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With a growing number of microdistilleries and an expanding number of offerings from large corporate entities, a number of institutions have arisen to provide professional evaluations of individual spirits. These entities, while recognizing that individual palates are unique and a great deal of subjectivity enters into any assessment, generally use expert panels and blind tastings within a given category to create meaningful and objective ratings.
All of these competitions are non-competitive and all are pay to enter, so only products that have paid an entrance fee will be judged. Although gold, silver and bronze awards are offered, there are no limits as to how many of each may be awarded.
Most tastings striving for objective results follow a similar format:
Experts typically begin by assessing a given spirit based upon its "appearance" and "nose", its aroma. It will often be held up to light in clear glass to examine its color and "legs" while sniffing for other flavor "notes".
Second, experts will taste the spirit and let it wash over the palate (tongue) searching for more "notes" or flavors and often comment about different foods or scents that it evokes.Third, experts will swallow (or, more often, spit) and examine the taste sensations for a "second life" or aftertaste, again searching for more flavor notes.
- 1 Major rating organizations
- 2 Newer rating organizations
- 3 See also
- 4 References
Major rating organizations
There are numerous liquor, spirits, beer and wine competitions.
Beverage Testing Institute
The Beverage Testing Institute is based in Chicago, US, and founded in 1981 with its initial focus on wine but later branching into spirits and beer. They use a dedicated tasting laboratory in order to create consistent results and minimize external distractions. Each periodic tasting is conducted at the same time of day under identical conditions. The panelists are selected from the professional world of restaurants and publications under the leadership of director Jerald O'Kennard. Not all spirits are given a rating. Those of sufficient merit are awarded a point score between 80 and 100.
- 80–84: Recommended
- 85–89: Highly Recommended
- 90–95: Exceptional
- 96–100: Superlative
The institute seeks to produce "fair and impartial wine reviews for consumers." Buying guides have appeared in All About Beer, Epicurious.com, International Wine Review, Wine Enthusiast, Restaurant Hospitality, The New Yorker Magazine, Wine & Spirits, etc.[not in citation given]
New York International Spirits Competition
Founded by Adam Levy.
San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Founded in 2000 by Anthony Dias Blue. Blue is the current director of both the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition. It assesses hundreds of entrants annually (1407 in 2013 from 63 countries) with "blind" tastings involving panels of expert judges selected each year from the spirits industry including world-renowned mixologists, spirits buyers, and media from across the United States. Producers must submit their product for the competition and pay a fee ($475 for 2013) for its evaluation. Not all entries are given awards (those not judged of sufficient quality are not given an award) but most receive a bronze, silver, or gold award from the tasting panel. The fact that most entrants receive an award likely involves some degree of self-selection, as the spirits producers choose whether to enter each of their brands in the competition and pay to receive a rating. Those entrants that are given a unanimous gold medal by the panel are given the distinction of a "double-gold" medal. Additionally, a "best in show" designation is awarded in each main category of spirits.
Wine Enthusiasts publishes a magazine and other media to promote the appreciation of both wines and spirits. It is headquartered in New York and founded in 1979. Currently, spirits reviews are provided by F. Paul Pacult, who does tastings in a controlled environment. Results are given a point score.
- 80–84: Average
- 85–89: Very Good / Recommended
- 90–95: Superb / Highly Recommended
- 96–100: Classic / Highest Recommendation
Proof66 does not offer its own reviews, but instead acts as an aggregator of professional ratings including the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the Beverage Testing Institute, and Wine Enthusiasts. All available ratings are combined and the resulting "aggregate score" is scaled between 0–1,000 points.
The primary driver of a liquor's Proof66 aggregate score is the best rating it has ever received from any of the three rating agencies. Because older scores are deemed to be less reliable, points are deducted when a liquor's best score comes from a relatively distant rating competition. The resulting best score is thus said to be age-adjusted. The scoring algorithm then attempts to make adjustments to (a) mitigate the effects of "grade inflation" for the various rating agencies and (b) reward spirits that have been reviewed frequently and by multiple rating agencies.
Proof66 indicates that its aggregate scores are updated daily to incorporate the most recent competitive results.
Although not incorporated into its aggregate score, user ratings from Proof66's visitors are reported alongside expert reviews. The average score from Proof66 users is known as the "Rabble Score."
The World-Spirits Award was founded in 2004 by Wolfram Ortner in Austria. Annually it assesses hundreds of entrants from more than 30 countries. Members of the jury are industry experts and experienced judges primary from Austria and Germany. Not all spirits are given a rating. Only the highest rated spirits of sufficient merit receive medals. World-Spirits Award rankings are based upon a 71 to 100 "WOB-Points" rating scale.
- 95.3–100 Points = DOUBLE-GOLD: World Class, Superlative
- 90–95 Points = GOLD: Superb
- 80–89 Points = SILVER: Very Good
- 71–79 Points = BRONZE: Average
Anthony Dias Blue, founder of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition offers his own set of personal reviews known as "Blue Reviews". He offers scores based upon an 80–100 point scale.
Spirits Review is a personal review site authored by Chris Carlsson, a self-described "ardent spirit" who has been studying tasting and evaluation of spirits and participates in a variety of tastings. Carlsson is based in Rochester, NY and launched the website in 2005. Spirits Review rankings are based upon a 1 to 10 martini olive rating scale.
- 1 olive: "not fit for fuel in my car"
- 2 olives: "coolant"
- 3 olives: "bottom shelf"
- 4 olives: "drinkable"
- 5 olives: "average"
- 6 olives: "decent"
- 7 olives: "recommended"
- 8 olives: "highly recommended"
- 9 olives: "classic"
- 10 olives: "moksha"
The SIP Awards
The SIP Awards (Spirits International Prestige), unlike other competitions, allows a panel of consumers to choose the top winners. The competition is open to any commercial spirit professionally produced that comply with the classification codes listed on their website. Only the highest rated spirits receive SIP Award medals, which include:
- Best of Class Platinum
Newer rating organizations
- Los Angeles International Wine, Spirits, Beer, and Olive Oil Competition: this competition was initially for wine only and founded in 1939. In 2007, it began receiving entries for spirits. It also rates beer and olive oil. Awards are provided for gold, silver, and bronze medals. In 2009, there were 199 entries with 179 awarded medals.
- Abelson, Jenn (28 March 2009). "Entrepreneurial spirits". The Boston Globe.
- See, for example, http://www.agave.net/information/event_judges.html
- Blue, Anthony Dias, The Complete Book of Spirits: A Guide to Their History, Production, and Enjoyment, First Edition, 2004.
- "Distilled Spirits Facts, Ratings & Reviews". Beveridge Testing Institute — Tastings.com. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
- "About". NYISC. New York International Spirits Competition. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
- See Proof66.com Frequently Asked Questions -- http://www.proof66.com/faq.asp#scoring
- See, for example, http://www.robertstemmlerwinery.com/trade_media/PDFs/review_sheets/03nugentRV.pdf
- Olive Oil