The American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits is an annual competition that recognizes the best craft spirits 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 listing of bronze, silver, gold and double gold, ADI’s craftsmanship rating also recognizes the best in the category and the best in the class. These are the biggest contestants among the gold medal winners.
Whiskey is the largest single category in the appraisal of craft spirits. In the 2021 competition, there were three whiskeys that won Best in Class awards and another seventeen whiskeys that won Best of Category awards.
Spirit of Hven, MerCurious Corn Whiskey, 45.6% ABV, 500 ml, $ 55, won the Best of Class Award for International Corn Whiskey. Spirit of Hven is a Swedish distillery located on the island Ven in Öresundstrædet, between Scania and Zealand. It is a silky, creamy corn whiskey based on a moss bill of 88% Swedish corn, 5% wheat, 3.5% barley and 3.5% rye and ripens in virgin casks of American oak.
Pennington Distilling Company, Davidson Reserve Tennessee Whiskey, 48% ABV, 750 ml, $ 40, took the award Best in Class for bourbon. Davidson has been a multi-year winner in liquor competitions over the past several years; recently won a double gold and a best in class at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2021.
The whiskey is based on a moss bill of 70% white corn, 25% rye and 5% malted barley. It is on average four years old.
Nearest green distillery, Uncle Nearest 1856, 50% ABV, 750 ml, $ 59, won the Best in Class award for Tennessee Whiskey. Uncle Nearest has been another perennial medal winner in this year’s competitions.
This is a Tennessee whiskey, so it goes through the Lincoln Country filtration process through maple charcoal. This is a flavorful and spicy whiskey that features herbaceous notes of dry grass, along with caramel and stone fruits on the nose. It is followed by notes of dried fruit, floral potpourri and tree spice, along with caramel and hints of maple syrup on the palate.
The finish is sweet, long and rich with lingering notes of dried stone fruit and caramel.
There were a total of 17 whiskeys that won Best of Category awards.
GR Andrews & Sons Fleurieu Distillery, Albatross Whiskey, 48% ABV, 700 ml, won Best of Category for International Malt Whiskey. This is a new whiskey that has not yet been released in the US. The distillery is located on the Fleurieu Peninsula just south of Adelaide.
Don Michael Distillery, Black Whiskey, 45% ABV, 740 ml, $ 55, took the category Best in the category for non-typical whiskeys. This is a Peruvian whiskey made from Andean black corn, wheat, both Peruvian and imported, and malted barley. It is matured in freshly burned 10 and 25 gallon American oak barrels. This is the first Andean whiskey.
Andean black corn, it is actually purple in color, is an ancient Peruvian corn variety that was used by the Incas to make a beer-like drink called chicha de jora.
Adelaide Hills Distillery, 78 Degrees Australian Whiskey, 44% ABV, 700 ml, is the winner of Best in Category International Whiskey. Historically, Australian whiskey was based on a Scotch whiskey template. This is starting to change as Australian distillers begin to develop unique Australian whiskeys.
78 Degrees is based on a moss bill of unsalted barley combined with 11 different flavors and undergoes a single distillation. It’s too early to talk about an Australian whiskey style, but one is definitely coming
The best in the Canadian whiskey category was Macaloney Caledonian Distillers, Glenloy Canadian Island Single Malt Whiskey, 46% ABV, 750 ml, $ 100. Macaloney has been in a much-disputed dispute with the Scotch Whiskey Association, which has complained that the distillery’s branding and packaging give the impression that it is a Scotch whiskey.
Disputed aside, this is an excellent single malt whiskey. According to the company:
Glenloy is our ‘Whiskymaker’s Signature Selection’, where we carefully selected our classic single malt whiskey from a combination of 60% Bourbon casks for first use for a delicate, pure presentation, 15% from Dr Swan’s wonderful Portuguese STR red wine barriques for pronounced oak and sweet redberry contribution and 15% Oloroso / 10% PX Spanish sherry cask for wonderfully rich and delicate fruitcake and plums. Together they complement the tropical fruits and the creamy presentation of our new make style.
