You’re walking through a liquor store or browsing through the website of an online spirits retailer. Perhaps you want to try something new, grow your collection, or replenish your home stock. Then, you see this new item with large gold lettering that says, “Best in something.” What do you do?
Consumers seem to fall into two main camps when considering the topic of spirits competitions. Brands boast of medals or awards that on the labels and in online blurbs of their products. The first involves trust; recognized experts are in charge of choosing winners, so the awards must be reliable. For these consumers, the awards are testaments of quality, and this would reasonably add to their enjoyment of those spirits. The second involves distrust; those competitions and awards must be rigged or must have other ulterior motives, so other references or guideposts of value need to be sought after.
To the credit of the suspicious, it cannot be denied that profit remains the primary motivation for brands who enter their products into these competitions. After all, receiving awards and the license to use those awards can give products an edge over the competition, and this effectively leads to greater sales. In fact, advertising has long been proven by countless studies to have psychological effects on the behavior of consumers. If the goal is to sell and earn, what producer wouldn’t want their products to be emblazoned by awards, right?
My personal stance falls in the second camp, though less aggressively so. I understand that industry experts have opinions made reliable by their extensive experience, but I also understand that their subjectivities are different from mine. So, when it comes to buying bottles of spirits that I haven’t tried, I mostly either only trust my own opinions on samples I’ve had, or consider the opinions of a few references who I’ve recognized as having tastes and preferences that I align with.
Foursquare Redoutable was a curious exception. For context: while I’ve only tried several expressions from Foursquare Rum Distillery, I’ve never been disappointed with any of them. When the opportunity arose for me to purchase a bottle of Redoutable, I didn’t give it much thought until I saw a post on a rum-centered Facebook group saying that it was chosen as the best overall spirit in the International Spirits Competition (ISC).
A fire was lit under me. I knew that I had to get a bottle for myself. Sure enough, there I was with my new purchase, laughing at myself for having been so easily swayed by the award.
To make sure that I understand the context of the award enough to assess its validity and not simply take it at face value, I looked into the ISC and its methods, which seem to be currently tailored for the competition in 2022. Here are some key points that I’ve learned:
- The ISC, which is on its 27th year, is organized by Agile Media Ltd., a UK-based company in the hospitality industry that is centered on drinks publishing and events.
- The ISC describes itself as widely recognized as one of the most, if not the most, authoritative global spirits competitions. Participants send thousands of submissions from over 70 countries. The ISC is split into three main competitions: Tasting awards, Design & Packaging awards, and Spirits Tourism awards.
- For the tasting awards, brands or producers can submit any number of spirits, but entries cost £195 (around $264) for the first four submissions and get as low as £165 (around $223) for the 21st and all succeeding submissions. Brands and producers are also expected to shoulder the shipping and customs costs of at least two sample bottles per entry. Once winners are decided, winning brands are given the option to purchase stickers for their products, which cost a starting price of £300 ($406) for 3,000 stickers.
- According to the ISC website, “no specially prepared samples are accepted,” and all submitted spirits must be reasonably commercially available until 2023.
- Tastings are held for over 23 days, with samples delivered to judges who taste them blind and in flights. There are multiple categories that spirits can be submitted under, and there are multiple awards (Double Gold, Gold, Silver, and Bronze), but only one trophy per category.
- For each category, Agile Media Ltd. selects the panel of judges, who are considered renowned spirits experts (i.e. distillers, blenders, bartenders, spirits buyers, spirits writers, and spirits educators). No further details on ISC’s website are provided on how the judges are selected. After the judges assign winners in each category, the chairs of each panel re-taste the trophy-winning submissions and select a single “supreme champion” of all winning spirits.
- For the rum category, the panel is chaired by Carsten Vlierboom (CEO and Master Rum Blender at E&A Scheer) and comprises Sly Augustin (owner of UK-based cocktail bar Trailer Happiness), Peter Martin (director of Broker’s Gin), Doug McIvor (spirits manager of Berry Bros. & Rudd), and Steve Magarry (distillery manager of Australia-based Beenleigh Distillery). While this is the currently listed panel, I assume that this was the same that judged the rum category in 2021.
- In the tasting awards of 2021, a total of 52 submissions won trophies, 37 won Double Gold medals, 552 won Gold medals, 919 won Silver medals, and 349 won Bronze medals.
- In the category of Rum & Cane Spirits (which has 10 subcategories), two won Double Gold medals, 41 won Gold medals, 80 won Silver medals, and 22 won Bronze medals.
- Foursquare Rum Distillery won six awards, two of which were Double Gold medals, while three were Gold medals. Foursquare Redoutable won the trophy in the rum category, and was also selected as the Supreme Champion Spirit.
My takeaways? The ISC seems to truly be a blind process that takes points from credible individuals from different corners of the sprits industry. However, two other observations are worth noting. Firstly, the competition is ultimately advantageous to big companies or brands who can afford to enter multiple spirits, increase their chances of winning more awards, and advertise those awards through product stickers. Might this explain why William Grant & Sons has 80 winning entries? In contrast, a hypothetical local clairin producer from Haiti will find it difficult to join and benefit from the ISC even if their spirit would have had a landslide victory. Secondly, the fact that there is a large number of winning submissions does little to communicate the value of a single award. Should a medal winner still be proud of their award if nearly 2,000 other entries also won medals?
Now, onto the rum.
“Redoutable” is a French word that, as stated on the bottle’s back label, means “formidable” or “worthy of respect.” This is the 15th release in Foursquare Distillery’s Exceptional Cask Series. It is a single blended rum comprising of 14-year-old rum aged in ex-Bourbon casks and 14-year-old rum aged in ex-Madeira casks. It has been fully matured in Barbados, is bottled at 61% strength, and does not have any added sugar, coloring, or spices.
Foursquare Redoutable – Review
Color: Raw honey.
On the nose: Characteristically Foursquare because of its soft start, and it slowly intensifies with a rich mix of coconut, old red wine, vanilla smoothie, and Maltesers (chocolate-covered malted milk balls). It has a quiet warmth to it and is accented by touches of lemongrass, citrus oil, gentle spice, and faint cumin.
In the mouth: Equally rich yet much more intense than the nose, the arrival has oak, licorice, candied plums, and glazed donuts with deep strawberry filling. The red wine is still there, though in the form of pan sauce. Slightly oily body, but it’s quite tannic. There’s a burst of baked goods, maraschino cherries, and almost a sweet and bitter tobacco. The finish is long, with lingering spice coating he tongue along with peppercorn, melted caramel, and oak.
It’s definitely another quality release from Foursquare, and I continue to be delighted with the ability of Richard Seale and company to retain the core character of their Barbadian rum across all their releases. Though sadly at the expense of some fresher flavors, it’s nice that the ex-Bourbon cask influence gives way to the ex-Madeira cask influence. Otherwise, I feel that it would be a bit too similar to other Foursquare rums. I bought this for around $122, which is unfortunately quite steep. For comparison, a bottle from Master of Malt retails at only £73 (around $98). This will likely dissuade me from buying another bottle to restock.