SF World Spirits a heavy medal event

The publicity departments of gazillions of spirits makers have been in high gear in recent weeks, cranking out press releases touting the medals their companies' products picked up at the recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

True, the event is regarded by many in the industry as, if not the Super Bowl, at least the divisional championships of distilled products. Not bad for an event that began just eight years ago when Antony Dias Blue put it together. He and competition director F. Paul Pacault have brought it to great international attention, so much so that this year 847 entries -- 132 more than last year's record number -- were submitted from around the globe.

The reason most writers don't do anything with each and every medal announcement is that the competition is split, then split again and again, into 439 categories. Counting double gold (unanimous gold votes from the judges), gold, silver and bronze medals, 749 trinkets were handed out.

Among the major awards:

Distiller of the Year: Buffalo Trace Distillery USA.
Importer of the Year: Moët Hennessy USA.

Other major awards:

Best in Show / White: Weber Haus, Silver Cachaça, Brazil.
Best in Show / Whisk(e)y: Highland Park, 12-year-old Single Malt Scotch, Orkney Islands, Scotland.
• Best in Show / Brandy: Loujan, 1979 Armagnac, Bas Armagnac, France.
Best in Show / Liqueur: Domaine de Canton, Ginger Liqueur, France.

Category "top" awards:

Top Absinthe: Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe (new category this year).
• Top Vodka: Snow Queen Vodka.
Top Gin: Plymouth Gin.
• Top Rum: Matusalem Rum.
•  Top Tequila: AsomBroso Silver.
• Top Reposado Tequila: El Tesoro.
Top Añejo Tequila:Siete Leguas.
Top Extra-Aged Añejo Tequila: Don Julio.
Top Irish Whiskey: Jameson, Rare Vintage Irish Whiskey.
Top Rye Whisk(e)y: Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey.
Top Blended Scotch: Chivas Regal, 25 Year Old Scotch.
Top Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle, Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Top Cognac: Hennessy Cognac Paradis Extra.
Top Fruit Liqueur: Cointreau Orange Liqueur.
You can access the full medal list for each category here.
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Steven said...

Don't you think it's odd that that 847 entries can be judged by 26 judges in 2

Don't you also think that out of 847 entries 88.5% win an award?

William M. Dowd said...


Yes, the number of medals is, in my view, overdone.

As to being able to judge such a large field, at first glance (or even second) it certainly might appear to be impossible. However, having been part of numerous spirits and wine competition judging panels over the years, I assure you it can be done.

Usually, the judges are divided into several panels. Not every panel judges every entry. They are broken into “flights” — i.e., ryes, Irish whiskies, gins, liqueurs, etc. The winners from each flight move on to the next round.

As the rounds go on, there are fewer and fewer entries still standing (since most judges swirl and spit rather than actually drink the stuff, one presumes they are still standing). By the time you get to the final round, the judges have plowed through a lot of entries in a relatively brief time because each panel has narrowed the field for the rest of their colleagues.

William M. Dowd said...

An update on the controversy:

One of the original judges in this competition, who I ran into on a business trip to Kentucky this week, said there is anything but unanimity among the judges about the number of medals handed out. He confirms that event founder Anthony Dias Blue pushes them hard every year to hand out a large number of medals.

There are two schools of thought on that topic. One is that lots of medals guarantee lots of entries for the following year, and thus a better income stream for such events. The other is that too many medal awards ends up cheapening the value of the honors.