One of my favorite traditions at the ADI International Spirits Competition takes place on the last night, after judging is complete, scores tallied, and medals awarded. All of the gold- or double-gold-winning products are laid out in the locked judging room, each category on its own table. After dinner, the doors are thrown open to judges for the grand reveal — and a grand tasting.

ADI’s competition isn’t a medal factory. Judges aren’t required to award any spirits a gold or double gold. In years past, a few of the gold medal tables have looked pretty sparse. But this year, they were overloaded. Some categories even sprawled across two tables, each one loaded with fantastic, world-class spirits.

It reinforced an opinion I already had: It might be a challenging time to be a craft distiller, but there’s never been a better time to be a craft spirits fan. Quality is higher than ever, and seemingly improving every day. That didn’t happen by chance. Countless people have dedicated their careers to improving craft spirits. One of them is master blender Nancy Fraley, a giant force for excellence (metaphorically — she’s actually rather petite) profiled in this issue. Any distiller inspired by French techniques likely owes her a debt of gratitude, whether they know it or not.

Inspiration, of course, works both ways — and with U.S. craft products increasingly stellar, an increasingly global audience is not just appreciating them, but emulating them. Daniel Stewart tells the stories of European distillers making rye whisky. It’s an eclectic group, but one thing that unites them is their initial inspiration: American products.

It’s not just spirit quality that’s up. Visitor experiences are increasingly next-level. Jeff Schwartz reports on the Galena Whiskey Weekend, a blowout whiskey festival held by Blaum Bros. Distilling that draws thousands of attendees every year to a tiny town in western Illinois. Zachary Cole helps distillers understand how to effectively — and safely — take advantage of myriad opportunities for off-site activations, while Scott Thomas Anderson examines the growing marketing and revenue role of high-end distillery merch. With liquid quality so dialed in, it’s no surprise that many craft distillers are looking for their next venue to excel.

Margarett Waterbury

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Margarett Waterbury is the editor of Distiller Magazine. Based in Portland, Oregon, she covers drinks, food, and culture for national and international press. She is the former managing editor of Edible Portland, as well as the cofounder and former managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, an award-winning whiskey website twice recognized as Website of the Year by the International Whisky Competition. In 2017, Margarett won the Alan Lodge Young Drinks Writer of the Year award from the Spirits Journal. She received fellowships for the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in 2017 and 2019. Her first book, Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland’s Whiskies (Sterling), came out in 2020.