As The Oak Barrel's Spirits Educator I was humbled a few years ago to be asked by Bill Lark (founder of Lark Distillery) to be a judge on the inaugural Australian Gin Awards. Part of a team of distillers, hospitality and other retailers, it's not only good fun but a good chance for myself to make sure the gins we stock on the shelves here amongst the best in the country.
All the gins are tried blind, so it's a bit of an anxious wait in between tasting hundred of products and knowing them only by a number to the award reveal and finding out which gins were the ones I liked (and didn't).
Socially-distancing judging took place recently and last week the winners were announced. For the first time ever we had joint winners, two gins we just couldn't split. 2019's Best In Show the Never Never Southern Strength doubled-up with local newcomers Ester's The Strong from Sydney.
We know how great the Southern Strength is, a classic juniper bomb with awesome weight and structure, so no surprises there.
But we weren't across The Strong, so we've immediately jumped on the phone and grabbed a case - which has now arrived in store. A real gin distiller's gin, it's impeccably crafted and supremely clean for 57%. Bright juniper, creamy citrus - an instant house favourite here at The Oak Barrel.
I know not every does and can enter awards, and awards in general are to be taken with a pinch of salt, but these are two truly brilliant gins. We've got the winners - plus other releases from both distilleries in store now.