Reports 21 September 2020

Top spirits of the year unveiled

The winners of the 2020 IWSC spirits trophies are announced today, following weeks of rigorous tastings, and there's a few surprises... German single malt, anyone?

Words by Laurel Bibby

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The top-rated spirits of 2020 have been announced, as the IWSC reveals the winners of its 16 coveted spirits trophies.

The best of the best have been unveiled in categories including London Dry and contemporary gin, rum, vodka, scotch, bourbon and worldwide whiskies, Cognac, shochu and baijiu, with winners hailing from countries as diverse as Germany, China, Japan, Barbados and Mexico.

“Despite all that is happening in the world at the moment, experienced industry professionals can still be wowed – and often left speechless – by incredible spirits,” wrote IWSC Spirit Judging Committee member and Club Oenologique spirits consultant Joel Harrison in his roundup of the spirits tastings. Harrison was part of the panel that re-tasted the top performers of each category, blind, to decide upon the trophy winners (all those spirits receiving a gold score of 95 points and above in each category go forward to the trophy taste-off). He, like all the judges and producers, will be finding out their identity for the first time today. Here are some of the highlights…

Joel Harrison was part of the team that re-tasted the top performers of each category. Photo by Tobias Gorn

Contemporary Gin

The gin category continues to go from strength to strength, with the IWSC receiving over 800 gins this year – over 300 of which were contemporary styles.

In this category, the traditionally leading botanical of juniper is allowed to work alongside an array of other flavours – which are often less conventional and more exotic – to create a more dynamic and innovative spirit. “The trend for gins with a twist has seen the sector become a source of incredible innovation right across the world”, writes Harrison.

This year, whisky and gin distiller Boulder Spirits emerged at the top of the category, receiving the Contemporary Gin Trophy for its Ginskey Gin produced at Vapor Distillery, Colorado. This wood-rested example demonstrates the still-expanding diversity of the contemporary gin category; aged for two years in virgin American oak barrels – the same method used to craft the Boulder range of whiskeys – the gin displays “big bourbon characteristics with an abundance of rich woody sweetness, vanilla oak and dark cherry notes”, wrote the IWSC panel.

The gin category continues to go from strength to strength, with the IWSC receiving over 800 gins this year

Whisky

When it comes to whiskey, “the production of single malt has been growing globally in the most unlikely of places”, says Harrison, with ‘New World’ producers changing the game. To that end, the IWSC’s top-rated worldwide whiskeys came from every corner of the world, with high scorers from Finland, Denmark, USA, Canada, Taiwan, Australia, England, France and India.

The European single malt whisky scene is of particular note, with Germany’s Unique Liquids taking home the Worldwide Whiskey trophy for The Westfalian Peated 6 YO Single Malt Whisky, a smoky example boasting flavours of toasty malted milk, vanilla flowers, warm flapjack and sweet honeycomb. And it looks like this producer is one to watch – it also received gold medals for its 5 YO Single Malt, Single Rye and Single Corn Whiskies.

Back in Scotland, two trophies were awarded to single malts from Islay and Speyside – the latter the 40-year-old single malt from Glenfiddich, demonstrating the great consistency that the top distilleries continue to produce year after year.

“This is what most impressed me,” said panel judge Colin Hampden-White. “There are whiskies that are consistently brilliant – the Glenfiddich 40-Year-Old for example.”

Cognac

Another supremely aged spirit is the stunning 1960 Grande Champagne from Hermitage Cognacs – “surely one of the best-kept secrets in spirits”, says Harrison – winner of this year’s Cognac Trophy. Scoring an impressive 98 points, this exceedingly complex Cognac shows the importance of cask quality in ageing. Hermitage also scored 98 points for its 1920 Grande Champagne Cognac, one of the oldest spirits entered this year, as well as 96 points for the 2008 Grande Champagne Cognac.

BrewDog's Inugami Shochu took home this year's IWSC Shochu Trophy

Shochu

In Asian spirits, BrewDog Distilling’s Inugami Shochu, winner of the Shochu Trophy, is a particular standout – not least for the fact that it was distilled not in Japan, but in Scotland. BrewDog created this layered and complex shochu “in the spirit of cultural exchange”, after Japanese distillers learned the art of whisky-making from the master distillers of Scotland.

Mezcal

Finally, Mezcolatra’s Mezcal Colores Tobala, winner of the Agave Trophy – which encompasses both of Mexico’s national spirits, mezcal and tequila – places the single varietal of the Tobala agave plant front and centre, highlighting the importance of terroir in the creation of mezcal.

In distinguishing different agaves to create a range of diverse styles of mezcal, this rapidly growing category shows just how far this increasingly popular spirit has come. As Harrison says, “this really is a spirit to keep an eye on”.

To view the full trophy listing, click here.

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