The Luxury Masters 2021 results

Consumers may be drinking less, but they are increasingly keen to trade up when it comes to buying spirits. Our annual Luxury Masters put deluxe drops to the test and discovered some real gems.

In this ‘drink less, but better’ era, it is crucial consumers can be assured that spending a little more on their spirit of choice will deliver an enhanced drinking experience. Over the years, our judges have tested spirits in every price bracket imaginable, from budget whiskies under £10 (US$14) to ultra-premium bottlings that will set you back thousands. What previous Global Spirits Masters tastings have proven is that the correlation between price and quality is anything but linear.

For the The Luxury Spirits Masters 2021, the tasting focused on those liquids priced in the super-premium-and-above sectors, according to their relevant categories. The judges were determined to discover if entries were worthy of their price tags, and delivered the luxury experience expected at this end of the market.

Two panels gathered at the Ibis hotel in London Bridge. The first was chaired by David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo. Smith was joined by: Karen Taylor, co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog; Michael Fichtner, head bartender at the Coburg Bar at The Connaught hotel in London; and Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business magazine.

The second panel was chaired by me, Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, and comprised: Bryan Rodriguez, wine and spirits buyer at Harvey Nichols; Ivan Dixon, independent spirits consultant; Bernadette Pamplin, freelance spirits writer and judge; and Matt Chambers, co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog.

Luxury in neutral

The tasting got off to a strong start, with a Master medal awarded in the opening flight: Vodka – Super Premium. Belvedere Vodka collected the top award for its “very creamy texture, luxurious mouthfeel” and for being “well rounded, balanced” overall. The judges said it would make a “great Martini vodka”.

Five Gold medals were also awarded in this flight – all collected by Belvedere. The brand’s Organic Infusions line, consisting of Pear Ginger, Blackberry Lemongrass and Lemon Basil variants, was deemed to be worthy of the Gold standard. And Silver-winning Lemon Basil was described as “vibrant and zesty” on the nose, with “lemon pith and a hint of basil freshness” on the palate.

“When you start to discover the character you can find in vodka, it’s such a rewarding experience,” said Pamplin.

Royal Mash Vintage Vodka 2020 joined the Gold ranks in the following flight of Vodka – Ultra Premium, which had “hints of roasted nuts and refreshing citrus peels”.

Bring on the gins

From vodka, Smith’s panel sampled a selection of gins in the super-premium price range. Six Gold medals were awarded in this heat, along with two Silvers. Among the Gold medallists were: Tiger Gin, with “floral hints and citrus peels”; Citadelle Gin Original, with “mixed oriental spices, hints of flowers”; and No.3 London Dry Gin, with its “lovely texture” and “quite contemporary style”.

Meanwhile, the second panel got to work on super-premium XO brandies and discovered a Master medallist in the ultra- premium segment. Calarasi Divin’s Divin Stefan Voda Colectia de Aur 25 Years secured the top award for its “very aromatic and fruit-forward nose”. On the palate, the brand brought “a touch of cigar smoke” with “beautiful rich gamey flavours, ripe peach, apricot and grapefruit”. Rodriguez said this was a “sipping brandy to enjoy after dinner”.

Dixon added: “This was super forward, indulgent and moreish, something I’d want to sip again and again, and get to know over the course of a weekend. There was a touch of sweetness, lots of dried fruit, a little Sherry – very delicious.”

Four Golds were awarded in the next flight of Cognac VSOP – Super Premium. The first of three Gold medals was handed to “very sippable, chocolatey” GMC Grande Marque Camus. Maison Ferrand collected two Golds in this round, one for “biscuity, toffee” Ferrand Cognac Double Cask Réserve and another for “nutty, dry and sweet” Ferrand Cognac 10 Générations. And completing the Gold haul was “fruity, rich and indulgent” Rémy Martin 1738.

Proceeding to Cognac VS – Ultra Premium, and a Gold medal was awarded to Honor VS Cognac. Chambers found flavours of “juicy sultanas”, while Pamplin picked out notes of “Granny Smith apples” on the nose.

Rodriguez said: “I love the nose on this one. Flavour‐wise, it was textbook for VS Cognac.”

The standard rose significantly in the Cognac XO – Ultra Premium contingent, in which Rémy Martin XO took home the top award. The Cognac was “deep, rich and fruity” with “framboise and raspberry, eaux-de-vie”. Four Gold medals were also enjoyed in this heat, including Courvoisier Cognac XO and La Milliardaire XO Cognac.

