In 2007, when ADI held its first annual spirits competition, there were fewer than 100 craft distilleries in the USA, and the Judging awarded just 12 medals. Eleven years later, the number of craft distillers in the country has grown more than 1000%, and the number of small and independently owned distilleries is multiplying around the world. ADI’s Judging of Craft Spirits continues to track this growth and the maturing of our industry, receiving 1,003 spirits from 16 countries spread across five continents. Of those entered, nine spirits earned Double Gold Medals, 58 earned Gold Medals, 223 earned Silver Medals and 434 earned Bronze Medals.
The mission of the competition is to promote excellence where it is found and help distillers hone their craft by providing unbiased feedback from experts. With these goals in mind, the Judging runs a blind tasting where each entry is evaluated solely on quality of the spirit in the glass. Our seasoned stewards spend five days sorting and flighting spirits by class, category and subcategory, taking into consideration factors such as ABV, intensity and length of maturation, if any. The collection of judges present is a gathering of seasoned and talented distilled-spirits experts. During the two and a half days of judging, 10 panels of four judges each evaluate approximately 50 spirits a day, about half the rate of other competitions. This is done to mitigate palate fatigue and to give them time to provide insightful, constructive feedback about each entry.
Each year the judging offers an interesting insight into the current market of craft spirits. Whiskey remains king in total number of entries, comprised mostly of bourbon, rye and malt whiskeys. The number of whiskeys finished in a secondary cask from craft distillers has increased substantially. For the second year running, gin replaced vodka as the second-largest class overall, and aged gins account for almost 20% of gin entries. And, as may have been predicted, brandy is making a significant comeback. In 2018, the number of brandy entries grew by 366% over 2017! A few other small categories, such as honey spirits and spirits made from agave syrup, also grew. One of most surprising declines came from moonshine, which shrank by 60% compared to 2017. Of course, it is hard to know if the number of moonshines in the market is actually decreasing. At a minimum, the marketing of these spirits may be shifting from moonshine to corn whiskey and, for those that qualify, from flavored moonshine to liqueur. As always, ADI is grateful to the stewards, judges and all those who entered who have made the ADI Judging of Craft Spirits the world’s largest competition dedicated to craft spirits. We continue looking for ways to increase the value of the program to all who enter… and congratulations to the winners!