3 Regional Craft Spirit Makers Recognized By The SOCraft Awards On How They Made It

There’s a first time for everything, like a first-ever craft spirit awards in Asia, honoring the art and craft of artisanal spirits from around the world, for example. Those awards – the inaugural SOCraft Awards – have been announced, with 43 craft spirits getting recognition. Among them were Indian agave spirit makers, Maya Pistola, a Tasmanian whisky brand, Launceston Distillery, produced in a historic airport hangar, and Cambodia’s color-changing Jason Kong Mekong Butterfly Gin.

This awards program offers global artisanal craft spirit producers an exclusive platform in Asia for recognition and validation. To be recognized as craft, by the organizer’s definition, producers must first be marketing themselves as craft distillers, distinguishing their artisanal approach from larger, mass-produced spirits. 

Additionally, these craft distilleries must be majority independently owned, ensuring their commitment to preserving the authentic spirit of their craft, with an annual production not exceeding 750,000 gallons, a threshold that upholds the small-batch, hands-on nature of true craft distilling. 

The SOCraft Awards: Honoring The Artisanal

The SOCraft Awards were designed to honor the artisanal producers whose unwavering passion, exceptional skill, and steadfast dedication propel them to pursue the creation of truly remarkable, handcrafted spirits.

“We had our hearts set on being the gateway to Asia for global craft spirit makers,” Ivy Woo, managing director of FoodNews Creative Marketing Agency, the organizers of the SoCraft Awards, explained, “and I think we achieved that.”

“We received entries from 15 countries around the world, and our cohort of judges consisted of the best of the best from the industry, leading bartenders, bar owners, F&B directors, and buyers from the region,” she added. 

“We had our hearts set on being the gateway to Asia for global craft spirit makers.” – Ivy Woo

“Driven by passion, tradition or both”

The SOCraft committee was composed of 12 esteemed thought leaders, each representing a key geographical market within Asia’s vibrant drinks and spirits industry. 

This esteemed committee collectively voted for a panel of 36 independent and acclaimed judges, including bar owners, bartenders, spirits writers, importers, and distributors from across Asia.

The accolades available ranged from one to three stars, with a green ring accreditation for sustainable practices. 

Among the 43 winners, 13 craft spirits received 1 star, while five garnered 1 star and the esteemed green ring for environmental responsibility. Eight craft spirits earned the prestigious 2 stars, and 15 attained 2 stars along with the green ring. Notably, two craft spirits achieved the highest honor of 3 stars and the green ring, a testament to their exceptional artistry and sustainable practices.

“Many of these craft distillers have such unique stories that are driven by passion, tradition or both. Their tireless dedication to craft alone is extremely commendable, and I appreciate each one of them,” Ivy added. 

Maintaining impartiality was of utmost importance. So, the judging was conducted blindly. And each judge meticulously evaluated no more than 10 spirits per session, over a 120-minute seating. Entries were rigorously assessed based on Aroma and Bouquet (20 points), Mouthfeel (20 points), Taste (20 points), Finish (20 points), and Overall Impression (20 points), with judges providing independent scores for each criterion.

And the SOCraft Awards also recognized craft spirits with exemplary green efforts by awarding them an additional green ring. This accolade was based on a written submission, reviewed and scored separately by sustainability advocates Heidi Spurrell, Founder of Future Green, and Sasha Wijidessa, Co-Founder of the future-forward bar, Fura. 

Judges assessed entries across four key areas: Choice of Production Materials, Waste Management (5 points), Emissions Management (5 points), and Support for Local Community (5 points), ensuring that environmental responsibility was duly celebrated alongside exceptional craftsmanship.

We Made It

So, we gathered a cross-section of the winners to talk about their dedication to craft spirits, and the meaningfulness of recognition like this one offered by the SOCraft awards.

Launceston Distillery in Tasmania was one of the two distilleries receiving 3 stars and a green ring for their remarkable single malts, distilled in an historic airport hanger, watched over by the distillery’s dog, Angus. 

Indian agave producers Maya Pistola, received 2-stars for their 100% Agave spirit made from wild agave Americana that grows in India’s Deccan Plateau. And Cambodia’s Jason Kong Gin, from the makers of Seekers, received 1-star with an additional green ring merit. 

