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Legacy. Integrity. Experience. What it’s like to win an award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition

The San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) is one of the most celebrated spirits competitions in the world. Founded by Anthony Dais Blue in 2000, it's also one of the oldest. Over the past nineteen years, tradesmen and consumers alike have been drawn to it because of its exceptional reputation.


There is no bigger competition than the SFWSC. It definitely has the most rigorous process and the most widely accepted reputation.” ~ Catoctin Creek Distilling Co.


This year, almost 3,000 spirits entered to be judged on taste and package design. The judging process emphasizes integrity and impartiality above all. SFWSC runs highly-controlled, blind tastings for four days. The 44 judges, all of whom are industry experts, don't receive any information on the producer of the spirit or its price point. They only know which category it belongs to. This ensures that each spirit is judged fairly and without bias. In addition, each spirit is evaluated on an individual basis as opposed to being compared to the other entrants in the flight.


“Blind tasting competitions...allows the quality of the spirits to shine instead of the marketing budget of the distillery.” ~ John Emerald Distilling Company


Among the judges is Anthony Dais Blue himself. Mr. Blue is perhaps the worldwide authority on all things spirits. He currently serves as the Executive Director of this competition and the Editor-in-Chief for The Tasting Panel Magazine, the most circulated beverage trade publication in America.


It is always fun to challenge the big boys. Simple goal is to make the best spirit possible each time.” ~ Sourland Mountain Spirits


Winning a medal at this competition is not only a testament to the hard-work a distiller has put into their product, it's also the most recognized indicator of excellence in spirits. SFWSC medals are sales tools that garner national recognition in a highly saturated marketplace.

At BigFish, we were interested in what it must feel like to win one of these prestigious medals. Then we realized why speculate when we can hear it from several of our independent distiller partners. We reached out to all of our 2019 winners and asked them two questions.


  1. What it is like to win an award at SFWSC?
  2. What does it mean for craft spirits to beat out the “big boys”?

Here's what they said:


Catoctin Creek Distilling Co.

“There is no bigger competition than the SFWSC. It definitely has the most rigorous process and the most widely accepted reputation. We are, therefore, delighted to win various gold and silver medals from them!”

“We love competitions that feature blind tastings...that means that flavor truly wins out over whatever perceived marketing perceptions may exist. When it comes down to it, what matters most is how it tastes. And we score big when that is the criterion for judging!”

Winning spirit by name, category, and medal:





Howling Moon Distillery

“We are excited about the award. We won a Bronze for our Mountain Moonshine in 2014 and now the Silver this year for our Apple Pie Moonshine. Our Apple Pie was nominated and won NC favorite spirit in 2015. It's nice to know all the hard work we put into hand making every batch and cutting apples by hand to make our Apple Pie is appreciated and acknowledged by the oldest and one of the most prestigious spirits competitions in the world. What we felt was even more amazing is that no other flavored Moonshine in America placed as high or higher than us, making us the highest rated flavored Moonshine in America.”  

“We struggled too early on because we couldn't afford to market like the large corporations. We even got into states and threatened the sales of some of our larger competition and they were able to market heavily and keep us from meeting the sales we needed to stay in some states. We thought about taking on investors to compete with them head on, but we knew it would also require us to move away from our traditional methods and mass produce our products. We felt that it would kill our authenticity and quality. We decided that if we kept our quality at the level it is over time we would grow through a Grass-Roots campaign. Part of why we do this is to make an authentic product like our family has for over 200 years and share part of our culture and history with the rest of the world. It really means a lot to us that our approach has paid off in the end and we are expanding and it's still a family owned and operated company and we stayed true to our roots and maintained our quality. We hope other craft spirits do the same so people see there is a lot of unique quality craft spirits available and some are better than anything mass produced. A lot of people want natural products and farm to table products. That is something that is hard to do with flavored spirits that are mass produced.  Most of the big boys are not farm to table and they use artificial colors and flavors. Distilleries like us fill that need in the market and like our award shows you can't beat the quality of fresh local hand made products if it's done right. They haven't made and artificial flavor for that yet.”

Winning spirit by name, category, and medal:

Jewell Distillery

“Winning a Silver Medal for our Jewell Gin means more to us than being recognized for producing an outstanding spirit. We're excited about the confidence our medal can gives to those interested in trying a new brand. We want to exceed the expectations of those trying our spirits for the first time and give them an unexpected and rewarding experience.

