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.

Filtering by Tag: American Distilling Institute

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

ADI adds American Single Malt Whiskey as a Judging category

The American Distilling Institute has decided to add American Single Malt Whiskey as a distinct category for their upcoming spirits competition, the Judging of Craft Spirits. American Single Malt is a burgeoning whiskey category and we at ADI believe that whiskeys made in line with the proposed standard of identity created by the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) are different enough in character that they deserve recognition as a distinct category.  

In 2016, a group of American Craft Distilleries got together and formed the ASMWC with the express purpose to "establish, promote and protect the category of American Single Malt Whiskey." The reason for this is, at present there is no legal definition for American Single Malt. The Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) defines Malt Whiskey as whiskey made from a fermented mash of at least 51% malted barley, distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% ABV), and stored at less than 125 proof (62.5% ABV) in charred new oak containers. Under the current definition, US Malt Whiskey can include other grains such as corn, rye, or wheat in the mash and it is required to be matured in charred new oak barrels the same as bourbon and rye whiskey. This means that a US distiller could make a whiskey from 51% malted barley and 49% corn and call it a single malt whiskey, because the word single has no legal meaning for TTB.

The ASMWC aims to bring American made single malt whiskey in line with the broader understanding of single malt whiskies from around the world. They propose that American single malt whiskey should have the following standard of identity: "Made from 100% malted barley; distilled entirely at one distillery; mashed, distilled, and matured in the USA; matured in oak casks not exceeding 700 liters (185 gallons); distilled to no more then 160 proof (80% ABV); and bottled at 80 proof (40% ABV) or more. This definition has a few important differences from the current TTB standard for Malt Whiskey. First requiring the whiskey be made from 100% malted barley at one distillery in the US lines up with the EU definition of Single Malt Scotch. The other key difference is that under the ASMWC's proposed standard American single malt would be allowed to be matured in used barrels. This would most likely make the largest difference in the flavor to the spirit. Charred new barrels contribute a lot of intense wood flavors over time and as we have seen with many extra aged bourbons. By allowing American single malt to be matured in used barrels, distilleries, especially in climates with large temperature swings, would be able to produce at much longer aged spirit that is not overwhelmed by wood. It is a common practice in Cognac to start a brandy off in new or young barrels and then move the spirit to used or exhausted barrels to allow the spirit to slowly oxidise and mellow over time without also increasing the wood flavors extracted from the barrel. If the ASMWC's standard is formally adopted by the TTB we could see 8, 10, 12, and 18 year old American Single Malt Whiskeys become the norm rather than the exception.

At present, there are whole realms of flavors that are largely cut off from US malt whiskey because of the current legal definition. However, innovation and pushing the boundaries of whiskey and gin has helped energize and drive growth in the spirits industry. Hopefully, the TTB will seriously consider adopting the standard of identity set out for American Single Malt Whiskey. And in the meantime, ADI will continue to support distillers as they expand the legacy of US distilled spirits.

Kings County Distillery: ADI's 2016 Distillery of the Year

Image by Gail Sands

Colin Spoelman grew up the son of a Presbyterian minister in Harlan County, one of Kentucky’s 39 dry counties. Despite growing up in a town with no liquor stores or bars, Spoelman, as recounted in the prologue of his book The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining: How to Make and Drink Whiskey (Harry N. Abrams, 2013), he and his friends obtained liquor from either a local bootlegger or a woman who sold booze out of her home with seeming impunity. While living in New York in 2005, Spoelman began to ponder the idea of making and selling distilled spirits. After a couple of years of experimenting, Spoelman and David Haskell founded the Kings County Distillery, and in April 2010 they began making whiskey out of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard.

In six short years, Spoelman and Haskell have grown the reach of Kings County Distillery both in terms of distribution and influence within the industry. Today, their spirits can be found in seven U.S. states and five countries. Originally working with five 25-gallon stills, Spoelman and Haskell produced a corn whiskey “moonshine,” and laid down a portion into new small barrels for bourbon. Their award-winning spirits were received by an enthusiastic public and, in part because of favorable New York State laws for small distilleries, Kings County Distillery began to grow. In 2013, Kings County Distillery upgraded to two larger Scottish-made whiskey stills and open wood fermenters. Spoelman explained that by using corn grown in New York, open top fermenters and an aging room without temperature controls, they were attempting to create whiskey that embodies the character and terroir of New York and would be purposely different from the bourbon coming out of Kentucky. And, as their production for aged spirits has grown, they have also gradually increased the size of the barrels they are using.

In 2014, Kings County Distillery earned a Gold Medal: Excellence in Packaging award from ADI. To date, all of Kings County Distillery’s spirits have been bottled in a glass hip-flask bottle with a simple metal screw-top and a slim paper band as a label. This simple package has helped their product stand out on liquor store shelves and served as a testimony to both Spoelman’s upbringing in Kentucky and the distillery’s humble beginnings. This otherwise generic bottle, closure and label have become immediately recognizable and synonymous with Kings County Distillery without any of the irony or kitsch of the mason jar used by a number of small distilleries. Spoelman and Haskell have continued to use this simple packaging because the contents have come to speak for themselves.

Kings County Distillery Barrel Room. Photo by  Valery Rizzo

One of the reasons for the success of Kings County Distillery’s spirits is the talent they have been able to attract to their mission. Blender Nicole Austin oversees their barrel program and ensures that each new batch of whiskey they bottle is the best expression of what they make. Andrew Lohfeld, a former distiller at Kings County Distillery, believed an oat whiskey had potential and convinced Spoelman that they should try it as an experiment. As it turned out, Lohfeld was right and their Oat Whiskey earned a Gold Medal and Best of Category: Alt Whiskey at ADI’s 2016 Judging of Craft Spirits. Because of their collective efforts, Kings County Distillery has earned more than a dozen awards for their spirits. And despite their success—even in the face of their success—the team at Kings County Distillery have not been overly jealous of other people’s success or opportunities. With the blessing of Spoelman and Haskell, Lohfeld has gone on to leverage his experience and intuition as a distiller and co-founder of a new rum distillery in New Orleans.

Bill Owens, President of ADI, presents the 2016 Distillery of the Year award to Colin Spoelman of Kings County Distillery. Photo by Carl Murray.

This year ADI recognized Kings County Distillery with its Bubble Cap Award as the 2016 Distillery of the Year. Kings County Distillery joins a small group of distilleries that represent the highest standards in the craft spirits industry in terms of the quality of their spirits, their camaraderie in the industry, and their work as ambassadors to consumers for both their own company and the industry at large. ADI is proud to champion the ethic and commitment to quality embodied by Kings County Distillery, and looks forward to their continued growth and success.

Originally published in Distiller Magazine Summer 2016

What Does it Mean to be Craft?

What does it mean to be a Craft brewery or a Craft Distillery?  Terms like “hand crafted,” “small-batch,” “artisan,” and “traditional” can be found on all sorts of beer and spirit labels.  These terms are meant to evoke visions of individual, hard working craftsmen who dedicate themselves to creating something unique and interesting. Yet these terms are often little more than corporate newspeak (a term coined in George Orwell's 1984). Newcastle Beer recently released an ad that pokes fun at the idea of big breweries calling their products handmade.  The ad cuts between black and white photos while the narrator tells how Newcastle was handcrafted beer, but handcrafted beer was hard work.  The ad then cuts to color photos of a mechanized bottling line while the narrator quips how now they handcraft their beer with big machines.  I like the ad for its humor, honesty and its confidence that their beer is good enough not to hide behind pretense. 


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