The number of craft spirits distilleries across the United States now exceeds 2,300. The pandemic may have slowed many things down over the last couple of years, but the production and popularity of craft vodka, rum, gin, brandy and whiskey has continued at a robust pace.
Each year, the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), the nation’s only national registered nonprofit trade association representing the U.S. craft spirits industry, celebrates these makers by holding a craft spirits competition. That competition was just wrapped up and the winners were announced at the Associations annual distillers’ convention in The Big Easy, New Orleans. For 2022, medalists were hand-selected among a pool just shy of 450 entrants.
This year, entries were submitted from 37 states and Washington, D.C., in seven main categories: brandy, distilled specialty spirits, gin, ready to drink (RTD), rum, vodka and grain spirits, and the largest category whiskey. Awards were given out for the usual categories of Bronze, Silver, Gold as well as Best in Class, Innovation and the ultimate award, Best in Show. Altogether, the judging panel awarded 15 gold, 104 silver, and 159 bronze medals.
The 2022 Best of 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.
The ‘Best of Class’ and ‘Best in Show’ awards were selected based upon their numerical score with the highest scores earning Best of Class / Best in Show distinction. A complete summary of how the awards judging, scoring and medal criteria is included below.
Congratulations to all this years winners!
Stay Informed: Sign up here for the Distillery Trail free email newsletter and be the first to get all the latest news, trends, job listings and events in your inbox.
Best in Show – Starlight Distillery
Distillery: Starlight Distillery, Starlight, Indiana
Whiskey: Carl T. Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey
Appropriately named after the Grandfather of 6th generation co-owners Greg & Ted Huber, the Huber’s felt it only fitting to title this signature blend after their 4th generation grandfather “Carl T” who had a love for bourbon. This signature blend of bourbon is comprised of 58% corn, 27% rye, and 15% malted barley. Distilled in Huber’s 80 gallon copper pot still from Germany and then transferred to 53 gallon charred, American White Oak barrels from three different cooperage companies and four different barrel styles, continue to add quality and complexity to this signature blend.
The cover photo features Christian and Blake, sons of Ted and Dana Huber of Starlight Distillery. (Photo courtesy of Peter Forest)
Innovation Award – Jack from Brooklyn
Distillery: Jack from Brooklyn, Brooklyn, New York
Born of the spice trade, versions of sorrel date back to the 1600s, when hibiscus flowers were first imported to the New World from West Africa and hibiscus- based beverages became a Caribbean tradition. Made with Moroccan hibiscus blended with Brazilian clove, Indonesian cassia and Nigerian ginger, this bright red liqueur from Brooklyn is a modern twist on a timeless classic.
Brandy Best of Class – WIgle Whiskey
Distillery: WIgle Whiskey, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Brandy: Wigle Peach Brandy
Peach Brandy is rare. To make this small batch of very special peach brandy, Wigle hand-pitted more than 2,500 local peaches from Andrews Fruit Farm in Adams County, PA. They then fermented these fresh peaches with a specialty wine yeast over the course of five days before aging it in a freshly dumped bourbon barrel for a minimum of two years. Wigle says this is a pure flavor distillation of its famous Pennsylvania peaches, with prominent notes of ripe peach, honey, raisin, and subtle vanilla and brown sugar notes added from the bourbon barrel.
Distilled Specialty Spirits Best of Class – WIgle Whiskey
Distillery: WIgle Whiskey, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Spirit: Wigle Amaro Vermut
Amaro Vermut is a regional twist on traditional vermouth. Wigle finished this copper pot distilled spirit with apple cider instead of sweet wine, as traditional vermouths rely upon. It is infused with wormwood, cacao nibs, cinnamon, and cloves, making it herbaceous and complex. They say it makes a great sipper and also crafts a lovely Manhattan.
Gin Best of Class – Lawrenceville Distilling Co.
Distillery: Lawrenceville Distilling Co., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
This time taking its inspiration from the Pittsburgh name for thorny plants. An apropos title for a gin made with juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, lavender, orris root, black peppercorn, and French winter wheat. Tart fruit nuances on the nose. The palate has tart citrus and bright herbs that linger. An American Dry Gin here in Pittsburgh.
Ready-to-Drink (RTD) Best of Class – Pilot House Distilling
Rum Best of Class – Three Roll Estate
Distillery: Three Roll Estate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
White Rum distilled with a light body and full flavor. Three Roll Estate bottles their white rum as it leaves the still, untouched by oak and unaltered by age. With no sweeteners or additives, this bold and fragrant white rum shines in a daiquiri.
Vodka/Grain Spirit Best of Class – Delta Dirt Distillery
Distillery: Delta Dirt Distillery, Helena, Arkansas
Vodka and Grain Spirits: Sweet Blend Vodka
Delta Dirt Distillery is a family-owned craft distillery located in the richest farmland in the country – the Arkansas Delta. Their goal is to produce the finest handmade and locally inspired vodka, gin, whiskey, and liqueurs. Delta Dirt grows its own produce and grains in the same community where they distill these fresh and authentic spirits.
How Does ACSAs Spirits Competition Judging Work?
Spirits were judged by a panel of 30 judges, including Alexander Kong, Amy Zavatto, Caley Shoemaker, Chris Schmid, Dwayne Bershaw, Eboni Major, Gary Spedding, Jackie Summers, Jake Tennenbaum, Jason Zeno, Jeanetta McCarthy, Joel Soucy, Johnny Caldwell, Jose Chao, Kristen Wemer, Lisa Laird Dunn, Liz Rhoades, Margarett Waterbury, Miguel Buencamino, Monica Wolf, Monique Houston, Nicole E. Shriner, Phillip Morgan, Neal Bodenheimer, Roderick Groetzinger, Serge P Lozach, Stinson Carter, Taneka Reaves, Tiffanie Barriere, and Will Hoekenga.
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 Weinstein and Wuslich, 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.
ACSAs 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.
Once again, a big congratulations to all the 2022 winners. Please go out and support all your local distilleries.