The best gins according to the 2021 International Wine and Spirits Competition
Nine different gins received exceptional gold medals at Judging of the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2021 (IWSC). The winning gins came from six different countries, including unexpected winners from Argentina, Japan and Italy. 38 other brands won a gold medal.
The IWSC is an annual wine and spirits competition. Founded in 1969 by Anton Massel, it has become the largest competition of its kind in the world. Spirits are rated on a 100 point scale and awards are given for outstanding gold (98-100 points), gold (95-97 points), silver (90-94 points) and bronze ( 85-89 points).
The competition employs more than 250 judges, from all over the world, who assess thousands of wines and spirits in 1,500 different categories.
Significantly, as in previous years, none of the “global” gin brands won an Outstanding Gold or Gold. Instead, the gin category was dominated by artisanal distillers, many of whom came from countries that were not traditional gin producers.
Six of the winners were contemporary style dry gins bottled at alcohol contents ranging from 40% ABV to Navy style 57.5% ABV. The term “contemporary gin” is not strictly defined, but is often applied to gins that contain non-traditional, usually local herbs, in addition to the usual gin flavoring agents.
Of the remaining three gins, one gin was a London dry, one was a flavored gin, and one was an aged, wood-finished / resting gin.
Destileria de Montana, Andes Gin – Mountain Dry, 45% ABV
Andes Gin in an Argentinian gin produced in Mendoza in the heart of one of Argentina’s main wine regions. The gin uses a combination of traditional herbs as well as unique local plants.
While we don’t generally think of Argentina as a producer of gin, it has actually been produced here for several centuries. Argentina has the highest per capita consumption of gin, and especially gin and tonic, than any other country in South America.
Biggar Gin Company, Biggar Strength Gin, 57% ABV
Biggar is technically a ‘marine force’ gin produced in Scotland. Over the past five years, Scotland has experienced a gin renaissance and now has over 200 different brands of gin.
The gin uses traditional herbs supplemented with locally grown rowan berries, rosehips, nettles and hawthorn.
The result is a mellow fruity gin with hints of citrus and dried apple and some herbal aromas. It’s smooth, creamy and sweet with a distinctive juniper character, with hints of fresh cut lavender and some pepper.
Runa, Craft Gin Arandanos, 42% ABV
Runa is another Argentine gin. It shares its name with a Scandinavian gin, so be sure to get the bottle labeled Arandanos.
This is an intensely flavored contemporary gin that also uses local plants to create more pronounced flavors.
Alma Distillers, Premium Artisan Gin, 40% ABV, is another expression of Argentinian gin. Alma uses a fairly conventional blend of 16 plants, except that some juniper berries come from Patagonia in southern Argentina. The result is a gin with a silky texture on the palate and a lingering sweet note.
The Ethical Spirits Company, latest O-Elegant episode, 47% ABV
Elegant is a Japanese gin that has been regularly awarded in spirits competitions around the world. Like many Japanese gins, it uses non-traditional local herbs. In the case of Elegant, this also includes the use of Masumi Sake lees as a flavoring agent.
Karu Distillery, Lightning Gin, 57.5% ABV
Lightning Gin is another perennial medalist with victories in numerous spirits competitions, most recently a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2021 and a double gold at the same competition in 2019. Karu is a distiller Australian located at the base of the Blue Mountains in the small town of Grose Vale in New South Wales.
It is a marine strength gin that has a very pronounced juniper aroma. It includes citrus aromas drawn from lemon myrtle, bitter ruby grapefruit and sweet tangerines, as well as pink geranium. Most of the plants are of local origin.
Lucky Bee Gin Company, Hench Gin, 57% ABV
Hench is a traditional marine strength gin produced in Timperley, a small village on the outskirts of Manchester in the UK. It is based on 13 traditional plants, many of which are locally sourced. The result is a clean, fresh gin with distinct lemon and orange notes and a lingering sweet almond flavor on the finish.
Skylark Distillery, Lantic Gin Winter Botanicals, 41.5% ABV
Lantic Gin is produced in Cornwall, England. In addition to traditional herbs, he uses a range of local, hand-picked and seasonal herbs to create a summer botanical gin and a winter botanical gin.
Botanical Winter Gin includes: rowan berries, blackberries, Kea plums, crabapples, pears, rose hips, heather and mint. After distillation, the gin is “rested” in oak barrels for a brief period before being bottled.
Jo Ressel, Vento Carsico Gin, 40% ABV
Italy has become a hotbed of artisanal gin production over the past decade and now boasts over 300 locally produced gins that offer a wide range of flavors and aromas.
Vento Carsico is classified as a flavored gin. Seems inappropriate because all gins are flavored – otherwise they would be vodkas.
Vento Carsico owes its name to the wind (vento) which constantly blows over the limestone karst plateau (carsico) region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the northeastern region of Italy.
The gin is flavored with locally grown mugo pine, giving it a balsamic flavor. It is also flavored with wild sage, savory, hyssop and lemon zest. The result is a spirit immediately recognizable as a gin but which offers a different aromatic and taste profile.
There were 38 additional gins which won gold medals. With around 6,000 different gin expressions around the world, of which over 1,700 are produced in the UK, gin has grown into the largest category of spirits brands in the world.
The contemporary gin scene offers a wide range of aroma and flavor profiles and continues to evolve to encompass both new variations of traditional herbs as well as exciting new expressions that incorporate unusual herbs.
The emergence of seasonal gins, which incorporate local herbs that are only available during certain months of the year, has also spurred the development of regional and national styles of gin. One thing is certain, gin and tonic will never be the same!
Many of these gins are not yet available in the United States or are very difficult to find. Some of the UK online sellers, like The whiskey purse, might have some of the gins available.
For a full list of the 38 gold medalists in gin, as well as all other medalists in gin, see the results page on the IWSC website.