EZdrinking

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: Spirits Judging/Competition

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.

My First Book & the ADI Spirits Conference

Life is good...so good in fact I haven't had a chance to post anything new for awhile. The first piece of exciting news is that the book I helped write A World Guide to Whisk(e)y Distilleries has been published by White Mule Press, the publishing arm of the American Distilling Institute (ADI). I came onto the project about a third of the way through and saw it to completion. The book attempts to list all the commercial whisk(e)y distilleries in the world, from Alaska to Zimbabwe and the products they make. So if you are an avid whisk(e)y enthusiast that likes to visit distilleries or you want to know where your favorite product is made you'll probably find this useful.

I'm excited that I have a couple more book projects lined up with White Mule Press but at present I have been busy editing two books for them, one on gin and a second on rum production. These projects have been particularly demanding of my time which is partially why I haven't posted anything recently.

The other piece of exciting news is that I attended the 10th Annual ADI Spirits Conference & Vender Expo, that this year was held in Denver. The conference brought together about 900 distillers, soon to be distillers, and the still, label, glass, barrel and branding vendors that service the craft distilling industry. It was a blast to meet both new and seasoned distillers who were passionate about their craft and committed to growing successful businesses. One of my highlights from the conference was sitting in on David Smith's gin tasting. David writes for a number of publications as well as his site Summer Fruit Cup. We tasted some stand out gins from the US, UK, and France. If you're a big fan of gin a couple to look out for are FEW Barrel Aged Gin and Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin.

During the gala dinner ADI announced the results from their 7th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits. The Best of Class winners were: Ballast Point Spirits, Devil's Share Malt Whiskey; Valentine Distilling Company, Liberator Gin; Balcones Distilling, Texas Rum; Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, Apple Pie Moonshine; and Jepson Vineyards, Old Stock Mendocino Brandy. For the full list of winners check out ADI's website.

Now that I'm back from Denver I hope to get back into my routine of posting once or twice a week.