Results: Gin Masters – Asia 2019

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Gin is an international spirits phenomenon at present with top examples being produced from London to Sydney and everywhere in-between.

THE GLOBAL gin craze is still alive and well. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, UK gin sales have doubled in the past five years. And the latest figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that gin exports rose by 15% from the previous year in 2018, up to an impressive £612 million (HK$5.9 billion). The Hong Kong gin industry tells a similar tale. According to figures provided by Statista, gin has experienced more revenue growth than any other spirit each year for the past six years. In contrast, vodka has experienced revenue losses every year over the same time period.

At the Global Gin Masters – Asia 2019, which took place at Ginsberg and Chan on 25 June during International Negroni Week, a panel of expert judges offered insights into gin’s rapid ascent in Hong Kong and Asia. “Yes, the gin industry is booming right now,” said Gagan Gurung, bar manager at Fang Fang. “Even though Hong Kong doesn’t have its own distillery yet, the market here is huge. In my experience the local people like gin with everything, gin is a safe sight for them. “That’s why we are seeing so many gin bars pop up, and some bars have hundreds of different gins.”

He added that a similar gin craze is happening in Singapore, and that for some reason, Asian palates seem to favour gin over other spirits – especially in bars. “What generally happens is whatever trends are going on in Europe and the United States then comes to Asia, so that is happening with gin,” Gurung said. “And in my experience Asian people just consider gin to be safer than Tequila vodka or whisky on nights out.

With the other three they feel it’s dangerous that you could get a bad drink, but gin is always a safe bet.” Jon Rhodes, director of Caskells, said that the emergence of smaller, more innovative distilleries is responsible for spearheading the gin industry’s growth worldwide.

“There’s a lot of great new stuff in the gin world, which is why it went huge in the UK and also the US, and this has sort of translated into the Hong Kong market,” Rhodes said. “It’s interesting seeing the big brands fighting back with some new releases, but generally the smaller companies are way more flexible and a little bit more fun, while the big brands are more seriously involved in big volumes.

It’s been great for the industry as a whole.” He noted that it’s not just UK gin imports that are doing well in the city and he encouraged gin lovers – even fans of London dry – to explore gins from distilleries from other countries.

“The American are producing outstanding gin, they don’t have the same sort of London Dry history as the UK, theirs is more from the prohibition days so they make a lot of fantastic big bathtub gins, and a lot of it is fantastic” Rhodes said. “There is also a lot of good stuff coming out of Spain,” he added.

Despite the fact that gin is mostly used for cocktails like Negronis, G&Ts, and Plymouths, the judges agreed that what separates a mid-level gin from a great one is the ability to stand on its own. “For me, the idea of blind tasting is very important. I don’t necessarily look at things in terms of category, but more in terms of how much pleasure it gives by itself as a standalone,” said Hugo Poon, head of sourcing at Quintessetially. “With gin, everything is man made, so there’s no excuse for things like lack of intensity or balance. The makers can decide what botanicals and fruits to put in there. “It’s the gins where producers make sure the product is well balanced and can stand alone that are truly great.”

Award winning mixologist and manager at Ichu, Massimo Petovello, said he preferred gins that don’t try and do too much, but rather, do a few things exceptionally well. “I don’t know all the new age gin with five to six botanicals, I prefer gins with three to four that focus on the instillation and production,” Petovello said. “I prefer to just have a clean balance, smooth finish, and a few increments that blend well with each other.” Rhodes said that the best gins – those that stand out from the rest of the pack – have “a story to tell”.

“With a standard gin that’s going to be used as a mixer, it’s fine to have a linear progression,” he said. “But for a superb sipping gin, one that can sit comfortably by itself or as a martini, I like a bit of a mismatch. If you’ve got something on the nose and taste something different on the pallet, then you have a different finish, that is something special which takes a lot of skill to produce.”

What allowed gin to rise to prominence in 19th century – the traditional London dry gin which stresses juniper as the key botanical – continues to drive the industry today. Now, distilleries from the US, Australia, and all over Asia are replicating the style while adding their own unique flavours and twists.

Most of the judges agreed it’s hard to go wrong with a good London dry style, as demonstrated by the fact that many were awarded Gold medals. Among these were Berry Bros & Rudd’s No. 3 London Dry Gin, Lighthouse Gin’s London Dry, Steinhart Distillery’s London Dry, Glenrinnes Distillery’s Eight Lands Organic Speyside Gin, and Never Never Distilling’s Triple Juniper Gin and Southern Strength London Dry Gins.

It was a great day for the Aussie distilleries, whose products were described as “the most consistent” and “well-balanced, but still creative” by the judges.

In addition to the two aforementioned Golds, Never Never Distilling took home the morning’s sole Masters award for its Juniper Freak Gin: Navy Strength. “It was really just an outstanding gin in every way, loved the juniper and the overall balance, just brilliant from start to finish,” said head judge Ken Mann. Furthermore, The Splendid Gin Distillery, Four Pillars Distillery, The Melbourne Gin Company, and the Australian Distilleries all had at least one Gold medal. The New Zealand-based Lighthouse Gin also earned a Gold.

Germany’s Hannover Gin showed impressive diversity by earning three Gold medals and five Silvers across multiple categories. Judge Ben Chan called the company’s navy strength Atlantic Crossing gin – at a staggering 62% strength – “one of the best gins I have ever tasted”.

Full results can be viewed on the following page.

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