Joel Harrison is an award-winning drinks writer and commentator, who specialises in whisky and fine spirits.
A Keeper of the Quaich, the highest honour in Scotch whisky, a member of Compagnie des Mousquetaires d’Armagnac in the world of brandy, and a 'Rectifier' in the Gin Guild, as well as a WSET trained educator, Harrison has been focused on spirits for over a decade and has been involved with the IWSC as both a Panel Chairman and judge for many years.
What do you most enjoy judging at the IWSC?
The IWSC is an incredibly exciting competition to be involved with because there is an amazing kaleidoscope of different spirits here to judge. I’ve been really pleased to be involved in some of the whisky judging, but I was most excited about the gins because there is such an array of gins that are being produced nowadays.
Are there any new trends this year?
For me the big trend is a key look at terroir: where spirits are produced. That could be a whisky made in Taiwan or in Bulgaria, a grape brandy produced in Hungary or France, or a gin made in America or Australia. Everybody is trying to get a little bit of the personality of where it’s made into their drink, and I think that’s a great thing.
What are you looking for when judging spirits?
What we look for particularly is balance and complexity. It’s very easy to drive power into a spirit through ABV and cask finishing and big flavours, but what we want is a balance. It’s about finding something where the personality comes through, there’s flavours that come through, and there’s also some complexity and balance within the mix.
How can awards from the IWSC help producers?
The medals that the IWSC award are incredibly helpful for the producer to tell the consumer about the quality of what they’re making. For me, at the end of the day it’s all about educating the consumer so that when they see a bottle on the shelf, they know they’re going to get quality excellence – that complexity and balance inside the bottle. That’s what we aim to do with any IWSC medal.