Glasses filled with whisky for a whisky tasting.

Prestigious Spirit Tasting Competitions: Find the Best Whisky, Vodka, Rum, Gin and Tequila

15 minutes

You’ve heard about a specific bottle online. A friend mentioned that they heard that their sister’s boyfriend's best friend loved it. You’ve thought, “if only I can find one of those in the wild.”

One day you’re in your local liquor store and you can’t believe your luck, there it is, on the shelf. How can this be? Why has no one purchased it yet? You buy it, bring it home. You tell your wife about your good fortune. After dinner that night you crack the seal and pour a healthy dram. You bring it to your nose and think, hmm, that’s not what I was expecting. You bring the glass to your lips for that first sip and …meh.

We’ve all been there. Who hasn’t opened a bottle of whisky expecting to be blown away, only to be disappointed. In this article I’m going to describe a number of the larger, more prestigious spirits competitions held throughout the year, helping you to decide which products are worth your hard-earned dollars.

Benefits of Spirit Tasting Competitions

There are many prestigious annual spirits competitions around the world where distilleries and spirit producers submit their products for evaluation by expert judges. Many of the competitions listed below are highly regarded in the drinks business, and among consumers, and can be instrumental in establishing a spirit's reputation and credibility.

Tasting competitions can be expensive to enter, especially for start-ups, and smaller distilleries with tight marketing budgets, looking to grow their brand. Many competition charge hundreds of dollars per entry, with some up to $500, plus you need to send samples for judging which may need to consist of 2, or even 3 bottles for judging. A small distillery going through the effort, and expense of entering multiple products in multiple competitions is a sign that they have confidence in the quality, and craftsmanship, of their product.

With the expense and effort involved in entering a tasting competition, brands expect more than just a medal. Competitions offer an opportunity for increased media exposure through media partners, and online and print publications, and social media channels owned by the organization hosting the competition.

All competitors enjoy increased brand recognition, networking opportunities, and introduction to new markets that can have a real impact on sales because consumers recognize that an award from a prestigious spirits tasting competition is the sign of an exceptional product.

Largest and Most Prestigious Competitions

Some of the most prestigious annual spirits competitions are listed below. This is by no means a complete list, so if you would like me to add others to the list be sure to let me know in the comments below.

American Distilling Institute (ADI) International Spirits Competition

ADI is known for recognizing and celebrating small batch craft distillers. The competition has a focus on recognizing the use of local ingredients, and innovation in distilling. Their annual competition is an important event in the American craft spirits industry, and is the only spirits competition where distillers receive written feedback from judges on their entries. Award winners also have the opportunity to meet with distributors about product placement and promotion opportunities, which is invaluable for new distilleries trying to grow their brand in a competitive marketplace.

Early Bird Registration - by February 2, 2024
ADI Members
$275 per entry for US entries
$325 per entry for international entries
Non-Members
$375 per entry for US entries
$425 per entry for international entries

Standard Registration - after February 2, 2024

ADI Members
$325 per entry for US entries
$375 per entry for international entries

Non-Members
$425 per entry for US entries
$475 per entry for international entries

American Distilling Institute Website

Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition (CASC)

I know this is not a large competition, but I’m Canadian, so I put it on the list. The CASC is held annually by Artisan Distillers Canada (ADC) and celebrates innovation and excellence among Canada’s craft distilling industry. Entries are judged in 5 main categories (with multiple sub-categories) – artisan spirits, artisan bitters, zero-proof spirits, and artisan cocktails.

Only small scale independent distilleries that meet ADC requirements may enter. Products are judged on nose, palate, finish, and quality. Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are awarded with additional recognition given for winners in multiple consecutive years with a ‘With Distinction’ designation, Best in Class winners, and Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year, along with addition business and community awards. Not every product entered will receive an award.

Artisan Distillers Canada Website

Global Spirits Masters Competitions (GSMC)

Organized and run by The Spirits Business magazine, this is a series of 22 individual competitions held in different months throughout the year, each focused on specific spirit categories such as gin, rum, and whisky, with the final event of the year, the SB Awards, covering a wide range of categories in addition to specific spirit offerings.

The Tonic and Mixer Masters: Recognition of the best tonic and mixers by leading drinks business professionals. There are 13 categories to choose from including Cola, Ginger Ale, Soda, Tonic Water, Seltzer, Syrups, and more.

The Rum and Cachaça Masters: Awards the best rum and cachaça spirits brands from around the world. 28 categories (+ additional sub-categories) range from White, Gold, and Dark Rum of varying age statements, to Spiced Liqueurs, Overproof Rum, Cachaça, and more.

