The Scottish Gin Awards

We ask how the judging process works and discover how the awards have benefited previous winners.

Published: 24th April 2019

With the entry deadline for the 2019 Scottish Gin Awards fast approaching, we caught up with the team at KD Media to discover more about the awards programme that highlights and showcases the gin makers and brands contributing to Scotland’s growing reputation as a gin making nation. With a reputation for organising and running flagship events that add value to brands and businesses, including the Scottish Beer Awards and the recently announced Scottish Whisky Awards. We wanted to learn more about why the Scottish Gin Awards are important for the Scottish Gin category, how the judging process works and discover how the awards have benefited previous winners.

What motivated you to establish the Scottish Gin Awards and what did you set out to achieve with the initiative?

Kirsten: After launching the Scottish Beer Awards in 2015, many of our judges asked if we were going to do gin awards next. With the experience we had gained, we knew we had to give it a go. We worked hard to engage with the Scottish gin industry and the distillery teams were incredibly positive, so the Scottish Gin Awards launched with great success. I suppose we set out to achieve an annual celebration that brought everyone in the industry together and to deliver valuable opportunities for Scottish distillers to make more sales. 

Who are the team behind the Scottish Gin Awards?

Kirsten: I started KDMedia over 18 years ago as a PR consultancy and gradually over that time we have grown our events business. It was really when Kelly joined as Senior Event Manager, we began a business plan to grow the events. Pippa then joined as an Events graduate and is now the Programme Manager dealing with entrants and helping them with their entries and categories. Gayle is the Marketing Director and joined after working with me for many years as one of my PR clients. Then Maxine joined last year on a temporary basis, but she made such an impact, we kept her on permanently. She’s our Business Development Director and looks after sponsorships. We have a flat team structure and we all bring different strengths to the business and the Scottish Gin Awards.

How did you choose your judging panel?

Pippa: The judging panel is an important and high-profile part of the Scottish Gin Awards. We know from experience that the decisions made can only be truly respected when they come from an experienced panel which is free from commercial influence. We research our panels at great length and make own our invitations as well as following up on recommendations from other judges. Fundamentally we aim for people who have lots of direct distilling business experience, a positive reputation and no commercial conflicts of interest.

How does the judging work?

Pippa: The written entries are assessed over a three-week period. Judges are assigned several entries and are asked to review and score. The panel then comes together as a board for Judging Day to review their marks and discuss the merits of each entry before voting for the winner in a blind vote. The Judging Day is hosted by the chair of the judging panel, Alex Bruce, who manages the debate and helps to progress discussions to a conclusion.

Kirsten: In the taste judging, we work with our technical partners Cara Technology to ensure that we care for every sample in the proper way to make sure it is at its very best while in our care. Every sample entered in the competition is blind tasted by the judges in a series of flights. Once all samples have been scored, we process the marks and have the results approved by the chair. Only the top three scorers in each category achieve a medal position of Gold, Silver and Bronze which creates much more value in the winning.

Once the judging is complete how do you use the information garnered for each gin?

Pippa: It’s incinerated! Seriously, the entries are all deleted after judging. Any entry information is shared in complete confidence with the judging panel via a secure, judges-only area on our website. We know who accesses it and when. Some information we receive is commercially sensitive and I know some companies don’t like releasing financial details for example. The reality is that if we don’t receive financial details then the panel will independently look for what’s available publicly and that is always out of date and possibly misleading. You’re much better just being open.

What do you think makes The Scottish Gin Awards different to other gin and spirits awards?

Maxine: In the Scottish Gin Awards you must submit at least one written business entry in order to qualify for the taste categories. This allows our judging panel to understand the business behind the product. We feel it is important to recognise broad business success such as growth, marketing and branding successes – as well as producing great tasting gin.

Secondly, we have a large judging panel from across the UK which form a crucial part of the competition. So, we are independent and have no commercial conflicts with advertisers, nor do we charge astronomical entry fees. Finally, not everyone wins. There are only three medallists in each category which keeps the value of winning at a premium.

Can you give some examples of how entering the Scottish Gin Awards has benefited the gin makers and brands who have previously won awards?

Gayle: There are many success stories demonstrated by our previous winners such as Arbikie, Verdant and Eden Mill. Eden Mill have just invested heavily in their 2018 award win with a limited-edition special release of their Original Gin. It has now been remade in a blue ceramic bottle for World Duty Free retail outlets in airports across the UK. Helping Scottish gin producers deliver marketing advantage with a hard fought and highly regarded gold medal is a huge thrill for us behind the scenes of the competition.

Why do you think it’s important for Scottish Gin makers and brands to enter the Scottish Gin Awards 2019?

