“The Tough Mudder of spirits awards” is how Dan Priseman describes the Bartender’s Best Awards. Not being
remotely sycophantic, we’re inclined to agree. Who better than bartenders to judge the quality of the spirits that go into your glass? And to make this particular awards even more interesting – how about getting them to judge the quality of the liquid versus the price of the product in a ‘double blind’ process?

It’s not rocket science but funnily enough, spirits awards have never been done like this before. Not in the UK at any rate. So Priseman together with James Triffo set about putting this right. “People don’t purchase a product based on age statements, they purchase based on a price range they can afford,” says Triffo. “Likewise, bartenders use products based on price when recommending drinks to customers. We’re the first and only spirit awards using this methodology and believe it’s the fairest and most accurate way to judge products used across UK bars. It’s been a humbling process and a real curving curve.”

Brands were charged £200 to submit their products, with all proceeds going to support bartenders with training at the Wine Spirit Education Trust (WSET). It took ten months from conception to the announcements which were made earlier this week. During this time the invited bartenders were put through their paces, evaluating and
scoring the products based on their merits in accordance with the WSET systematic approach to tasting. “It’s a true double-blind process which ensures that no individual in the room knows which liquid is in which glass,”
adds Priseman. “It really is a rigorous process, designed to find the best products available in the UK.”

Forget runner’s-up places, the Bartender’s Best Awards only has time for winners. See the results below. But first, a few words with the founders:

Was setting up the Bartender’s Best Awards harder or easier than anticipated?
JT: Realising awards are already congested we really asked ourselves does the industry need another one? After looking at the majority we understood that many are born from a background outside of our industry and are in place to support a larger business. Another thing we addressed was the fact that awards are often judged by people the cocktail bar industry has trouble recognising. We wanted to change all that with the BBAs.
DP: When we first conceived the awards, we thrashed out a basic framework, and decided that we could manage this ourselves certainly in year one, with just a team of three. It turns out there was a lot more to it than just contacting brands and arranging tastings, and the project pushed us to the limit. I think we’ve both agreed that in year two we will be expanding the team, but I’m glad that we’ve experienced every aspect firsthand so we know every detail of our business.
How many bartenders were involved in the process?
JT: We’ve had over 80 bartenders participate in the inaugural year. Many more applied but didn’t fit the criteria of being a full time UK-based bartender – we’ve founds lots of international bartenders are really supportive which naturally leads us to imagine taking this into other territories around the world in a few years.
Any surprises?
DP: The results speak for themselves but we had really hoped to see some surprises coming through. I think you can see from the results that some of the larger brands that perhaps bartenders assume are just big budget and no substance, have actually shone through. Likewise, some of the small challenger brands have done amazingly well and shown that the ‘category leaders’ should probably be looking over their shoulders.
What are you both proudest of about the first BBAs?
JT: How humbled and amazed we are from the support that the drinks community have offered us; bartenders, brands and everyone else giving their time to make this happen.
DP: Yeah, the support has been incredible, and seeing not only those directly involved in the project, but our greater bar tending community engage with the BBA has given us a huge sense of achievement.

Category Winners

Fortified Wine
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

Bitters
Bitter Truth Creole Bitters

Liqueur
Bitter Truth Golden Falernum

Vodka
Belvedere Unfiltered

Gin
Geranium 55

Cognac
Pierre Ferrand 1840

Rum
Appleton 21yo

Whisky
Chivas 25yo

Tequila
Tapatio Blanco

2014 Grand Champion
Chivas Regal 25 year old

Sub-category winners

(A minimum of three products had to be entered in each category, otherwise they were not considered)

Absinthe
Premium: Maison Fontaine

Vermouth
Dry/white: Mancino Blanco
Sweet/red: Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

Bitters
Aromatic: Bitter Truth Creole
Spiced: Dale Degroff’s Pimento bitters

Vodka
Standard: Absolut
Premium: Belvedere Pure
Luxury: Belvedere Unfiltered

Flavoured Vodka
Standard: Ketel One Citron
Premium: Absolut Craft Herbacious Lemon Blanco

Tequila
Standard: El Jimador
Premium: Tapatio

Reposado Tequila
Premium: Olmeca Altos

Extra Anejo Tequila
Luxury: Don Julio 1942

Japanese Whisky
Standard: Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve
Premium: Hibiki 12yo

Blended Scotch Whisky
Standard: Chivas 12yo
Premium: Johnnie Walker Platinum
Luxury: Chivas 25yo

Peated Scotch Malt
Premium: Lagavullin 16yo

Unpeated Scotch Whisky
Standard: Auchentoshan 3 wood

Grain Whiskey
Haig Club

Bourbon
Standard: Bulleit Bourbon
Premium: Old Forester
Luxury: Hudson Four Grain

American Rye Whiskey
Standard: Bulleit Rye
Premium: High West Double Rye
Luxury: Hudson Manhattan Rye

London Dry Gin
Standard: Hayman’s
Premium: Geranium
Luxury: Ford’s Gin

Old Tom Style
Premium: Hammer & Son Old English

High Strength Gin
Premium: Geranium 55

Aged Gin
Burrough’s Reserve

Sloe Gin
Premium: Plymouth Sloe Gin

White Rum
Standard: Cana Brava
Premium: St. Nicholas Abbey
Overproof: Wray & Nephew

Golden Rum
Standard: Plantation Guatemala
Premium: El Dorado 15yo
Luxury: Appleton 21yo
Overproof: Plantation

Cachaça
White: Abelha
Gold: Abelha

Cognac
Standard: Pierre Ferrand 1840

Liqueur
Fruit: Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
Spiced: Bitter Truth Golden Falernum
Herbal: Licor 43
Floral: Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur

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