The DB & SB Spring Blind Tasting: A semi-annual collaboration between the Drinks Business (DB) and the Spirits Business (SB) to recognize the best drinks brands from around the world. Brands compete in an extensive list of categories including, Cognac & Brandy, Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila & Mezcal (100% Agave), Specialty Spirits, Liqueurs, Premixed/RTD, and Low & No Alcohol, Tonic and Mixers, and Agave Spirits.

The Tequila and Mezcal Masters: Awards the best Mezcal and Tequila producers competing for the best Mezcal, Tequila, Tequila Liqueurs, Flavoured tequila, and Agave Spirits.

The Cognac Masters: Recognizes excellence among Cognac producers. Categories include VS, VSOP, XO, Vintage, NAS, and Single Vintage.

The Brandy Masters: Recognizes excellence among Brandy producers. Categories include Armagnac, other French Brandies, South Asian, Spanish, Brandy de Jerez, Other regions, Pisco, and Grappa.

The Asian Spirits Masters: A wide ranging category recognizing excellence among Asian spirits producers. This category includes a wide range of spirits made in Asia including Baiju, Shochu, Soju, Whisky, Gin, Vodka, Rum, Brandy, Liqueurs, and Specialty Spirits.

The Scotch Whiskey Masters: Recognizes excellence in whisky produced exclusively in Scotland.

The Gin Masters: Evaluates a wide range of gin products from around the world. Categories include Standard and Premium Gins, London Dry, Navy Strength, Old Tom, Cask-Aged, Contemporary, Genever, Flavoured, Sloe, Micro-distillery, Organic, Pink, and Gin Liqueur.

The American Whiskey Masters: Recognizes and awards excellence to the best American Whiskey distilleries. Most American Whiskey will fit into one of the categories provided including Bourbon, Rye, Tennessee, Single Malt, Other Grains, Moonshine and Other Unaged Whiskey, Flavoured Whiskey, and New Make.

The World Whiskey Masters: Awards the best whiskies from distillers all around the world including Asia (excluding India and Japan), Austral Asia, Canada, Europe (excluding Ireland and Scotland), India, Japan, South Africa, South America, Rest of the World, Spirit Drink, World Blend, and New Make.

The Irish Whiskey Masters: Recognizes and awards excellence to the finest Irish Whiskey producers in categories that include Single Malt, Flavoured, Blended, Single Grain, Single Pot Still, Poitin, and New Make.

The Vodka Masters: Recognizes excellence from vodka producers from around the world. This wide ranging category includes Vodka Based spirits with multiple sub-categories, Oak Aged, Organic, Micro-Distillery, Flavoured/Infused, Smooth, Standard and Premium Vodkas, Russian, Eastern Europe, Europe, Scandinavia, Rest of the World, and Vodka Liqueur.

The Travel Retail Masters: Recognizes, and rewards innovation and excellence among travel retail brands. Some of these products may only be available in duty free stores in international airports or at border crossings so they represent a unique marketplace targeting a more exclusive clientele. Here, distilleries can offer high end, luxury products and unique offerings targeted towards higher end customers with more disposable income.

Categories in this spirits competition include Whisky, Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Liqueurs, Cognac, Rum, Brandy, Specialty Spirits, Premixed/RTD, Tonic/Mixer, Low & No Alcohol, and Hard Seltzer.

The Luxury Masters: Recognizes excellence among luxury spirits brands in categories such as Whisky, Cognac & Brandy, Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila & Mezcal (100% Agave), Specialty Spirits, Liqueurs, Premixed/RTD, Tonic/Mixer, Low & No Alcohol, and Hard Seltzer.

The DB & SB Autumn Blind Tasting: Semi-annual competition, hosted by the Drinks Business (DB) and the Spirits Business (SB), recognizing the best drinks brands in the world. Brands compete in an extensive list of categories including Whisky, Cognac & Brandy, Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila & Mezcal (100% Agave), Specialty Spirits, Liqueurs, Premixed/RTD, and Low & No Alcohol.

Pre-Mixed and RTD Masters: Presents awards to the best Pre-Mixed and Ready-to-Drink (RTD) brands, Pre-Mixed cocktails, Hard Seltzers, Partially Made Cocktails, and Vegan Cocktails.

The Liqueur Masters: Awards go to the best liqueurs from around the world. Producers can enter products in up to 19 different categories.

The Specialty Spirits Masters: Rewards the best specialty spirits brands with opportunities to enter products in 24 different categories of specialty spirits.

The Design and Packaging Masters: Recognizes creativity and innovation in design and packaging in each of 15 different spirit categories including Whiskey, Rum, Gin, Scotch, Vodka, Brandy, and more.

