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Judging the Inaugural Global Distillery Masters

Lucy Richardson, Associate Director

In December, I was invited by leading drinks trade publication, The Spirits Business, to be a judge of the inaugural Global Distillery Masters on account of my experience in drinks communications, particularly with spirits brands within Pernod Ricard Group and Bacardi Brown Forman Brands.

The competition was set up to find and reward the world’s finest distilleries across the entire spirits sector, with entries assessed on their customer experience, production innovation, digital and social media, and environmental initiatives. The competition has been designed to recognise the growing importance of tourism, creativity and technical merit in the industry and with entries from far and wide, it truly was a global competition.

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Alongside my fellow judges – Nicholas Cook from The Gin Guild, David Wrigley from The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and David T Smith of Craft Distilling Expo – I ploughed through the many entries, largely impressed by the effort and detail that had gone into them, and even more impressed by the apparent improvement in distillery tourism. Since my days travelling around Australia over 10 years ago when I visited various wine regions around the country, spending many a happy afternoon trying new and interesting wines and enjoying delicious lunches in the wineries’ gardens, I’ve long wondered if UK producers would ever catch on to the commercial opportunity that distillery and winery tourism presents. And while it’s certainly fair to say the Australian wine industry is far more advanced than its UK equivalent, the same can’t be said of our distilleries and breweries with a fair few around for hundreds of years.

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It’s not just about the commercial opportunity of course – just as I was very much a wine novice when I traveled Australia (I didn’t even like white wine before then, or so I thought!) many of those who decide to drop by for the experience come away with a whole new appreciation for the craft of the drink produced. More than likely, they will remember the experience and stay loyal to the brand in future, grateful to them for giving them a deeper understanding of what they quaff on a Friday night. They might often share bits of what they’ve learnt with friends and family; that kind of advocacy is incredibly hard to generate through other means, so brands who are investing in production tourism (and supporting it through social media) are those who will thrive in future in my opinion.

Yes, it takes investment to set your distillery up for visitors but what was great to see was that many of the most impressive entries were from new start-up distilleries, with entrepreneurial owners at the helm. Their passion and enthusiasm, and often their experience in other industries, is just what the UK drinks industry needs to thrive and hopefully, will lead to better informed, more responsible consumers.

Results of the Global Distillery Masters