personal surprise was a pisco being one of the best spirits on my panels this year. 

We also had some great liqueur entries and some magnificent Scotch, and it is very reassuring that the Asian Spirit category is growing nicely too. 

It is great to see the diversity of the producers entering products, from artisan distillers to big multinational companies, and to work with the biggest and most relevant spirit competition where we have such great diversity from entries to judges. 

What is your most memorable experience in the industry (so far)?

There have been many exciting moments, from selling an exceptionally rare and valuable Scotch, through getting a phone call letting me know that I was promoted to be a panel chair at IWSC, to many happy memories conducting tastings to consumers and even family and friends. 

The single most memorable was sharing a 1936 Mortlach Single Malt Scotch Whisky with Francis, my best man, just before my wedding. I also love when friends ask for my recommendations and call me after trying them and thank me for the help.

What are you looking for when judging spirits - what makes a Gold or Gold Outstanding medal-winning spirit?

An IWSC Gold medal winner is a faultless, pronounced and complex example of its kind with an outstanding balance and flavour definition. It is exceptional and it is very hard to find a way to make it more perfect. They are rare and should be so; I personally do not like competitions where the ‘gold’ is basically just a participation medal for a good drink. Gold should be the top tier where only a few can get it in a fair competition. The IWSC is very fair and thorough, and that has helped to preserve its industry leading prestige for over 50 years.  

The Gold Outstanding is pretty much a perfect liquid that cannot be made better. This is the top award and reflects a drink of perfect balance and quality with a very complex and pronounced aroma and flavour profile that is an industry leading example of its kind. Very rare and I’d be very proud if I produced anything that can win such a prestigious award. 

IWSC medals also help tremendously with the sales of that particular spirit or wine and boosts the perception and prestige of the producer greatly. 

How can awards from the IWSC help producers?

It is needless to say that an IWSC medal is a perfect sales tool. It will help sales and recognition but beyond that it will tell the consumer that the particular drink winning the award was tested by an independent panel of industry leading judges, and that gives extra confidence in the consumer’s own choice. 

Benchmarking is another obvious and great tool. Entering a product will result in feedback that can help the producer understand their own product’s place in the market and better the product if needed. This feedback is much better value than many independent expert opinions or lab tests. 

There’s another natural benefit that is a bit less anticipated: many judges are buyers for big companies and if we find something great then it is going on the shelves of many prestigious establishments. 

The list of benefits continues, but there’s the media exposure that really helps winning brands to stand out for in a sea of fellow exciting drinks. The social media feedback is growing exponentially and via that some peer to peer recommendations emerge resulting in sales. We also re-post and support most of the producers or importers who happily post announcing their achievement.