Wrap-up: Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition 2023

Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition (TWSC) 2023, the fifth holding of the competition, has come to a close. This year’s competition featured 918 entries across 28 categories in both Western Spirits and Shochu Divisions. Let’s take a look at what made this year one to remember.

Entries were accepted until near the end of 2022. After some regular Executive Committee meetings, my schedule started to pick up in March:

  • March 2023: Western Spirits Division Round 1 judging (remote)
  • April 2023: Shochu Division Round 1 judging (remote)
  • May 2023: Shochu Division Round 2 judging (remote)
  • June 24, 2023: Shochu Division Roundtable
  • June 29, 2023: TWSC 2023 Awards Ceremony
  • July 9, 2023: TWSC 2023 Megatasting

So yes, the judging process was still fully remote. The overall results of the competition are available across a few different links:

The headlines are, of course, the “Best of the Best” winners. These bottles beat out all other bottles from a given category, regardless of its country of origin.

With global prices of everything steadily increasing… if you’ve ever found yourself questioning the finances of your whisky habit, now is as good a time as any to remind you that shochu is, comparatively, really affordable. Especially in Japan. Kohaku no Yume retails here for a mere 1100 yen!!! That’s less than eight US dollars. You can’t even buy a single drink in many bars for that price.

TWSC 2023 Awards Ceremony

Getting back to the competition. While it wasn’t open to the public, the biggest difference between 2022’s competition and 2023’s is the inclusion of the in-person awards ceremony. Specifically, the ceremony was to present awards to the various category winners: i.e. awards like “Best Single Malt Scotch” and “Best Japanese Gin.” Because of COVID, this is only the second time TWSC has actually held such an awards ceremony.

While most of the ceremony is not online–including the awards I presented–you can catch the Best of the Best portion on YouTube.

Auto-generated subtitles are there to help if need be!

Amazingly, one of the complaints of the ceremony was the lack of drinks. You may think a spirits awards show is overflowing with alcohol, but whelp that wasn’t the case. Something to think about for next year.

TWSC 2023 Megatasting

2023 marked the second year of TWSC’s Megatasting, and this event was overflowing with alcohol. Over 700 bottles, just in long rows, waiting to be tasted. Try every single single malt winner from the competition if you like! Maybe gin is your thing? Awamori? Or paid tastings of the pricier bottles?

Like last year, this year’s Megatasting was a markedly different kind of event. There were no promotions, handouts, brand ambassadors, guest bartender shifts, or really anything to attract you to one table over another.

Although that puts all of the bottles on a level playing field, it can also leave some people scratching their heads. “Where should I start?” Several people asked me for recommendations, i.e. what are the must-try bottles, etc.

If you’re attending the TWSC Megatasting in 2024–assuming it happens again–I suggest you put together a plan of action before visiting to make the most of your time. TWSC discloses details of bottles available in advance, so it’s entirely possible. This plan can take different forms depending on your preference:

  • Focus on a specific category, for example, trying all of the Japanese whisky.
  • Focus on the cost-performance of your entry ticket, i.e., sampling bottles that are usually prohibitively expensive. For shochu, pricing bands go from A (<1,650 yen) to E (>=11,000 yen), and for Western spirits, A (<3,300 yen) to H (>=110,000 yen). Many such bottles will likely be on the paid tasting tables, so stock up on paid tasting tickets early and get in line early.
  • Focus on the TWSC winners, for example trying every bottle that won Superior Gold and/or the individual category winners. This should give you a sense of what styles the TWSC judges prefer.
  • Plan to have no plan, gravitating instead towards uncrowded tables. You might meet someone or something new! Isn’t that what drinking events are for?

Each session was three hours long, and tickets ran 5,500 yen. Both the morning and afternoon sessions each sold out of their 500 tickets.

The megatasting put a nice cap on the end of a very successful 2023 competition. Lots of changes are in store for 2024’s competition, so stay tuned.

Even prior to that, the latter half of 2023 has plenty to look forward to. In fact, we’re only a month away from Whisky Festival 2023 in Yokohama. I’ll see you there!

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