The San Francisco World Spirits Competition hosted its 14th annual competition on March 21-24 at the Hotel Nikko, located downtown. Created by Anthony Dias Blue, a wine and spirits critic and recipient of a James Beard Foundation award in 2001, the World Spirits Compeition assesses spirits trends and top-quality products in the country.
Submissions this year totaled 1,474, from 41 states and 64 countries, and covered 89 classifications. Many categories of spirits saw a marked increase, particularly American craft whiskey, gin, and single malt scotch. Also of note this year was the increased entries of the Chinese spirit, Baijiu.
“Every year with this event we see the emerging trends in the spirits category, and often our event is a launch pad for a burgeoning trend to be taken seriously,” Blue says. “Prior to our event, smaller categories such as Pisco, Calvados, Cachaça, and Mezcal were little known in this country. Now bartenders and journalists worldwide turn their attention to our results to gauge the marketplace."
Blue says he is particularly excited about the growing number of American distilled products this year, as well as the rise in quality of American whiskey.
- Best in Show Un-Aged White Spirit (with 577 submissions): WAQAR Pisco ($36) from Pisquera Tulahuen in Chile.
- Best in Show Aged White Spirit (179 submissions): Bounty Over Proof (58 percent ABV) Rum ($47) from Lautoka, Fiji
- Best in Show Whisky (245 whisky submissions): Glencadam Highland Single Malt, aged 21 years ($120) from Angus Dundee Distillers in the highlands of Scotland.
- Best in Show Brandy(123 submissions): LeCompte 25-year-old Calvados ($279) from the Calvados LeCompte Pays d’Auge in France
- Best in Show Liqueur(170 entries): Grand Marnier’s Cuvee du Centennaire, 100thAnniversary Liqueur($200).
- Best Cocktail Mixer, a first-time category: Ballast Point Mai Tai Mix ($6)
Awarded annually, this year’s Tasting Panel magazine Distillery of the Year went to Midleton Distillery of Ireland. The distillery’s Midleton Irish Whiskey and Redbreast Irish Whiskey received three double gold medals and three gold medals. Redbreast Irish Whiskey’s 15-year-old whiskey garnered the Best Irish Whiskey award.
Pernod Ricard USA of New York City won Importer of the Year for second consecutive year, and the Director’s Award of excellence went to Campari America, headquartered in San Francisco, for its excellent portfolio of spirits.
Thirty-nine international judges gathered this year, with five new judges joining including: Erik Adkins, beverage director Slanted Door Group, San Francisco; Brian Bowden, vice president of spirits, beer, tobacco, and beverages for BevMo!; Sean Bucalo, craft spirits specialist, Young’s Market Co; Tony Devencenzi, director of Beverage Academy, Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco; and Max Solano, mixologist and beverage manager, Emeril’s Restaurants, Las Vegas. Tony Abou-Ganim, also known as the Modern Mixologist, directed the judging, his fifth year doing so.