Time for Scotch

The competition then moved onto Scotch whiskies, starting with a flight of super-premium blended malts. Three Gold awards were given to bottlings produced by JG Thomson & Co: “fruity, fragrant” Batch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Rich; “savoury, warm” Batch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Sweet; and Batch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Smoky, with “wonderful peaty smoke” aromas and “meaty, bonfire smoke” on the palate.

Chambers said: “This was pretty solid, I thought. They were three very different styles, but all good, solid products.”

JG Thomson & Co secured the top award in the following flight – Scotch Whisky: Blended Malt – Ultra Premium. The company’s Batch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Rich 23 Years Old received a Master medal for its “confected, sweet and ripe stone fruit” aromas, and “rich” palate with “a touch of spice, comforting woody notes, leather and a touch of Sherry finish”. Chambers said the whisky was “very well crafted”.

Pamplin added: “I found the palate really interesting because it had all these different components, which began separately but then blended together and mingled really nicely.”

The Masters continued in the next heat of Scotch Whisky: Single Malt – Super Premium. Two Masters were awarded in this round, the first to 7.233 – A Syrupy Sweet Tale of Romance, by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The whisky had a “very opulent and rich nose” with “fruitcake, prune and raisin” notes, while the palate had a “nice smoothness and texture”.

The second Master went to another Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling: 112.56 – Mountain Gorse in a Breeze. This expression presented “lots of ripe tropical aged flavours, leather, wood smoke, touch of cigar and dessert wine”.

Four Gold medals were also awarded, including Golds for “fruity, pleasant” Spey Chairman’s Choice and “round and deep” 68.34 – Roasty-Toasty-Tasty.

Chambers said: “There were lighter styles and fruity styles, then big, deep flavours. This round showed in a small selection of whiskies the breadth of what you can get.”

Pamplin was also excited by the variety presented in this flight. She said: “There was a range of really wonderful complex profiles that I think are certainly worth the money; when you have complexity like that you get more out of every sip you taste.”

The single tingle

The high standard continued into the Scotch Whisky: Single Malt – Ultra Premium round. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society scooped up two more Master medals, including one for 76.145 – A Beautiful, Bountiful Beast, which delivered “Sherry, rancio notes”. Smith said this was “very unusual, but elegant and sophisticated”.

A second Master was bestowed upon 29.269 – It Rubs the Lotion on its Skin, with flavours of “biscuits and waffles, hazelnut spread and jam”.

Three Golds were also awarded to: Ardbeg 19 Years Old Traigh Bhan – Batch Three, with “gentle smoke” aromas; Ardbeg 25 Years old, with “good texture”; and Glenmorangie The Signet, with some “espresso notes”.

Spey Royal Choice completed the flight with a Silver medal.

Ultra-premium single grain Scotch whisky G1.18 – Pyjamas for the Soul, bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, lived up to the judges’ Gold-standard expectations. This whisky had aromas of “sticky fudge, a hint of resin” on the nose, leading to “classic grain characteristics, lovely sweetness, cereal notes, and a hint of polish with water”.

Chambers said: “I thought the alcohol was really well integrated considering it’s 60% [ABV]. It had flavours that only age can give you, these tropical fruit, honey, golden syrup notes – real complexity that comes with age.”

With Scotch done and dusted, the judges’ attention switched to Irish whiskeys, starting with ultra-premium single malts. The Brollach by The Craft Irish Whiskey Co secured a Master medal, enjoyed for its “silky texture, raisins, hint of furniture polish” notes. The judges said the whiskey was “nicely complex and well balanced”.

Stablemate The Devil’s Keep collected a Gold medal in this flight, described as “your archetypal, older, premium single malt, with tropical fruit and caramel” flavours. Rodriguez said about both whiskeys: “These felt very well done, tasty and luxurious.”

American outlook

In the first of the American whiskey categories, super-premium single malt Bear Fight by Next Century Spirits secured a Silver medal. The whiskey had “unusual grape, wine-like aromas” with some “cereal, vanilla and delicate spice” on the palate.

In the Bourbon – Super Premium flight, a strong set of nine Gold medals were awarded. Luxco picked up a Gold medal for Ezra Brooks 99 Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and a second Gold for Rebel 100 Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Ezra Brooks 99 Kentucky Straight Bourbon was found to have “smoked vanilla, cooking spices and chilli” notes on the nose. Rodriguez said it was “quite a textbook example of Bourbon on the nose”.