“Angus has been our distillery dog for 16 years,” Launceston Distillery’s production manager Chris Condon tells us.

Launceston Distillery’s Angus The Dog Approved Whiskies  

“Angus has been our distillery dog for 16 years,” Launceston Distillery production manager, Chris Condon, tells us. “So, by now, he understands that good whisky takes time.” It hasn’t taken much time, however, for the Tasmanian whisky industry to mature. 

Today, Tasmania has over 70 distilleries and its whiskies have come to be regarded as some of the best in the world. 

But, Launceston Distillery tells us, its producers have maintained a strong bong throughout the growth of the industry that’s still strong today. 

“They were pretty humble beginnings, 30 years ago,” Chris reminds us. “But the rapid growth suggests we’re on the right track. Plus, in August each year we celebrate Tasmanian Whisky Week, a festival where distilleries collaborate with each other to host a variety of interesting events for whisky lovers.”

What stands Launceston Distillery apart – and helped it to 3-star recognition with a green ring at the SOCraft Awards – is, Chris explains, “staying true to our own style –  an elegant, approachable whisky, built and recognised on a foundation of consistent quality.”

And they produce it in that historic aircraft hangar. Built in 1932 it’s the oldest surviving aviation building in Tasmania.

Launceston Distillery’s production manager Chris Condon.

The building had been disused for 12 years prior to Launceston Distillery taking over the lease and renovating it. “We are now the proud custodians of this heritage-listed building which has been a perfect site for us to build our distillery. Everything happens under the one roof of Hangar 17 from grain to bottle,” Chris adds about whiskies like their Tawny Cask Matured, which they entered in the SOCraft Awards. 

“I would best describe our Tawny Cask Matured as an elegant whisky with luscious dark fruit flavors and spice. It’s often described as like Christmas pudding. I like to think all our whiskies have an approachability to them, a softness, and our Tawny captures that beautifully.”

And the SOCraft Awards are another step in reaffirming their self-belief in their Tasmanian whisky. “The recognition gives us credibility to have more meaningful discussions with customers in this market. And the judge’s comments provided valuable feedback on our whisky, and it also helps us better understand what qualities a group of high-caliber judges like this are looking for.”

But after 30 years of relentless development of their whiskies, the SOCraft Awards are a milestone on a much longer journey. “Whilst we did receive the green ring for sustainability, we always see this as an ongoing pursuit and something that requires an attitude of continuous improvement,” Chris adds finally.

Historic hangar 17.

Jason Kong Gin: It Began As A Gift 

The Cambodia-based Seekers Spirits co-founding couple, Tania from the UK, and Marco, from Barcelona, began the inadvertently began their journey with Jason Kong Mekong Butterfly Gin, when the team made Marco – who was excited by the idea of using butterfly pea flowers, which grow rampantly in Cambodia, as the base for a color-changing gin – an experimental bottle as a birthday gift. 

“Then, the gin sat proudly on the shelf in our distillery,” Tania remembers. “There, it garnered so much attention from visitors that we decided to refine the recipe and officially launch it as a new brand, Jason Kong.”

Like Seekers, Jason Kong celebrates the rich flavors of the Mekong region. But the new product was also intended to encapsulate the region’s vibrancy, individuality, and creativity. 

Marco and Tanya, co-founders of Seekers Spirits.

“It’s a floral gin with spice notes, featuring rose apples native to Southeast Asia and cassia bark from the Cambodian highlands. We also use sweet dried oranges and angelica root from Vietnam, and organic butterfly pea flowers from a farm in Kampot, Cambodia. These flowers give the gin a deep blue hue, which changes to pink when mixed with tonic or citrus, making for visually stunning cocktails,” Tania adds. 

According to Tania, Cambodia is also a start-up friendly place with a relatively friendly regulatory environment, which makes it easy to set up and operate a distillery, compared, for example, to neighboring Thailand.

“However, the market is smaller than in Vietnam and Thailand, which presents both challenges and opportunities,” she adds. In fact, Jason Kong is now  available in both countries, and the gin, thanks, she suggests, to its vibrant positioning, branding, and flavor profiles, has garnered a number of international accolades, including the SOCraft Award, from far beyond. 

The sociable Jason Kong.

