To my knowledge, the readers of USA Today are not particularly expert as a group on the topic of distilling. Despite that, the newspaper decided to poll them on the question of which distillery produces the "best" whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and specialty spirits in the U.S. (Note: The tequila companies could be headquartered in the U.S., but their spirits have to be made in certain regions of Mexico to qualify as tequila.)
The methodology for bestowing such an honor fell to USA Today's "10Best" staff. Yes, it actually has a staff devoted to coming up with "best of" lists in all sorts of categories. Why not? Such things draw eyeballs and keystrokes from a public well known for seeking out the latest fads.
In this instance, say the editors, "10Best set out on a mission to find the best craft and small-batch spirits producers -- family-owned distilleries, grain-to-glass operations or distillers using only the best local ingredients in their products.” They asked a lineup of spirits judges, bartenders, writers and others to nominate distilleries in categories -- then asked readers to pick their faves.
None of New York State's craft distillers finished first in any category, but several did make the top 10s:
• 4th, Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, Gardiner (Ulster County): New York Corn Whiskey, Baby Bourbon Whiskey, Single Malt Whiskey, Four Grain Bourbon, Manhattan Rye Whiskey and Maple Cask Rye Whiskey
• 9th, Breuckelen Distilling, Brooklyn: New York wheat whiskey, New York rye-corn whiskey.
• 4th, Black Button Distilling, Rochester: Bespoke Bourbon Cream, Fast Ferry Fernet and Apple Pie Moonshine.