Rebel 100 Kentucky Straight Bourbon secured a Gold medal for its “walnut whip-like nose”. Rodriguez said this was “a very nice sipping whiskey, with good levels of flavour”. Beam Suntory’s Legent Bourbon also won a Gold medal, with “rich, ripe fruitiness” on the nose and “some pleasant chocolate notes” on the palate.

Also in the Gold-medal run was Master’s Cask from Next Century Spirits, which was enjoyed for flavours of “vanilla” and “wood spices” on the palate, making the whiskey “easy, soft and straightforward” to drink.

Old Ezra 7 Years Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel Strength scooped a Master accolade in the American Whiskey: Bourbon – Ultra Premium flight. The whiskey was “very inviting”with “gentle sweetness, fruitiness” on the nos. Smith found “sweetness, fruity spice and oak” on the palate: “Delightful,” he added.

Sazerac also took a Master in the same flight for Thomas S Moore Cabernet Sauvignon Finished Bourbon. The Bourbon had a “silky texture with some grippy spice and woody dryness”. Tasting notes included “sticky fudge, toasted nuts and a hint of dark chocolate”. Completing the trio of Masters in this flight was Thomas S Moore Chardonnay Finished Bourbon, celebrated for its “delectable palate, fresh tobacco and butterscotch – well rounded, rich and resinous”. Two Gold medals were also awarded in this round.

Up next was the American Whiskey: Flavoured Whiskey – Super Premium contingent, which produced a Silver medallist in “perfectly mixable, crowd-pleaser” Southern Comfort Black. Uncle Nearest collected two Golds in the American Whiskey: Tennessee – Super Premium heat. The brand’s 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey was enjoyed for “pecan nuttiness” and “caramel”, and generally being “really well balanced”. Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey received Gold for its “richer palate” with “hints of chocolate and burnt oak”.

In the ultra-premium bracket, Uncle Nearest 1820 Premium Single Barrel Whiskey – US-53 secured the top award. The Master medallist had a “creaminess” on the nose, leading to “burnt oak, dark chocolate and dry spice” on the palate. “Very smooth, fruity” Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition received a Gold medal.

Attention then turned to ultra-premium world whiskies, where two deserving Gold medallists were enjoyed. Brazilian producer Lamas Destilaria received Gold awards for its Nimbus and Verus whiskies. Nimbus delivered “delicate smoke, incense, barley sugar and apple” flavours. Meanwhile, Verus had notes of “white chocolate, waffles, cereals, honey and orange peel”.

With the whisky categories completed, it was time to assess the state of rum. In the Rum: Gold – Super Premium heat, Harpalion Spirits received a Gold medal for Cabal No.1513, enjoyed for tasting like “juicy tropical fruits with a hint of citrus”.

Neptune Rum Barbados Gold lived up to its name with a Gold medal. With “caramel and gentle spice” aromas, the rum delivered “good balance, and would be great for mixing in cocktails”.

Ron Añejo Carúpano 6 Special Reserve secured a Silver medal due to its “sweetness, vanilla and toffee” flavours.

As our luxury spirits tasting switched from gold to dark rums, Ron Carúpano picked up another medal – this time, a Gold. Ron Añejo Carúpano 12 Exclusive Reserve was celebrated for aromas of “burnt toffee, tropical fruit and banana”, with “sugarcane sweetness” on the palate, balanced by a “slightly dry” finish.

In the next price range, ultra premium, five Gold medals were dished out to worthy winners. The Gold medallists were: La Hechicera Serie Experimental No.2 – The Banana Experiment, with “sweet and succulent banana notes”; La Hechicera Reserva Familiar, said to be a “good example of an aged rum”; “juicy, pleasant, almost Cognac-like” Ron Zacapa Centenario Sisterna Solera 2 Rum; “solid nosing rum” Ron Añejo Carúpano 21 Private Reserve; and Ron Añejo Carúpano 18 Limited Reserve, with a “tropical fruit and wood spice”.

Chambers said he would have liked a little more experimentation in this flight but added: “They were all solid rums of decent quality.” Dixon agreed: “These are perfectly well made examples of rum. They tick all the boxes and do their jobs well.”

In the final rum flight, which judged ultra-premium spiced expressions, Neptune Rum Caribbean Spice received a Gold medal for its “gentle spice and good balance”. The panellists said it would be “great for mixing in cocktails”.

When the judges put Tequila to the test, Corralejo Blanco Tequila collected a Silver medal in the ultra-premium blanco round for its “fresh agave” on the nose.

Stablemate Corralejo Reposado Tequila took home a Gold medal in the ultra-premium reposado round, hailed for notes of “apricots, grass, pepper and cinnamon rolls”.

