Top palates: Head judge Nick Stock (left) with fellow judges at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Photo: Supplied
Distillers from Western Australia have scooped the pool at the inaugural Australian Distilled Spirits Awards on Thursday night, with three of the top seven awards going to producers from the west.
The night's hottest category, whisky, went to a peated single malt from Limeburners boutique distillery in Albany while the prize for gin went to The Sabre, a London dry gin with lemon myrtle and toasted wattle seed from Perth's West Winds Gin.
Hoochery Distillery in remote Kununurra took home the gong for rum with its Spike's Reserve dark rum.
"[The Limeburners whisky] exhibited an incredible purity and elegance and that really set it apart from all the other whiskies," says head judge, Nick Stock, who also praised West Winds for helping to pioneer modern Australian gin.
"It was really fitting they were recognised and the judges singled them out for producing such good quality."
The champions, plucked from 115 entries, were judged on nose, palate, finish and balance at Melbourne Showgrounds last week. Among the judges were the chairman of the Malt Whisky Society of Australia, Craig Daniels; the owner of Melbourne's the Gin Palace, Vernon Chalker; and wine and spirit educator Jenny Polack.
The competition includes 30 categories among three main classes - dark spirits (whisky, brandy and rum), clear spirits (gin and vodka) and alternative spirits (liqueurs, schnapps, etc.).
Each exhibit is scored out of 100, with a gold medal being awarded to entries with more than 90 points, silver to 82-89.9 points and bronze to 74-81.9 points.
"It's not about one [entry] competing with the others next to it – it's about judges having an understanding of the quality parameters and fitting them into the context of everything they know about each spirit category," Stock says.
The awards were launched this year by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria with the aim of raising the bar for local distillers and consumers, as well as putting the Australian industry on the international stage.
"We're breaking new ground with these awards," Stock says.
"There's a big responsibility to try and get Australian spirits on the map in the right way and that involves bringing global standards to Australia.
"[But the] Australian spirit space also needs the creativity and freedom to explore its own unique styles and you need to take your time to fuse those things together. It's really bloody exciting to be part of shaping that."
Other winners at the awards, which were held at Melbourne's The Apartment during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, included South Australia's VOK Beverages, whose Black Bottle XO brandy snagged the brandy trophy, and Queensland's Castle Glen Australia, whose pecan and hazelnut liqueur topped the liqueur category. Victoria's Edgemill Australia won best alternative spirit for its Zues Oyzo ouzo.
In terms of overall achievement, Lark Distillery in Tasmania was named best Australian distiller. Its champion distiller trophy acknowledges the producer with the highest average score based on the company's three top scoring exhibits.