“We know that the large spirit producers can make some very fine spirits. Our challenge is to go beyond what is normal in the marketplace. Our standard has been to produce a spirit that clearly stands apart from what people are accustomed to drinking. We would rather throw out the spirits that don't meet our expectations than put something in a bottle that might disappoint our customers. We obsess over each batch and fine tune each run so that we maximize the flavor profile we are aiming to achieve. This is for us, what it means to be craft.

Winning spirit by name, category, and medal:

  • Gin, Gin, Silver

John Emerald Distilling Company

“We are very excited to have medaled at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. These medals mean a lot to us because SFWSC is so widely entered. It is great to receive recognition when we know there where so many great entries from all over the world.”

“Blind tasting competitions are great because they level the playing field between large and small producers. That allows the quality of the spirits to shine instead of the marketing budget of the distillery.”

Winning spirits by name, category, and medal:




Marble Distilling Co.

“Marble has previously won a gold in San Fran for our Moonlight EXpresso and this year for our Reserve Moonlight EXpresso, but this is the first time we have ever entered a whiskey, which was a little nerve racking. Whiskey is one of the hardest categories, as there are so many entries and expressions. Hoovers Revenge Whiskey won a bronze, and we found out after, that we were competing against many 15-20 year-old expressions and several Japanese whiskies. This category is not focused on “craft” and a much more esteemed peer group.”

“Marble does not make craft spirits to be recognized through awards. However, winning an award in San Francisco amplifies the coming of craft and legitimizes the small batch craft distiller. We “touch” every aspect of product and the barrel hundreds of times during its life, this type of grain to glass production can only done in small batches, so it is hard to compete with mass producers who fill every market with product that is easily recognized by consumers. Marble's goal is to bring a high quality, craft whiskey to the general public.”

Winning spirits by name, category, and medal:

  • Hoovers Revenge Whiskey, ther Whisk(e)y, Bronze
  • Moonlight EXpresso Reserve Liqueur, Coffee Liqueur, Gold




Sourland Mountain Spirits

“We all remember our first everything major. Our first silver medal for our 12-botanical flagship gin in Spring of 2017 was amazing as it validated 1.5 years of recipe development. 70 test distillations and trying 50 different botanicals before we scored what we hoped would be a game changing gin recipe. We pulled back a little on the juniper as we had found out that (through many focus groups) most people either loved or hated juniper and hence either loved or hated gin...no one I know is dating gin on a trial basis. The second and third time is still wonderful but will never be the first.”

“It is always fun to challenge the big boys. Simple goal is to make the best spirit possible each time. Then when you do a blind tasting against the big boys and "the people" pick your spirits over there's big smile that we have make something that people like, extremely rewarding.”

Winning spirits by name, category, and medal:



Young & Yonder Spirits

“We are pretty excited here at Young & Yonder Spirits about the recent awards we've received. We just started entering competitions this year and SF World Spirits is the first that we've gotten results on so far. To win a gold for our gin and a silver for our absinthe means that we're on the right path to create exceptional, world class spirits.”

“Individual expression, innovation, creativity and passion are the ways in which the craft spirits segment of the industry will compete with the larger brands. We see more localization of consumption happening with our market here in California, and I hope to see that trend continue. Big brands can out-spend, out-market, and out-sell basically any legitimate craft brand, but they lack authenticity and passion, which I think more discerning consumers can identify.”

Winning spirits by name, category, and medal:




Ogden’s Own Distillery


“It’s our second gold, our first was a double gold in 2010 with Underground. We’re excited to have been recognized at such a prestigious event!”

“Although there are a lot of quality national spirits, we feel like we put a lot of effort into our products and are happy to share some of the stage…”

Winning spirits by name, category, and medal:


Here is the complete list of winning spirits from BigFish distilleries. Due to the limitations in availability of some spirits, we don't currently carry all that are listed.


Brand

Product

Class

Medal

CALI Distillery

Expressions French Oak Finished American Whiskey

Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon

Silver

Catoctin Creek

92 Proof Distillers Edition Roundstone Rye Whiskey

Rye Whisk(e)y

Silver

Durham Distillery

Cucumber Vodka & Soda

Pre-Mixed Cocktails

Silver

Eau Claire Distillery

Prickly Pear EquinOx

Flavored Vodka

Double Gold

Eau Claire Distillery

Cherry Gin

Flavored Gin

Silver

Eau Claire Distillery

Parlour Gin

Gin

Bronze

Five Wives

Premium Potato Vodka

Vodka

Gold

Fremont Mischief

Purple Tibetan Ancient Grain Straight Rye Whiskey

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Bronze

Howling Moon

Apple Pie Moonshine

Flavored Moonshine

Silver

Jewell Distillery

Gin

Gin

Silver

John Emerald Distilling Co.

