AwardsStill Magic

Australian Distilled Spirits Awards 2020 – An assessor’s viewpoint

By October 26, 2020 No Comments
Illustration of gin distillery

A virtual event this year


After some replanning and delivering some fancy remote IT assessment capability, the 2020 edition of the Australia Distilled Spirits Awards (ASDA) got underway as a Zoom adventure with judges located all over Australia.

Each judge received the samples in advance of the competition. However, we were not permitted to open the boxes prior to the Day 1 kick-off meeting.

The samples bore unique codes describing:

  • the Assessment Day (1 or 2)
  • the Panel ID (A thru J)
  • the product class and the entrant number.

We also received:

  • 3 boxes of Plum sensory assessment glasses
  • a box of Captain’s Table Classic water crackers
  • ASDA’s official confectionary: snakes.

The two latter items were used as palate cleansers between sample flights, along with cut green apples, and lots of water.

My team – Team I – were ably led from Sydney by Lee Potter Cavanagh (NSW). It included industry giants Orlando Marzo (VIC), Quentin Brival (Northern NSW) and Lynn Lark (TAS) for Day 2.

Each day began with a calibration session where the entire panel would assess the entries as a team:

  • 2 calibration samples on Day 1
  • 3 samples on Day 2.

Each assessor had a unique online webform to collect sores and comments. It was based on the following criteria and weighting (maximum score):

  • Appearance / Colour (10)
  • Nose (20)
  • Palate (40)
  • Balance (10)
  • Finish (20)


Day 1: Fruit Gins


36 fruit gins


Day 1 comprised 36 fruit gins, broken into flights of 3, 6, and 9, prior to lunch, and then 3 groups of  6.  Assessments took place individually to start with and then assessed as a group for comparison and consensus.

The Fruit gins on Day 1 were notable for the variety of flavours and the amazing array of colours on display; sloe, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, plum, grape, fig, passionfruit, quince, and rhubarb.  I was delighted in most cases, that the fruit’s hero role in the product, did not come at the expense of juniper; gin with complementary fruit character as opposed to fruit with flecks of gin thrown in.


Day 2: Navy Gins


navy gins


Day 2 followed a similar approach, albeit as 9 flights of 3, and with 5 assessors. This was arguably the most sensory demanding line-up of the entire competition with samples commanding strengths of 57.7% ABV and over.

The Navy gins on Day 2 were classically juniper forward. However, the distillers and producers demonstrated lots of thought to select supportive, innovative botanicals that brought additional flavour depth and layers to the products.

Navy gin plays an important role in the gin narrative. In some ways, runs counter to the modern styles that often suppress juniper.  To see Australia’s finest investing the time and effort to ‘own’ this style, is an exciting development.


The Australian craft spirits industry continues its quest for product excellence. Confidence is high too, with 620 entrants in 2020, up from 300 in 2019.

For a judge, it’s 2 days of focus and responsibility for an industry on the rise. Tough gig, but someone has to do it.

Bring on 2021!

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