The Low & No Masters: Awards excellence to the growing low and no-alcohol spirits brands in 10 categories ranging from no alcohol spirits and liqueurs (less than 0.5%), to low alcohol products ranging from 5% up to 30% alcohol.

The SB Awards: This final competition of the year recognizes excellence in a wide range of spirit related categories including Retailer of the Year, Best Event, an Ethical Award, Brand of the Year, Bar of the Year, a Lifetime Achievement Award and many more.

Entry Fee: GBP 195 (+VAT) for the first entry, and then 155 (+VAT) for each additional entry in the same spirits competition.

Global Spirits Masters Website

International Beverage Competitions

A series of 4 international competitions where products are submitted by both category, and price, so products are competing with other products in the same price range. Although each competition takes place in a different region, they are all open to submissions of commercially available products from any distillery, anywhere in the world.

These are highly competitive competitions judged by industry professionals, bar owners, distributors, and buyers at every level, who have real purchasing power that can make an impact on brand sales.

Winners are highlighted in online publications, and industry trade magazines, and receive a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Double Gold medal, plus digital versions for marketing purposes.

There are 4 spirits competitions throughout the year:

Berlin – March

Entry fee: 150/175/200 Euro per submission for Early/Regular/Late entry

New York – April

Entry fee: $300/325/350 per submission for Early/Regular/Late entry

Melbourne – June

Entry fee: $150/175/200 per submission for Early/Regular/Late entry

Asia - September

International Beverage Competitions Website

International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC)

The IWSC is a global competition that has been recognizing excellence in the wine and spirits industry for over 50 years. It is highly regarded for its rigorous judging process. Judges consist of major buyers, master distillers, and key decision makes in the spirits industry.

Entry fee: Varies from $295 - $395 US per entry, depending on the number of entries.

The International Wine & Spirit Competition Website

L.A. Spirit Awards

While being a relatively new competition, started in only 2020, the L.A. Spirit Awards are a prestigious competition conceived of by industry professionals with a long history in spirit tasting competitions. They saw a need to create a competition without bias, that was efficiently run, and gave all distilleries, large and small, a chance to shine due to a more equitable evaluation process conducted by a diverse team of judges that reflect today’s spirits industry, and their customers.

There are 3 rounds of judging, with winners awarded Bronze, Silver, or Gold medals. If all judges on a panel award an entry a Gold medal, then that spirit is awarded a Platinum medal. The final round of judging sees the best spirits awarded a Best in Show award in addition to any medal received. Following the competition there are a wide range of promotional opportunities available to winners.

The competition takes place in March, and is open to spirits producers from around the world. Spirits are evaluated in 12 categories, with multiple sub-categories.

Entry fee: $490 per product

L.A. Spirit Awards Website

London Spirits Competition (LSC)

The LSC, run by the Beverage Trade Network, is different from other competitions in that they award products that not only taste great, but also do a great job at reaching their target market, and look good doing it. Breaking it down, the LSC rate products on 3 basic attributes:

Quality: The usual characteristics that a spirit is judged on – appearance, body, aroma, taste, finish, texture.
Value for Money: This category looks at whether the product hits the right balance of quality and price, and are the quality and price appropriate for the target market. Better quality at a lower price will always score better.
What the product looks like: This includes packaging, labelling, and the design of the bottle, including handling. A unique creative bottle may look interesting, but it must also be easy to hold, and pour without spilling. Does the product look appealing, and will it sell well whether on a store shelf, or in a bar.

Judging is done by top-level spirits buyers, and Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are awarded, along with Distillery of the Year, Spirit of the Year, and many other awards in dozens of categories.

Entry fee: 110/140/180 GBP per submission for Super Early/Early/Regular with discounts for multiple entries

London Spirits Competition Website

Proof Awards

The Proof Awards are hosted by Food and Beverage Magazine and recognize excellence by awarding spirits, mixers, and low & non-alcoholic drinks, and even CBD infused spirits in more than 170 categories. The Proof Awards offers a unique opportunity for brands because every judge in this competition is a buyer, interested in finding and experiencing new products.

Entry fee: $495 per entry

Proof Awards website

SIP Awards

Consumer focused awards where spirits are judged by regular consumers, rather than industry experts, removing any industry bias from the results. Awards and medals include Best of Class - Platinum, Platinum, Double Gold, Gold, Silver, and Bronze in dozens of categories.

SIP Awards website

TAG Global Spirits Awards

The TAG Global Spirit Awards are a relatively new, but prestigious competition that aims to promote craft distilling and recognize excellence at every level with a fair and transparent competition.

