The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), the nation’s only national registered non-profit trade association representing the U.S. craft spirits industry, announced the winners of its 8th Annual Judging of Craft Spirits, who were honored during a livestream awards ceremony on Tuesday. Medalists were hand-selected among a pool just shy of 550 entrants.
During the event, ACSA proudly bestowed the evening’s ultimate honor, the Best of Show award, to Milam & Greene Whiskey Distillery in Blanco, Texas, for their Port Finished Rye. Dan Garrison from Garrison Bros Distillery served as the evening’s emcee, providing remarks to the online audience. The stream also featured welcome remarks from Margie A.S. Lehrman, ACSA’s CEO, who provided a brief behind-the-scenes update on the organization’s major accomplishments this past year (namely, permanent FET Relief), ongoing COVID-19 support efforts, and advocacy work on behalf of the country’s 2,250 craft spirits producers. Maggie Campbell, ACSA’s Judging Committee Chair, gave a warm welcome with an optimistic toast to the future of the industry.
This year, entries were submitted from 42 states across the country in seven main categories: whiskey, gin, rum, vodka & grain spirits, brandy, distilled specialty spirits, and ready to drink (RTD). In addition to a Best of Show and the Best in Class distinctions, the judging panel awarded 12 gold, 228 silver, and 242 bronze medals.
The 2021 Best in Class distinctions, the highest honor in each of the seven judging categories, were awarded to a mix of both established, award-winning distilleries and younger newcomers. These winning distilleries will be presented with hand-carved barrelheads courtesy of Thousand Oaks Barrel Co, and all medal recipients will receive custom medals generously provided by Apholos.
ACSA would like to thank its competition sponsors, which include Glencairn, Heinz-Glas, and Top Shelf Logistics.
Best in Class Winners in Each Category Included:
Whiskey: Port Finished Rye, Milam & Greene Whiskey Distillery (TX)
Gin: 28 Mile Gin, 28 Mile Distilling Co. (IL)
Rum: Navy Strength Rum, Star Union Spirits (IL)
Vodka & Grain Spirits: San Luis Valley Potato Vodka, Wood’s High Mountain Distillery (CO)
Brandy: Pear Brandy XO Edition, Peach Street Distillers (CO)
Distilled Specialty Spirits: Carlino Bro’s Bootleggers Edition Barrel Finish, 3 Hundred Days Distilling (CO)
RTD: Copperwing House Calls Wilderness Downtown, Copperwing Distillery (MN)
The complete list of medalists is available on the ACSA website here:
About the Judging
The pandemic provided a unique set of challenges to hosting this year’s competition. A blind-tasting was conducted, with individual panelists compelled to evaluate each product separate from one another. Scores were submitted, tallied, and averaged, creating a competition based purely on numerical scoring rather than typical collaborative discussions. Cardinal Spirits in Bloomington, IN was the host facility. Once again, the judges encompassed a diverse range of spirits experts within the industry.
Spirits were judged by a panel of 29 judges, including Amy Zavatto, Andie Ferman, Ashley Barnes, Ashtin Berry, Audrey Reid, Brett Pontoni, Caley Shoemaker, Clay Risen, Craig Shimko, Dan Farber, Dave DeFoe, Devin Walden, Duane Sylvestre, Gary Spedding, Jake Parrot, Johnny Caldwell, Katie Sauer, Lisa Laird Dunn, Lisa Wicker, M Carrie Allan, Matt Colglazier, Monica Wolf, Monique Huston, Paul Clark, Richard Wolf, Rob Benedum, Samara Davis, Steve Beal and Wayne Curtis.
ACSA works rigorously to develop and fine-tune its methodology in order to ensure it continues to be one of the most valuable judging competitions in the industry. ACSA works to create a scoring card that generates meaningful, detailed feedback for entrants. Spirits were scored on appearance, aroma intensity, aroma complexity, palate concentration, palate complexity, body, character and nature of alcohol, texture, and finish. Finally, each judge was asked if they would pour the spirit for a peer. Prior to the tasting panels, judges participated in a palate calibration seminar led by Campbell, to bring a more narrowed focus to the tasting approach. This calibration seminar helped to ensure that scores across all judges and panels fell close to one another. Like so many events this year, the calibration session was held virtually.
Scoring and Medal Criteria
The scoring of spirits was based on a 100-point system, with spirits judged on the overall, cohesive impression of the spirit. Spirits were then assigned a medal based on the average score determined by the following benchmarks: 70-79 = Bronze; 80-89 = Silver; 90-100 = Gold.
Best in Class / Best of Show
The top awarded spirits were selected based upon their numerical score with the highest scores earning Best in Class / Best of Show distinction.