Moving onto Tequila Añejo – Ultra Premium, Corralejo 1821 picked up a Gold medal. Fichtner said this had a “classic Tequila profile, grassy, green bell peppers, vanilla, slightly herbal”.

At the most expensive end of the Tequila extra añejo spectrum, Tequila Don Ramón Limited Edition Extra Añejo 25th Anniversary, with “a quite herbal palate” won Silver.

As the final few flights were presented to the panellists, another medal gave the Gold tally a boost: Charles Butler Clotted Cream Toffee Liqueur. The Gold-winning ultra-premium liqueur was described as “rich, creamy, with the perfect level of sweetness”. Fraternity Spirits scooped a Silver for Horus.

At the more expensive ultra-premium end of the liqueur category, English Spirit Distillery was deemed worthy of a Gold medal for its Christmas Spirit. Tasting notes included “cinnamon, cloves, Christmas cake and hints of fir tree”.

In the final flight of the day, Speciality Spirits – Ultra Premium, Kleiner Wild Pin finished things off with a Gold award, with its “dark fruits and cherry” profile.

All that was left to do was to retaste the Master medallists to determine the 2021 Luxury Taste Master. With top award winners spanning everything from brandy and Cognac to Scotch and vodka, it was a difficult decision. But in the end, the judges agreed the accolade should go to ultra-premium Cognac Rémy Martin XO.

Reflecting on the day’s tasting, Pamplin said: “It was great to see so many well-rounded spirits and so many entries where we thought, actually, yes, I would be happy to spend a little more money for what I’m getting here. Price isn’t always going to equal quality, but the medallists today, particularly the higher‐scoring spirits, would be well worth exploring. There’s lots here that consumers will appreciate, that they can learn about and get a better understanding of the different categories. It’s a lovely part of the spirits market.”

Vodka – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Belvedere VodkaBelvedere VodkaMaster
Belvedere VodkaSingle Estate Rye – Lake BartężekGold
Belvedere VodkaSingle Estate Rye Smogóry ForestGold
Belvedere VodkaBelvedere Organic Infusions Pear GingerGold
Belvedere VodkaHeritage 176Gold
Belvedere VodkaBelvedere Organic Infusions Blackberry LemongrassGold
Belvedere VodkaBelvedere Organic Infusions Lemon BasilSilver

Vodka – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Royal MashRoyal Mash Vintage Vodka 2020Gold

Gin – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Berry Bros & RuddNo.3 London Dry GinGold
Maison FerrandCitadelle Gin OriginalGold
Tiger GinTiger GinGold
Agrimar‐Agro Industria
e Comercio
Unalome GinGold
Don Luchesi Destilaria
E Botanicos
JG Thomson & CoBatch 1 – Citrus Dry Gin – BoldGold
Maison FerrandCitadelle Gin Jardin D’ÉtéSilver
Don Luchesi Destilaria
e Botanicos
O’Gin New NavySilver

Brandy – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Calarasi DivinDivin Stefan Voda Colectia de Aur 25 yearsMaster
Calarasi DivinDivin Calarasi Colectia de Aur 40 aniSilver
Yerevan Brandy CompanyArarat Erebuni 50Silver

Cognac VS – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Honor CognacHonor VS CognacGold

Cognac VS – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Camus La Grande MarqueGMC Grande Marque CamusGold
E Rémy Martin & CoRémy Martin 1738Gold
Maison FerrandFerrand Cognac Double Cask RéserveGold
Maison FerrandFerrand Cognac 10 GénérationsGold

Cognac XO – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
E Rémy Martin & CoRémy Martin XOMaster & Taste Master
La Milliardaire SpiritsLa Milliardaire XO CognacGold
Courvoisier CognacCourvoisier Cognac XOGold
Maison FerrandFerrand Cognac SDA Sélection des AngesGold
Courvoisier CognacCourvoisier Napoleon Fine ChampagneGold

Scotch Whisky: Blended Malt – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
JG Thomson & CoBatch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – RichGold
JG Thomson & CoBatch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – SweetGold
JG Thomson & CoBatch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – SmokyGold

Scotch Whisky: Blended Malt – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
JG Thomson & CoBatch 1 – Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – Rich 23yoMaster

Scotch Whisky: Single Malt – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society7.233 – A syrupy sweet tale of romanceMaster
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society112.56 – Mountain gorse in a breezeMaster
Speyside Distillers CompanySpey Chairman’s ChoiceGold
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society37.127 – Coconut curry down the Douro valleyGold
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society66.163 – A perfect finish to a perfect dayGold
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society68.34 – ‘Roasty‐Toasty‐Tasty’Gold