Hugh Wesley's Gin

Gin

Bronze

John Emerald Distilling Co.

Hugh Wesley's Barrel Rested Gin

Barrel-Aged Gin

Bronze

John Emerald Distilling Co.

John's Alabama Single Malt Whiskey

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Silver

Liberty Pole Spirits

Peated Rye Whiskey

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Bronze

Liberty Pole Spirits

Peated Bourbon

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Silver

Marble Distilling Co.

Hoovers Revenge Whiskey

Other Whisk(e)y

Bronze

Marble Distilling Co.

Moonlight EXpresso Reserve Liqueur

Coffee Liqueur

Gold

Short Mountain

Bourbon

 

Silver

Sourland Mountain Spirits

Vodka

Vodka

Bronze

Toledo Spirits Company

East Side Gin

Gin

Silver

Toledo Spirits Company

Heart of Glass Strawberry Vodka

Flavored Vodka

Silver

Toledo Spirits Company

Orange Tiger Liqueur

Fruit Liqueur

Bronze

Twenty 2

Vodka

Vodka

Silver

Virago

Four-Port Rum

Dark/Gold Rum

Silver

Virago

Ruby Port Cask Finished Rum

Dark/Gold Rum

Bronze

Wicked Dolphin

Silver Reserve Rum

Dark/Gold Rum

Bronze

Wicked Dolphin

Aged 6 Years Bottled in Bond Rum

Extra-Aged Rum - 5 Years and Older

Bronze

Young and Yonder Spirits

H.O.B.S. Gin

Gin

Gold

Young and Yonder Spirits

Fellows & Foragers Absinthe

Absinthe

Silver

Young and Yonder Spirits

Armont Vodka

Vodka

Silver


Brand

Product

Class

Medal

CALI Distillery

Expressions French Oak Finished American Whiskey

Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon

Silver

Catoctin Creek

92 Proof Distillers Edition Roundstone Rye Whiskey

Rye Whisk(e)y

Silver

Durham Distillery

Cucumber Vodka & Soda

Pre-Mixed Cocktails

Silver

Eau Claire Distillery

Prickly Pear EquinOx

Flavored Vodka

Double Gold

Eau Claire Distillery

Cherry Gin

Flavored Gin

Silver

Eau Claire Distillery

Parlour Gin

Gin

Bronze

Five Wives

Premium Potato Vodka

Vodka

Gold

Fremont Mischief

Purple Tibetan Ancient Grain Straight Rye Whiskey

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Bronze

Howling Moon

Apple Pie Moonshine

Flavored Moonshine

Silver

Jewell Distillery

Gin

Gin

Silver

John Emerald Distilling Co.

Hugh Wesley's Gin

Gin

Bronze

John Emerald Distilling Co.

Hugh Wesley's Barrel Rested Gin

Barrel-Aged Gin

Bronze

John Emerald Distilling Co.

John's Alabama Single Malt Whiskey

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Silver

Liberty Pole Spirits

Peated Rye Whiskey

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Bronze

Liberty Pole Spirits

Peated Bourbon

Craft Distiller Whiskey

Silver

Marble Distilling Co.

Hoovers Revenge Whiskey

Other Whisk(e)y

Bronze

Marble Distilling Co.

Moonlight EXpresso Reserve Liqueur

Coffee Liqueur

Gold

Short Mountain

Bourbon

 

Silver

Sourland Mountain Spirits

Vodka

Vodka

Bronze

Toledo Spirits Company

East Side Gin

Gin

Silver

Toledo Spirits Company

Heart of Glass Strawberry Vodka

Flavored Vodka

Silver

Toledo Spirits Company

Orange Tiger Liqueur

Fruit Liqueur

Bronze

Twenty 2

Vodka

Vodka

Silver

Virago

Four-Port Rum

Dark/Gold Rum

Silver

Virago

Ruby Port Cask Finished Rum

Dark/Gold Rum

Bronze

Wicked Dolphin

Silver Reserve Rum

Dark/Gold Rum

Bronze

Wicked Dolphin

Aged 6 Years Bottled in Bond Rum

Extra-Aged Rum - 5 Years and Older

Bronze

Young and Yonder Spirits

H.O.B.S. Gin

Gin

Gold

Young and Yonder Spirits

Fellows & Foragers Absinthe

Absinthe

Silver

Young and Yonder Spirits

Armont Vodka

Vodka

Silver