Pippa: Firstly, it’s a great opportunity to review your business over the course of the past 12 months.  Reflecting on your work, achievements, successes and challenges is a highly beneficial and rewarding process. Entering awards also allows you to focus on engaging staff. Successful businesses have seen how awards create a positive culture, improve staff morale and validate everyone’s contribution.

I think small distillers have the most to gain. Winning an award can totally transform your business and open doors which are normally very closed. Because it is a blind tasting, there is a fair playing field and everyone has a chance to win.    

Do you think being an award-winning gin is more appealing to the consumer?

Maxine: A Scottish Gin Award of any kind offers Scottish distillers more definition and awareness in a very crowded market. Winning a medal means more opportunities to talk about the quality of the liquid and will deliver new content to support marketing and sales. It’s not just about the consumer though, it is about opening doors to distributors and in the export market and this is equally important. 

Will there be any new award categories for 2019?

Pippa: This year sees the introduction of two new categories; Best Marketing Campaign which will recognise a successful campaign to promote and sell a new or existing product and Best Brand Experience which will recognise the efforts of marketing teams to create brand experiences which immerse target consumers in a gin brand, building awareness, knowledge and customers.

Now in its 3rd year, what have been some of your favourite highlights over the last two and a bit years?

Kirsten: One of my favourite highlights was after the second year of judging, we had some impromptu drinks with the taste judges. It had been a full-on busy, busy day and we were all ready for a large one. We headed outside into the spring sunshine and quickly built a temporary bar in the garden. We were drinking award winning Scottish gin with our amazing gin judges who were fantastic company.  It felt like the best bar in the world.

Kelly: I loved the first year’s event. The atmosphere was electric, and I think we matched that in our second year which made major improvements in AV, set and entertainment. This year we are working hard to deliver another knock out performance and can’t wait! 

Pippa: In year one I just remember being really overwhelmed by the positive response from gin distillers. They were so welcoming about our idea and how we were working together. Then when we recruited the judging panel, we knew it was going to work. Leading names in the industry were very quick to respond and become involved. Their input, experience and opinion really make the competition what it is.

Gayle: Seeing the medals in action at home and abroad is, for me, very special.  With Eden Mill going into production with their remake of Original Gin in a special deal with World Duty Free is awesome as that wouldn’t have happened without the medal. We get a real buzz seeing the Scottish Gin Awards brand out there working hard in shops, shelves, online, in export presentations and of course airports.

From start to finish can you give us an idea of the timeline of the time and effort the team put into making the Scottish Gin Awards a success?

Kelly: It is a mammoth task but we know what we are doing and have fine-tuned everything since Kirsten ran our first awards event in 2003. We are a small team of five people and we run 30 events a year for over 3500 people.  The Scottish Gin Awards runs 12 months of the year. Right now, we are in the middle of the entry process and working hard with distillers to make sure they are in the right category for their business. The event takes place in October this year and straight away we will be reflecting and reviewing on the year and start work again on the following year’s programme as early as November. It’s around the clock stuff but we love doing it.

What do you think makes an award-winning Scottish Gin?

Pippa: Well we trust our expert judging panel for that decision. But the products are in excellent hands during judging. We have one of the most accomplished and experienced judging panels in the history of gin competitions across the UK. We have a very special opportunity to research their expert views on the best tasting products being made in Scotland right now.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome to get the Scottish Gin Awards to where they are today?

Kirsten: We like to figure out interesting operational challenges such as how we are processing, storing, serving and pouring 300 bottles of gin when they arrive at the Corn Exchange in a couple of weeks. We are very precise.

What new Scottish Gins and brands are you excited to try this year?

Kelly: We are always making our way through a very long list of new gins to try! It’s been interesting to see the big names such as Caorunn and Hendrick’s experimenting with flavour and branding this year. There are some very good new products out there such as Fidra from East Lothian. Luckily, we all like different things. Kirsten likes a classic clean dry citrus gin whereas Gayle and I are making our way through the flavoured gins. Our eclectic tastes make tasting gin together fun and varied!

Scotland’s reputation for producing brilliant spirits and amazing food feels like it’s continuing to grow year on year, some say the Scotland effect. What do you think makes Scottish Gin different to other gin categories?

Kirsten: Yes, it is the Scotland effect for sure. Scottish produce now sells at a premium around the world, no doubt about it.  I think there is a real opportunity to create more international value and recognition for the high-quality Scottish Gin product. We are already miles ahead of everyone else because we have such a rich and unrivalled global reputation as distillers thanks to our Scotch heritage. There’s lots still to do though.

Where would you like to see The Scottish Gin Awards in 5 years’ time?

Kirsten: With a recognised brand around the world on bottles and in the best bars. Our ambition is to help Scottish gin distillers make more money. So we will keep working with gin distillers to promote their products and help them maximise sales at home and abroad.

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