Scotch Whisky: Single Malt – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society76.145 – A beautiful, bountiful beastMaster
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society29.269 – It rubs the lotion on its skinMaster
The Glenmorangie CompanyArdbeg 19 Years Old Traigh Bhan – Batch 3Gold
The Glenmorangie CompanyArdbeg 25 Years OldGold
The Glenmorangie CompanyGlenmorangie The SignetGold
Speyside Distillers CompanySpey Royal ChoiceSilver

Scotch Whisky: Single Grain – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
The Scotch Malt Whisky SocietyG1.18 – Pyjamas for the SoulMaster

Irish Whiskey: Single Malt – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
The Craft Irish Whiskey CoThe BrollachMaster
The Craft Irish Whiskey CoThe Devil’s KeepGold

American Whiskey: Single Malt – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Next Century SpiritsBear FightSilver

American Whiskey: Bourbon – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Beam SuntoryLegent BourbonGold
LuxcoEzra Brooks 99 Kentucky Straight BourbonGold
LuxcoRebel 100 Kentucky Straight BourbonGold
Next Century SpiritsMaster’s CaskGold
Sazerac Company1792 Small BatchGold
Sazerac Company1792 Single BarrelGold
Sazerac Company1792 Full ProofGold
Sazerac Company1792 Aged 12 YearsGold
Sazerac Company1792 Bottled in BondGold
Sazerac CompanyEarly TimesSilver

American Whiskey: Bourbon – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
LuxcoOld Ezra 7 Year Old Kentucky
Straight Bourbon Barrel Strength
Sazerac CompanyThomas S Moore Cabernet Sauvignon
Finished Bourbon
Sazerac CompanyThomas S Moore Chardonnay Finished BourbonMaster
Sazerac CompanyThomas S Moore Port Finished BourbonGold
Sazerac CompanyEarly Times Bottled in BondGold

American Whiskey: Flavoured Whiskey – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Sazerac CompanySouthern Comfort BlackSilver

American Whiskey: Tennessee – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Uncle Nearest Premium WhiskeyUncle Nearest 1884 Premium Small Batch WhiskeyGold
Uncle Nearest Premium WhiskeyUncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged WhiskeyGold

American Whiskey: Tennessee – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Uncle Nearest Premium WhiskeyUncle Nearest 1820 Premium
Single Barrel Whiskey – US‐53
Uncle Nearest Premium WhiskeyUncle Nearest Master Blend EditionGold

World Whisky – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Lamas DestilariaNimbusGold
Lamas DestilariaVerusGold

Rum: Gold – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Harpalion SpiritsCabal No.1513Gold
Neptune RumNeptune Rum Barbados GoldGold
Ron CarúpanoRon Añejo Carúpano 6 Special ReserveSilver

Rum: Dark – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Ron CarúpanoRon Añejo Carúpano 12 Exclusive ReserveGold
JG Thomson & CoBatch 1 – Blended Jamaican Rum – BoldSilver

Rum: Dark – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
DiageoRon Zacapa Centenario Sistema Solera 23 RumGold
La Hechicera CompanyLa Hechicera Serie Experimental No. 2 –
The Banana Experiment
La Hechicera CompanyLa Hechicera Reserva FamiliarGold
Ron CarúpanoRon Añejo Carúpano 21 Private ReserveGold
Ron CarúpanoRon Añejo Carúpano 18 Limited ReserveGold

Rum: Spiced – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
MaxonsCharles Butler Rambunctious Spiced RumSilver
Neptune RumNeptune Rum Caribbean SpicedGold

Tequila Blanco – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Fraternity SpiritsCorralejo Blanco TequilaSilver

Tequila Reposado – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Fraternity SpiritsCorralejo Reposado TequilaGold

Tequila Reposado – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Fraternity SpiritsCorralejo 1821Gold
Fraternity SpiritsCorralejo 99000 Horas AnejoSilver
Fraternity SpiritsCorralejo Añejo TequilaSilver

Tequila Extra Añejo – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
DialceTequila Don Ramón Limited Edition
Extra Añejo, 25th Anniversary

Liqueurs – Super Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
MaxonsCharles Butler Clotted Cream Toffee LiqueurGold
Fraternity SpiritsHorusSilver

Liqueurs – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
English Spirit DistilleryChristmas SpiritGold

Speciality Spirits – Ultra Premium

CompanyProduct Medal
Palirna U Zeleného stromuKleiner Wild PinGold