With judging completed at the inaugural Old Mutual Trophy Spirits Show (OMTSS), it is clear that the competition – the first of its kind in South Africa – has been a resounding success. Attracting 210 entries across a wide range of categories and classes, the OMTSS brought together an extraordinary line-up of spirits, aperitifs, digestives and liqueurs.
While classes such as gin saw an unsurprisingly strong local contingent, the presence of entries from eight other countries is an indication of the range and choice in the local market, as well as the response of importers and their principals to the opportunities presented by the show. A strong whisky class – with submissions from five countries – and a broad range of vodkas and rums (four countries each) illustrates the very international nature of the show’s entries.
Within the categories there was also a great breadth of styles and methods of production: pure pot-still brandies, whiskies and rums competed against blends; products with declared ages (eight, 12, 15 and 20 years, for example) were lined up against carefully assembled brands where bright fresh spirits had been woven into mature brandies and whiskies assembled from ancient casks.
Show chairman Michael Fridjhon was delighted with the industry’s response. “Almost all of the major players made an effort to participate – a few seemed more tentative than others – which is normal when an event like this is launched.” The presence of the same team which has been involved in the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show since its inception in 2002 no doubt contributed to the enthusiasm with which producers and their representatives engaged with Alex Mason-Gordon, the Show Director.
The judges were fulsome in their praise of the submissions, and the application of the judging methodology developed over nearly two decades at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. Scotland’s David Boyd observed “I thought the competition was very well organised… and I’m sure the results will stand up to firm scrutiny given the methodology of judging which was put in place. I’m sure the producers will be delighted to showcase any medal or Trophy winning Brands. Overall, the standard was very high in my opinion.” Andy Watts, another of the whisky panellists, described the judging as “one of, if not the best-organised whisky tasting I have been part of.”
The line-up of judges, with highly regarded international experts brought to the country courtesy of Old Mutual’s sponsorship, as well as the best known local specialists, undoubtedly played a role. The craft gin fraternity turned out in numbers, keen to make use of the show and the expertise of the UK’s David T. Smith, panel chairman and one of the most published and widely recognised authorities on gin, to assess the quality of their production. No doubt the presence of David Boyd, recently retired production director for one of Scotland’s major brand owners contributed to a whisky entry – of which 35 were single malts – making the class almost as large as gin. Jerome Royer, president of the French Brandy Association, brought the necessary gravitas to the brandy judging. The South African panellists were Mark Backhouse, Marlene Bester, Pieter de Bod, Simone Musgrave, Kresan Naidu, Mare-Loe Prinsloo and Andy Watts.
“All in all, I think everyone will be gratified by the results. We have six best in class trophies and seven category trophies from the total of 30 gold medals, 56 silver medals and 78 bronzes,” said Fridjhon. “Next year we hope to see a stronger presence from the country’s pot-still brandy distillers. If they make the obvious connection between the involvement of the craft gin producers and the raised profile of the category as a whole, they could use the 2020 edition of the show to bring the treasure trove of craft South African brandy to a wider audience.”
“We are delighted to have taken the last 19 years of success of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show to another level with this exciting new sponsorship and spirits competition. With the outstanding level of entries received and the results of the judging, we are certain that this is once again a truly shared value based partnership that provides an important platform of recognition for those that strive to be their exceptional best,” stated Thobile Tshabalala, Head of Brand at Old Mutual.
“Through our revised sponsorship strategy we are tapping directly into the lifestyles of our customers and hopefully inspiring and encouraging growth, success and an understanding that one can Do Great Things Every Day. Through this sponsorship we are proud to have enabled a combination of both international experts and our own top class local specialists to share their wisdom and views and amplify our ability to raise the bar for the South Africa spirits industry,” she concluded.
The results of the Old Mutual Trophy Spirits Show will be announced at the end of July at a function in Sandton.