Understanding Spirits Competitions in the Craft Spirits Industry: A Consumer’s Guide

spirits competition


A craft spirits award competition is a specialized event where craft spirits — artisanal alcoholic beverages produced by small-scale, independently-owned distilleries — are evaluated and judged based on various criteria. There are literally hundreds of craft spirits competitions worldwide, many competing for the exact same entry fees and having the same judging criteria. However, as we will discuss, there are significant differences among craft spirits competitions that consumers should know about. Understanding the nuances in craft spirits judging can help you make better, more informed consumer choices.

These competitions play a significant role in the craft spirits industry for several reasons:

1. Recognition of Quality and Craftsmanship

  • Craft spirits competitions focus on the quality, flavor, and uniqueness of spirits produced by craft distilleries.
  • They often emphasize the craftsmanship, including the use of traditional or innovative distilling methods and high-quality ingredients.

2. Categorization and Evaluation

  • Spirits are typically categorized based on type (such as whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, etc.) and sometimes by specific characteristics (like age, flavor infusions, unique base agricultural products or production methods).
  • Judging is usually conducted by a panel of experts, including industry professionals, sommeliers, mixologists, and spirit critics.

3. Awards and Recognition

  • Awards are given in various categories, often including gold, silver, and bronze medals, or similar rankings.
  • Winning an award can significantly enhance the reputation of a craft distillery, offering recognition from peers and attracting consumer interest.

4. Consumer Guidance

  • For consumers, these awards serve as a guide to identifying high-quality craft spirits.
  • They help in discovering new and exceptional products in a market that is often filled with a vast array of choices.

5. Promotion and Marketing

  • Winning a craft spirits award provides distilleries with a marketing tool. It allows them to promote their products as ‘award-winning’, potentially increasing sales and brand prestige.
  • Competitions also offer networking opportunities for distillers to connect with distributors, retailers, and media.

6. Diversity and Innovation

  • Craft spirits competitions encourage diversity and innovation within the craft spirits industry, as distilleries strive to create unique and high-quality products that stand out in the competition.
  • They often highlight local or regional ingredients, traditional methods specific to a culture or region, or innovative approaches to distilling and flavor.

In the burgeoning world of craft spirits, competitions play an essential role in highlighting the artistry and uniqueness of small-scale, artisanal producers. For consumers, especially those keen on exploring the nuanced flavors of craft spirits, comprehending the significance and variability of awards in spirits competitions is crucial. This article aims to shed light on the world of spirits competitions with a focus on the craft spirits industry, guiding consumers on how to interpret these awards and introducing the top 10 spirits competitions that are particularly relevant in the craft spirits realm.

spirts competition medals

Decoding Awards in Craft Spirits Competitions

The craft spirits industry, known for its innovation and traditional methods, participates in various competitions. The variability in awards across these competitions can be attributed to several factors:

1. Judging Criteria and Panels

Craft spirits competitions often have a specific focus on the artisanal aspect, including the quality of ingredients, distilling methods, and innovation. The judges, often connoisseurs of craft spirits, bring a nuanced understanding of what makes craft spirits distinct.

2. Scoring Systems

These competitions may employ different scoring systems, from numerical ratings to qualitative assessments, influencing the type of awards given. Craft spirits competitions might also have additional categories or awards highlighting creativity and craftsmanship.

3. Competition Scale and Niche Focus

The size and focus of the competition can greatly impact the results. Smaller, craft-focused competitions may provide a more level playing field for artisanal producers compared to larger, more commercial contests.

Navigating Competitions as a Consumer

For enthusiasts of craft spirits, understanding these competitions involves:

  • Researching the Competition: Delve into the competition’s focus on craft spirits, its history, and judging criteria.
  • Recognizing Consistency: Look for craft spirits that consistently receive accolades across various competitions.
  • Prioritizing Personal Taste: Remember, awards are a guide; your personal preference for the unique flavors of craft spirits should be paramount.

Top 10 Spirits Competitions for Craft Spirits

  1. American Distilling Institute (ADI) Spirits Competition: Exclusively for craft spirits, focusing on quality and innovation in small-scale distilling.
  2. Craft Spirits Awards International Competition: Celebrates the finest in craft spirits from around the world, with a focus on artisanal production methods.
  3. San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC): Includes a diverse range of categories, offering a platform for craft distillers to showcase their products.
  4. International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC): Renowned for its rigorous standards, with specific categories for craft spirits.
  5. New York International Spirits Competition (NYISC): Recognizes craft spirits excellence in a city known for its vibrant cocktail culture.
  6. World Spirits Awards (WSA): Known for its comprehensive evaluation, it provides a global stage for craft distillers.
  7. Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) Craft Spirits Awards: Focuses on providing valuable feedback and recognition to craft spirits producers.
  8. Global Spirits Masters (GSM): Conducts blind tastings, offering an unbiased assessment valuable for craft spirits makers.
  9. Berlin International Spirits Competition (BISC): A European platform that recognizes the uniqueness of craft spirits on an international scale.
  10. Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) Awards: Highlights excellence in American craft spirits, encompassing a wide range of categories.

Bottom Line on Spirits Competitions

For consumers of craft spirits competitions provide a window into the diverse and innovative world of artisanal distilling. Understanding the context behind these awards, and using them as a guide while prioritizing personal taste, can enhance the craft spirits tasting experience. Exploring the results of these top competitions can lead to the discovery of hidden gems and a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship inherent in the craft spirits industry.