Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

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Rundown of ADI's 2018 Judging of Craft Spirits

In 2007, when the American Distilling Institute held its first annual spirits competition there were less than 100 craft distilleries in the US and the Judging awarded just 12 medals. Eleven years later the number of craft distillers in the US has grown over 1000% and the number of small and independently owned distilleries are multiplying around the world. ADI’s Judging of Craft Spirits continues to track this growth and the maturing of our industry, receiving 1003 spirits from 16 countries spread across five continents. Of those entered, 9 spirits earned Double Gold Medals, 58 earned Gold Medals, 223 earned Silver Medals and 434 earned Bronze Medals.

The mission of the ADI competition is to promote excellence where it is found and help distillers hone their craft by providing unbiased feedback from our expert judges. With these goals in mind, the Judging runs a blind competition where each entry is evaluated solely on quality of the spirit in the glass.  Seasoned stewards spend 5 days, sorting and flighting spirits by class, category, and sub-categories, taking into consideration factors such as ABV, intensity, and length of maturation, if any. During the two and a half days of our competition, the 10 panels of four judges were asked to evaluate about 50 spirits a day, about half the rate of other competitions. We do this to mitigate against plate fatigue and to give them time to give constructive feedback about each spirit.

Each year the competition offers an interesting insight into the current market of craft spirits. Whiskey remained king in total number of entries comprised mostly of bourbon, rye and malt whiskeys. However, 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, with aged gin accounting for almost 20% of all gin entries. And, as may have 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 hard to know if the number of moonshines in the market are decreasing though at a minimum it seems like the marketing of some of these are shifting from moonshine to corn whiskey, for those that qualify, and from flavored moonshine to liqueurs.

As always, ADI is grateful to the stewards, judges, and all those who entered who have made the Judging of Craft Spirits the worlds largest spirits competition dedicated to craft spirits. A full list of the 2018 awards can be found here

First appeared in Distiller (Summer 2018): 40

On Leaving San Francisco & Loving Oaxaca

View of San Francisco looking north from  Bernal Heights Park. © 2017 EZdrinking

August 1st, my family and I gave up our rent controlled studio apartment in San Francisco and moved to Oaxaca, Mexico. Given the current housing market in San Francisco, we are well aware that this probably means we will never be able to afford to move back. But, we made our peace with that and embraced the adventure. Two months in we have seen a riot, a four week garbage strike, and two major earthquakes.  That being said, there is a lot to like, even love about Oaxaca.

Moving away from the Bay Area and the only home I've ever known, I expected to be somewhat homesick and pine for all that San Francisco has to offer. But after some time to reflect, I can honestly say there are not many things that I miss about San Francisco. While I have yet to find a substitute for the perfectly portioned cappuccinos from Ritual and Four Barrel, much of the food and cocktail culture that makes the City an exciting place to live was quickly moving out of economic reach for us.

That being said, the thing I miss the most about San Francisco are the people. My my work, our church, and our neighborhood allowed my wife and I to create a fantastic and supportive community that continued to grow and expand. One of the things that I like most about San Francisco is the opportunity the City provides for networking within your field and the ability to meet people from very different walks of life. I could walk into any number of bars or cafes in my neighborhood and meet tech entrepreneurs or an electrician, Chinese immigrants or gay transplants from Georgia. But, despite our fantastic community and all that the we love about the City, the mundane activities of buying groceries, paying for healthcare and childcare were beginning to take a financial toll. 

Through a series of conversations with friends and family, we decided to move to Oaxaca, Mexico for a 6 month trial period. One of the great advantages of living here is the reduced cost of living. And, after being here for a couple of months I was able to realize the emotional strain the financial stress of San Francisco had caused. I now feel much more at ease which has made it easier to deal with a new cultural as well as the difficulty associated with living outside Oaxaca City without a car.

Oaxaca has a very strong sense of pride in its culinary contributions to Mexico and the rest of the world. Coffee, chocolate, mole, mezcal, and new to me, the rich and creamy chocolaty drink called tejate. In addition to enjoying this rich culinary tradition, Oaxaca City and the surrounding areas are large enough to be a thriving metropolis with lots of interesting events, and small enough that lots of people know each other within a given field making it somewhat easier to network.

Oaxaca is a vibrant, bustling, fun and at times chaotic, and confusing place to live. Most people we have met love our kids and have been very warm towards us, which has made living here much easier. Here we can afford to put our oldest son in preschool which has been great for him. And, like San Francisco, the best part of Oaxaca has definitely been the people and their willingness to welcome us and share their rich lives full of family, food, drinks and history. These new relationships have allowed me to deepen my knowledge of mezcal and Oaxacan coffee but, more on that later. 

View from our back patio in Huayapam, Oaxaca, Mexico. © 2017 EZdrinking