Each year, the American Distilling Institute (ADI) conducts an assessment of craft spirits. The competition recognizes the best craft spirits produced in the United States and around the world.
Since 2007, the competition has gathered around 50 spiritual judges to evaluate submissions from small and medium-sized producers. Both members of the ADI and non-members can submit contributions.
In addition to the usual list of bronze, silver, gold and double gold, ADI’s craftsmanship judgment also recognizes the best in the category and the best in the class. These are the biggest contestants among the gold medal winners.
Vodka has proven to be a popular spirit among artisans. The speed with which it can be brought to market to generate revenue is a significant advantage. It has also provided ample opportunity for innovation.
The number of vodka bases has grown significantly from the traditional sugar cane and cereal offerings to include a variety of exotic materials such as milk, cranberries or apple juice residues, among many others.
Flavored vodkas have also expanded significantly. Modern food chemistry has meant that pretty much any conceivable vodka with aroma can be made. An additional growing category of vodka is botanical vodkas. These are vodkas flavored with naturally occurring botanicals. Gin-like in inspiration, their biggest difference from gin is in the absence of juniper as a primary flavor.
There were three vodkas that won a Best in Class medal at Craft Spirit Judging in 2021.
Maison de la Vodka, Carvia Caraway Single Spice Vodka, 43% ABV, 700 ml, $ 46
Carum Carvi is the Latin word for caraway seeds. It has been used as a flavoring for vodka for centuries and was the inspiration behind Scandinavian Aquavit. However, Maison de la Vodka is a French vodka producer located in the Brie-sous-Archiac in the Cognac region of France.
The vodka is based on a moss bill of 100% rye. The rye base combined with the caraway seed gives the vodka a delicately spicy taste.
Two American craft distillers Eagle Park Distilling, Vodka, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $ 22 and Red River Brewing Company and Distillery, Silver King Vodka, 40% ABV, 750 ml, won the award Best in Class for Vodka-Neutral Character. Both vodkas are grain-based. Red River uses a moss bill of 100% malted Colorado barley.
There were six more vodkas that also won Best in Category awards.
Royal Mash, Vintage Vodka, 40% ABV, 700 ml, $ 42, won the Best in Category award for International Vodka. Royal Mash is a craft vodka produced on the island of Jersey in the British Channel. The vodka is based on locally grown jersey potatoes and is distilled only once in small 200-liter still images.
Chain Bridge Distillery, Florida Basil Vodka, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $ 32, won the award for best in the category of botanical vodka. Florida Basil Vodka uses a sugar cane base and is flavored with two different varieties of basil grown on local Florida farms. It is a perfect base for an Italian-inspired Bloody Mary cocktail.
GlenPharmer Distillery, Ghost Vodka, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $ 32 and Weldon Mills Distillery, Bombardier Cinnamon Flavor Vodka, 30% ABV, 750 ml, $ 20, won the award for best in the category of flavored vodka.
Ghost Vodka is flavored with Ghost Pepper, one of the hottest peppers known at the moment. Ghost Pepper is valued at one million Scoville units, equivalent to three to 10 habanero peppers. The resulting vodka has a pronounced herbal aroma and a latent warmth that slowly but relentlessly builds on the palate to a burning finish!
Hinterhaus Distilling, Vodka, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $ 27, won a Best in Category Award for Vodka-Residual Base Character. The Hinterhaus vodka is still distilled from a base of California wine using a 20s column. The resulting vodka has a smooth, creamy style with an exciting cotton candy aroma.
For a complete list of the vodka medals, see the ADI website.
Craft vodka is one of the most exciting and innovative segments in the craft distillation industry, as this year’s winners of ADI Judging of Craft Spirits testify.