The San Francisco World Spirits Competition Judges Record Number of Entries

The San Francisco World Spirits Competition held its esteemed judging on March 22-25 at the Hotel Nikko in downtown San Francisco. With continued growth in its 12th year, 1,215 premium spirits were submitted from 60 countries, making it another record-breaking year, up 10% over last year. The San Francisco competition is the oldest and largest spirit competition in the United States and the most recognized in the world. One-hundred-and-forty-nine Double Gold Medals were awarded, 209 Gold Medals, 444 Silver Medals and 258 Bronze Medals.

The largest increase in submissions was from tequila producers, up 33% from last year, while mezcal submissions were up 22%. Bourbon was up 25%, rum 15%, and rhum agricole, pisco, and single malt scotch entries all had significant gains, reflecting current industry trends.

Anthony Dias Blue, The San Francisco World Spirits Competition's Founder and Executive Director, began the judging on Thursday to devote three days of judging 82 classification categories of spirits. Sunday was devoted entirely to the tasting of those spirits that had been awarded a Sweeps Double Gold and had been selected for inclusion in the Sweepstakes Round.

Thirty-three distinguished spirits professionals from across the United States were assembled to judge these premium spirits. Tony Abou-Ganim, the "Modern Mixologist", and the competition's Director of Judging said, "This competition brings together some of the finest spirits palates working in the industry today. I feel honored that I could once again be a part of this wonderful event."  This group of industry leaders is directly responsible for purchasing over $100,000,000 worth of spirits each year while the journalist members reach more than a million trade and consumer readers each month.

Taking top honors, The Tasting Panel Magazine "Distiller of the Year" went to Burn Stewart Distillers of Glasgow, Scotland, a scotch whiskey producer, and "Importer of the Year" went to Beam Inc., out of Illinois. This year Mr. Blue gave the "Director's Award" to William Grant & Sons out of New York for excellence and consistency of its quality products.

"Best in Show - Unaged White Spirit" (and "Best Silver Tequila") was claimed by Avion Silver Tequila from Mexico ($40) and is imported by Avion Spirits, LLC of New York, while "Best in Show - Aged White Spirit" (and "Best Aged Rum") went to Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21 Year Solera Rum from the Dominican Republic ($38). "Best in Show – Whiskey" (and "Best Single Malt Scotch") was awarded to Isle of Jura's Single Malt Scotch 1976, ($750), imported by Whyte & Mackay Americas. Boulard Calvados XO ("Best Calvados") captured the overall "Best in Show – Brandy" award ($110) and is imported by Palm Bay International, of Port Washington, New York. The "Best in Show Liqueur" (and "Best Fruit Liqueur") was given to Grand Marnier's Quintessence Orange Liqueur, ($799), from Cognac, France.

"This year's vibrant and talented judging panel, all of whom are experienced tasters returning from last year's competition, were able to recognize emerging trends in the exciting spirits arena and pinpoint the leaders within each category," Blue noted. "Mezcal, gin, rye, bourbon and brandy – especially pisco – are exploding in popularity."

In addition to the premium awards, the top ranking spirit in each category was awarded a "Best" title. In the White Spirits other category winners included "Best Vodka" won by Platinka's Original Vodka from Belarus ($25); "Best Flavored Vodka" went to EFFEN® Cucumber Vodka from Holland and imported by Beam Inc. ($30); "Best Aquavit" went to Krogstad Aquavit, of Oregon ($25). "Best Gin" was awarded to Tanqueray for its London Dry Gin, United Kingdom ($20); "Best White Rum" went to Kinkylux for its White Rum from ASM Liquor in Trinidad & Tobago ($18); "Best Gold Rum" went to Cockspur's Fine Rum, Barbados ($30); "Best Rhum Agricole" was awarded to Rhum J.M. for its Rhum Agricole Millesime 2001 ($120); "Best Cachaca" was given to Leblon Maison Leblon Cachaca Reserve Especial, Minas Gerais, Brazil ($30); and "Best Mezcal" went to Real Matlatl Mezcal Tobala, Oaxaca, Mexico ($125).

Best in the Tequila section were "Best Reposado Tequila" to Alquimia Organic Reposado Tequila, Los Altos de Jalisco, Mexico ($54), imported by Tierra Madre from Oxnard, California; "Best Anejo Tequila" was Don Celso Anejo Tequila from San Nicolas S.H., Jalisco, Mexico ($47) and imported by Integras Design, San Jose, California; while "Ultra-Aged Anejo Tequila" was given to El Tesoro Extra-Aged Anejo Tequila Paradiso, Jalisco, Mexico ($110).

The Whisky and Whiskies categories included Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2011 winning the "Best Bourbon" category, from Brown-Forman Distillery, Kentucky, ($50); "Best Rye" went to Knob Creek Rye, Kentucky ($40); "Best Canadian Whiskey" was Canadian Mist Black Diamond Canadian Whisky, imported by Brown-Forman of Louisville, KY ($15); "Best Irish Whiskey" was Bushmills 21 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Ireland ($125), imported by Diageo North America of Norwalk, CT; "Best Blended Scotch" went to Whyte & Mackay Supreme 30 Year Old Scotch ($290), Scotland; Suntory Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky was awarded "Best Other Whisky," Yamazaki, Japan ($120).

Under the Brandy group the "Best Armagnac" was won by Comte de Lauvia Armagnac VSOP Superior, France ($49), imported by House of Burgundy, New York; "Best Cognac" went to Hennessy Cognac Richard Hennessy, France ($3500), imported by Moet Hennessy USA, New York; and "Best Pisco" went to Waqar Pisco, Chile ($45).

The top Liqueurs and Other Spirits awards included "Best Cream Liqueur" won by Mozart Gold - Chocolate Cream Liqueur, from Austria ($28); and "Best Aperitif "was awarded to Aperol Aperitif, from Italy ($22), and imported by Palm Bay Int'l, Syosset, New York.

The San Francisco World Spirits Competition also held its annual Packaging Competition at the Hotel Nikko on Friday, March 23rd. Four judges considered the bottle designs and packaging appeal of 165 entries. Clare Kuo of Clare Kuo design, Jim Moon of Jim Moon Design,  Joel Blum, the Competition's in-house graphic designer, and Kevin Shaw of Stranger & Stranger awarded 31 outstanding packaging designs.   Eleven Double Gold Packaging Awards were given: G&J Greenall for BLOOM Premium London Dry Gin, London, England; Marnier Lapostolle, LLC won for Kappa Pisco, Chile, designed by Ora-Ito; Wylie Howell Spirits LLC for Wylie Howell Corn Whiskey, California; and Sammy's Beach Bar Rum, Maui. Kah picked up individual Double Gold awards for its "skull" Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo Tequila as well as a Double Gold for the series designed by Sandra Lugo, Mexico. The Double Gold WOW Factor award went to: Design Lab LLC for its Manhattan bottle designed by Linda Rechnagel Anderson, Reno, Nevada; to SPOTLYTE Organic Vodka by Simon T. Enterprises, France; and to International Premium Spirits for the Dos Armadillos Tequila, Mexico.

Additional results and photos of Double Gold Packaging winners and WOW Factor awards can be found at



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