“Last year, our gin scored in the top three at the New York Chilled Awards with 97 points and won an additional packaging award. For a brand from Cambodia, which lacks a distilling heritage and a sophisticated premium goods market, endorsements from respected blind tastings are helpful for growth and credibility in new markets,” Tania adds. 

Jason Kong Mekong Butterfly Gin the SOCraft Awards’ green ring was thanks to their “responsibility to the environment and the communities in which we operate,” which, Tania explains, extends to all areas of their business: from improving the local economy by creating job opportunities and teaching new skills, to developing new value chains in the agricultural sector, reducing negative impacts through energy and waste management, and creating innovative packaging solutions. 

“It’s both a responsibility and a privilege to build a business that positively impacts the wider community and environment,” Tania adds finally. 

Seekers’ Spirit House.

The Perfectly Timed Maya Pistola Agavepura

India’s Maya Pistola Agavepura is made from Wild Agave Americana plants in India’s Deccan Plateau, where it is distilled in Chittoor, before going to Goa, the country’s sun-kissed southwestern state, to be bottled, aged in Virgin American White Oak, Ex-Bourbon or Ex-Red Wine casks, and blended. “And its Asia’s first premium, aged, 100% agave spirit, made from the Agave Americana,” Maya Pistola Agavepura’s co-founder, Radhika Dhariwal, tells us proudly. 

The Maya Pistola team, bringing homegrown agave spirits to India with impeccable timing.

“The inherent sweetness of the Agave Americana – which thrives on the Deccan Plateau – is balanced by other flavours that come from the terroir, such as the subtle smokiness, the herbaceous and spicy notes and the underlying minerality from the soil, which come together to produce a high-quality, complex and dynamic agave spirit,” Radhika continues.

The timing is perfect. Agave spirits were the second-fastest-growing spirits category in 2022, and the market is expected to be worth $1,388.1 million by 2027, showcasing the rising popularity of these artisanal spirits and appreciation for their craftsmanship and cultural heritage. 

“Consumers in both India, and Asia in general, are more curious about trying locally-distilled craft spirits,” Radhika suggests. And their pure spirit that’s free from additives and coloring – from which it takes the name ‘Agavepura’ – is smooth on the palate and is elegant to either sip or mix,  which appeals to India’s “evolved consumer base.”

Wild Agave Americana plants in India’s Deccan Plateau.

But, despite that, and the brand’s bold, expressive branding, the path to production was paved with challenges. India’s policies on the production and sale of liquor are complex, and vary state-by-state – some of which favor imported spirits over domestically produced ones. And lots don’t even recognize agave spirits as a category. But that kind of complexity has emboldened Maya Pistola to be more creative in building their brand that includes Joven, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo.

Maya Pistola Agavepura aging gracefully in Goa.

“The Joven lends itself beautifully to cocktails, shots and to pair against spice,” Radhika explains. “The Reposado has a well-balanced sweetness which makes it easy to sip, and the Añejo has an oaky complexity that is rewarding and appeals to drinkers of fine malts. However, our Extra Añejo, aged for over three years, is particularly special. It has spent the most time maturing in two different types and casks, and developing into a beautifully aged agave spirit with notes of spiced caramel, dark chocolate, honey, and candied cherries.”

As the first 100% agave spirit, made from the Agave Americana, Maya Pistola has perfect synergy with the SOCraft Awards, which has just wrapped its first edition.

You might also like

Le Patio’s Chef Thierry Renou On Being Exceptional Every Single Day

Le Patio’s Chef Thierry Renou On Being Exceptional Every Single Day

Good Bars Doing Good: In Fine Spirits As PK Maltroom Pops-Up At The Enigma Mansion

Good Bars Doing Good: In Fine Spirits As PK Maltroom Pops-Up At The Enigma Mansion

The Beers Of Brew Fest 2023: A Sneak Peek from AVA Brewing, BitterSweet Brewing Company, And 3T Brewing Co.

The Beers Of Brew Fest 2023: A Sneak Peek from AVA Brewing, BitterSweet Brewing Company, And 3T Brewing Co.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 Awards Have Been Announced And Here’s What Happened

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 Awards Have Been Announced And Here’s What Happened


More stories

subscribe us