Judging Protocols

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The American Distilling Institute is dedicated to running rigorous and professional spirit Judging that strives to promote the craft distillers and blenders that are producing the finest quality artisan spirits and to give participating producers valuable, unbiased, third-party feedback on the quality and process of their spirits. To that end we have developed the following protocols that we believe allow us to meet these goal. We make our protocols publicly available so that producer, wholesalers, retailers and consumers can know the process by which each spirit is evaluated and the high standard by which medals are awarded.  


Pre-Judging and Classification of Spirits

Before the judging begins, all spirits will be received by Preiss Imports and put in a secure area. Boxes remain sealed upon arrival until the week prior to judging. Once the boxes are delivered to the judging venue, the judging team will open the boxes and sort the spirits by class and category. A list of classes and categories can be found on the submission guidelines page.

Once the spirits are organized by class and category they will be divided into flights, starting with the clear spirits with lighter aromas and tastes, and proceeding to oak-matured spirits or flavored spirits that might linger on the palate. Each flight of spirits is ranked with the lower proof spirits going first, and the higher proof spirits ranked toward the end of the flights. Each day’s tasting begin with flights of lighter spirits and finish with spirits that have a longer-lasting effect on the palate – those that are flavored, spiced, heavily smoked, hopped or sweetened.

The Judging Process

Judges are seated in panels of four to a table, each assigned to specific classes of spirit that play to the expertise of the specific judges at the table. All panels are seated at individual tables in the main room. Each panel is provided with distilled water, neutral crackers, raw almonds, spit buckets, score sheets, pencils, a pencil sharpener, and water glasses. The judges are picked to provide a mix of experience between various areas within the spirits industry — distillers, wholesalers, importers, retailers, bartenders, educators, and journalists/writers.

Judges perform sensory evaluations of the spirits and enter their perceptions on the score sheets provided. Judges are expected to be professionals and can consider a particular spirit flight in any manner they deem appropriate, but it is recommended they nose through the flight at least once before beginning to taste.

Score Sheets

The scoring of spirits is based on a 100-point system and each judge assigns an overall score which is correlated to a medal recommendation or no medal recommendation for each spirit. Below 70 no medal is recommended, 70-79 for a bronze, 80-89 for silver, and 90-100 for gold. The score sheet asks the judges for feedback regarding the best qualities of the spirit, and also how the spirit can be improved. This feedback is of primary use to the distillers so rude, sarcastic, or unconstructive comments by judges are not acceptable.


After all the spirits in a flight have been scored the entire panel will award double gold, gold, silver and bronze medals for spirits judged worthy of recognition. Each spirit’s average score serves as a starting point for the panel’s discussion for what medal, if any, should be awarded. If all the judges in a panel recommend a gold medal and the panel believes the spirit to be exemplary, they may choose to award the spirit a double gold medal as an outstanding example of its class and category. It is not uncommon for no spirit in a flight to receive a medal. Neither is it uncommon for several spirits within the same category to receive gold medals (or silver or bronze). In the case where no spirit in a category is awarded a medal, neither will Best of Category be awarded.

Best of Category

Once all the spirits in a particular spirit category have been judged, the “Best of Category” designation will be awarded to a spirit the judges identified as the best example of that category entered into the entire competition. For example the Best Classic Gin, the Best Blended Bourbon, the Best Citrus Liqueur, etc.

Best of Class

Once all of the spirits for a particular class have been judged, the “Best of Class” designation will be awarded for both US and International spirits in a particular spirit class, such as Best US Whiskey, Best International Brandy etc. To be eligible for a Best of Class award, a spirit must have been awarded BOTH a gold or double-gold medal AND “Best of Category.”

Packaging Awards

Without any additional cost to the entrant, ADI will award bottles with innovative and/or outstanding packaging awards for Excellence in Packaging. Bottles will be judges on overall originality, creativity, graphic design, integration of bottle design to label style, and aesthetic appeal. Each spirit submitted for judging will also be considered for the packaging award. Producers who wish to enter spirits for whom there is no category, may enter bottles for only the packaging award.

ADI’s judging protocols are available for information purposes only. These protocols may not be copied or reproduced in any way without the written consent of the American Distilling Institute.