Stranahan’s Distillery, Sherry Cask Single Malt Whiskey, 47% ABV, 750 ml, $ 80, took the award Best of Category for American Single Malt Whiskey. Stranahan’s takes four-year-old Rocky Mountain Single Malt whiskey and finishes it in 500-liter butts that previously had Oloroso Sherry.
This is a unique whiskey that gives even the top-ranked Sherry finished Scotch whiskey a run for their money. It features classic Sherry-finished malt whiskey-dried fruits of cherries, apples, raisins and figs along with notes of walnut, candied citrus peel and fresh leather.
Joseph A Magnus & Co, Blended Hill Club Blended Bourbon, 51% ABV, 750 ml, $ 111, and Sisterdale Distilling Co., Straight Bourbon, 46.7% ABV, 750 ml, $ 75, both won a Best in Category Award for mixed bourbon.
Blended Hill Club bourbon is a blend of 20% 18-YO bourbon, 50% 11-YO bourbon and 30% nine years of light whiskey. A “light whiskey” is a spirit distilled by a proof of between 160 and 190, typically at the higher end of the range. The resulting whiskey is less flavorful and more vodka-like.
Sisterdale straight bourbon is a blend of five different bourbons sourced from a single distillery in Indiana. The name of the distillery is not disclosed, but presumably this is Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
Joseph A Magnus also took the award for best in the Bourbon category for his Joseph A Magnus & Co, Straight Bourbon, 50% ABV, 750 ml, $ 100. Magnus bourbon is matured on freshly roasted American white oak barrels and then finished in a combination of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry barrels and Cognac barrels. Whiskey authority Fred Minnick called it “delicious … layered in apricot, roasted nuts, caramel and vanilla.”
Barrelhouse 6 Distillery, Middle Finger Moonshine, 46% ABV, 750 ml, took Best in category Corn Whiskey.
Bogue Sound Distillery, John AP Conoley Carolina Peanut Butter Flavored Whiskey, 35% ABV, 750 ml, $ 26. Tasteful whiskeys are the fastest growing segment of American whiskeys. Bourbon marries particularly well with nutty flavors. Peanut butter and pecan whiskey have proven to be particularly popular. Unfortunately, Barrelhouse 6 whiskeys are hard to find outside of North Carolina.
Drift Distillery, Single Barrel Wheat Whiskey, 45% ABV, 750 ml, $ 45, was the best in the Wheat Whiskey winner category.
Black Band Distillery, Whiskey, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $ 58 and Talnua Distillery, Continuum Cask Whiskey, 43% ABV, 750 ml, $ 40, won the award for best whiskey in the category.
There were three Best of Category Awards awarded to rye whiskey. Cutwater Spirits, Black Skinner American Rye, 45% ABV, 750 ml, $ 50, was the best in the Blended Whiskey category. This is a blend of straight rye whiskey that offers notes of honey, almond, black pepper, cinnamon and just a touch of fat.
Corsair Distillery, Dark Rye Whiskey, 42.5%, 750 ml, $ 42 and River Basin Distillery, Exclave Rye Whiskey, 45% ABV, 750 ml, $ 48, won Best of Category Rye Whiskey. Corsair has a moss bill of 61% malted rye, 4% malted chocolate rye and 35% malted barley. It offers rich flavors of rye spice, chocolate and coffee along with candied citrus peel and spicy oak. Exclave Rye has a moss bill of 51% rye and 49% corn and offers aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel and fat.
There were two more whiskeys that won Double Gold and nine whiskeys that won gold medals at the ADI rating in 2021. For a complete list of the whiskey medals, see the ADI website.
The 20 whiskeys that won Best of Class and Best of Category awards at ADI Craft Spirits Judging are truly the best of the best craft whiskeys in the world today. If you love craft whiskey or are just curious, you will find a lot to explore here.