Winners receive a Platinum, Double Gold, Gold, Silver, or Bronze medal along with promotion across multiple media channels targeting both industry professionals and consumers.

TAG Global Spirit Awards Website

The Tasting Alliance

The Tasting Alliance runs a number of the most prestigious tasting competitions throughout the year that recognize excellence by bestowing awards on products of exceptional quality.

For many years, The Tasting Alliance ran competitions, presented awards, and then left it up to the producers to use those awards in their marketing. Recently, they have gone beyond merely hosting tasting competitions. They are becoming more consumer focussed and are now using their platform to connect producers and consumers to help consumers wade through the almost limitless number of products on the market to help them determine where to spend their hard earned dollars. If they can make it easier for the consumer to find great quality products, then both consumers and producers benefit.

You can now show directly on The Tasting Alliance website, see winning products, the competition, award, and year the award was won, purchase products and have them shipped directly to your house (depending on state regulations).

The Tasting Alliance hold 9 major wine, spirits, and beer tasting competitions throughout the year plus a number of smaller regional events and competitions, and appearances at wine and food festivals designed to increase brand awareness, and grow their influence to the benefit of both producers and consumers. There are 3 major spirits tasting competitions where winners are awarded Platinum, Double Gold, Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals.

San Francisco World Spirits Competition

This competition is one of the oldest and most well-known, and is considered by many to be the most prestigious spirits tasting competition in the world. It features a panel of experienced judges who blind-taste and rate thousands of spirits each year. A medal from San Francisco is almost guaranteed to increase sales of a winning product.

New York World Wine and Spirits Competition

The NYWSC is one of the most respected wine and spirits tasting competitions in the Eastern US where highly respected industry experts judge products from brands ranging from the largest distilleries in the world, to small local craft distilleries where an award from the NYWSC sets a brand apart and can be a significant driver of sales.

Entry fee: $500 per entry

Singapore World Spirits Competition

The SWSC offers brands unique access to industry professionals, marketing, networking, and collaboration opportunities, and exposure to the North American market through the Reserve Bar website.

Spirits entry fee: $450 per entry
Sake entry fee: $110 per entry

The Tasting Alliance Website

USA Spirits Ratings

The USA Spirit Ratings are another Beverage Trade Network Competition. Similar to the LSC, the USA Spirits Ratings are aimed at recognizing excellence in spirits brands that do a great job of targeting a product to a specific consumer, and are judged in a similar fashion, on similar attributes – Quality, Value for Money, and Appearance.

Awards include Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals, Best in Show, Spirit of the Year, and Distillery of the Year along with promotion across various digital and print media following the show. This is a great opportunity for any brand looking to expand their footprint in the U.S.

Entry fee: $200 per spirit (early bird)

USA Spirit Ratings Website

Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America

The WSWA wine and spirits tasting competition is held at their annual convention at the end of January, or early February each year. The competition is sponsored by The Tasting Panel Magazine and The SOMM Journal and covers a wide range of spirits categories offering the opportunity for distillers and importers to network, and gain recognition and exposure for their brand. Awards include Double Gold, Gold, Silver, and Best of Show in each category. Categories include Whiskey, Rum, Gin, Vodka, Mezcal/Tequila, Premixed/RTD, Liqueurs, Specialty Spirits, Cognac, Flavoured, Non-alcoholic, and more.

Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Website

World Drinks Awards (WDA)

The WDA awards are dedicated to spirits from around the world and are organized by TheDrinksReport.com. The WDA is actually a series of spirit competitions judging every category of spirit, with individual spirit competitions are held at different times throughout the year.

Winning spirits are awarded Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals. The best product in each category is also recognized by country. There are also packaging awards, and all results are published on the WDA website.

Entry fee: 175 – 299 (+VAT) GBP (varies by category and number of entries)

World Drinks Awards Website

Large or small, tasting competitions offer a platform for spirit producers to showcase their products and receive valuable feedback from experts. Winning a medal, or earning high accolades in these competitions can significantly boost a brand's reputation and sales.

There are so many small distilleries, and products on the market today that it can be very difficult for the average consumer to know which products to buy. The last thing you want is to purchase an expensive bottle only to be disappointed because it did not meet expectations.

When looking for high quality spirits, you can go to the website for any of these competitions to see which products meet the highest standards for quality. However, it's important to note that different competitions may have different judging criteria, so a spirit that performs well in one competition might not perform as well in another. You must also keep in mind that everyone’s palate is different, and you may not like the same bottle as someone else, but with a tasting competition winner, rated well by a number of respected judges, so you have a great place to start.

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