Craft Brewers Invade the Spirits World

Rogue, Dogfish and others win artisanal distilling honors
Inside the Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas. They took best of class for rum at the 2013 American Distilling Institute 7th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits Photograph by Allison V. Smith/The New York Times via Redux

A friend brightened my morning by sending me the results of the American Distilling Institute’s seventh annual judging of artisanal spirits.

The tastemakers at the ADI considered 127 whiskies, 66 gins, 36 moonshines, 47 rums, and 41 fruit spirits produced by 124 independent, small-batch operators. After all that sampling, the judges passed out compliments freely. According to the ADI, they doled out 23 gold, 44 silver, and 46 bronze medals. Even so, the organization said it was “again upholding the highest standards by awarding medals to only 37 percent of participants.”

Two questions come immediately to mind. First: Where does one sign up for the arduous but worthy task of vetting artisanal spirits? I think I could find time in my busy schedule for such an assigment. Secondly, when did craft brewers begin making award-winning booze?

The winner of the best-in-class whisky was Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits’ Devil’s Share Malt Whiskey. San Diego’s Ballast Point is also known for its very drinkable IPAs, porters, and amber ales. The silver medal for “nontypical spirits” went to Rogue’s Dead Guy Whiskey, a natural brand extension for an Oregon brewer whose signature product is Dead Guy Ale. Dogfish Head’s Brown Honey Rum took the silver medal for flavored rum.

None of this surprises drinks journalist John Holl, author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook: 150 Recipes From Your Favorite Brewpubs and Breweries. He writes in the latest issue of All About Beer: “The wine boom of the 1970s and 1980s led into the craft beer revolution that began in the decades after and continues today. Now artisanal distilleries are gaining momentum. Most beverage entrepreneurs have long been content with running one business, but there are a growing number of breweries—including Rogue Ales, Dogfish Head, Samuel Adams, New Holland, and others—that are adding distilling to their operations.”

This is clearly an industry trend that should be encouraged. Now if I could just figure out whom to call about judging one of these things.

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