It may not be something you’ve ever thought about. Your experience of wondering which gin to get may only extend to working out which one is on the best offer in your local supermarket. But help is at hand.

The selection of available gins is getting trickier every day as new brands from every corner of the globe hotfoot it to our juniper-loving shores and, believe it or not, there are some people whose job it is to decide which gins deserve the highest accolades and the right to put a shiny gold sticker on their bottle to tempt you when you’re doing your weekly shop. And some of those people are the judges at the International Wine and Spirits Competition – the IWSC.

What is the IWSC?

Think of the IWSC as the Oscars for booze.  Winning an award from the International Wine and Spirits Competition is one of the most highly-regarded achievements for distillers and winemakers from around the world.

The judges who taste and rate the liquid are blessed with some of the most discerning palates in the industry and have to undergo rigorous testing just to qualify for the judging panel.  Luckily for us, we’ve got one of these super-skilled experts among our team: our very own Amanda Ludlow, long time gin-lover and founder of The Gin Lounge!

The judging process

The judging at the IWSC is thorough and demanding.  It’s divided into a two-stage procedure involving a blind tasting by an expert panel and a detailed microbiological and chemical analysis by an independent third party.

During the blind tasting all samples are presented only in numbered glasses, with judges never seeing any of the bottles.  This precludes any possibility of judges being influenced by the packaging or bringing any personal opinions about particular brands to the table.

All samples are tasted in flights categorised by style and alcohol by volume (ABV).  All gins in a particular style category are tasted together, beginning with the lower ABV spirits before gradually moving onto the stronger ones. The prize categories cover style, region, age and ABV.

Samples are initially assessed by each judge quietly and without comment.  Scores are then collected and collated by the supervising panel member and an open discussion is held on which samples are worthy of an award.  If the judges are unable to reach a majority decision, flights are referred to another panel.

The medals that can be awarded are as follows:

  • Gold Outstanding: A score of 93 or higher out of 100. Quality of the highest order.
  • Gold: A score of 90-92.9 out of 100. Superior example; setting the standard.
  • Silver Outstanding: A score of 86-89.9 out of 100. Outstanding example, excellent quality.
  • Silver: A score of 80-85.9 out of 100. Fine example, excellent quality.
  • Bronze: A score of 75-79.9 out of 100. Good example, well above average.

Can I trust the medals on the bottles?

There’s a lot of gins out there and plenty of spirits awards giving out medals, so it’s hard to know which ones to trust.  Just because there’s a medal stuck on a bottle, does that really make it good? Well, with the usual proviso of taste being subjective, if a bottle has an IWSC medal you can be sure that it has been through both a strict scientific analysis and a thorough, impartial tasting procedure and has been found to be a well-made product of good quality.