Monthly Archives: November 2020

BTI Announces 2020 Best of Year Award Winners

After reviewing thousands and thousands of wines, beers and spirits this year, Beverage Testing Institute is proud to present the 2020 Best of Year award winners. These products represent the best in their categories and receive BTI’s highest recommendations for 2020.

All products were blindly evaluated by a panel of trade buyers and category experts using custom BTI software and their proprietary Cornell University co-developed methodology. As the only ASTM-conforming wine, beer and spirits competition, BTI scores and reviews have proven to be the most trustworthy and consistent in the industry.

Each BTI-reviewed product receiving a bronze medal or higher can be explored on Tastings.com, the organization’s consumer-facing publication outlet. Reviews, scores, medals, pairing or cocktail suggestions, category information and more are published bi-monthly. Executive Director Jerald O’Kennard highlights the importance of Tastings.com to retail sales this holiday season. “In light of the pandemic-related restrictions placed upon on-premise accounts, we’ve amplified our retail integrations for 2020. We’ve created powerful tools for beverage producers and marketers to convert Tastings.com viewers into their customers by seamlessly linking them to preferred e-commerce sites for each product we review.”

Many of these top winners are also featured in the interactive Tastings.com 2020 Holiday Gift Guide that launched earlier this week. The guide serves both consumers and the trade in highlighting vetted, insider picks alongside Best Buy value brands and trend-setting flavors. Retailers can use the guide’s picks to inform optimized shelf placements, POSM, and purchasing decisions. The guide features links to Tastings.com’s Buy-It-Now button so consumers can shop from their desktop or smartphone.

2020 Best Sparkling Flavored Wine: Giambellino Peach Bellini, Germany

2020 Best Fortified Wine: Auburn Road 2017 Vintage Ruby Fortified Wine, Chambourcin, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Fruit Wine: Florida Orange Groves Winery NV Barrel Selection Peach

2020 Best Zinfandel: Maddalena 2018 Zinfandel, Paso Robles

2020 Best US Tempranillo: Jarvis 2016 Estate, Tempranillo, Napa Valley

2020 Best Rioja: Campo Viejo 2015 Reserva, Tempranillo, Rioja

2020 Best Syrah: Wildwood Oak Winery 2017 Abba Vineyard “Mamma Mia”, Syrah, Lodi

2020 Best Rhône Varietal Blend: Golden Rule Vineyards 2016 Commonwealth Rhone Blend, Willcox

2020 Best Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo: Carletto 2018 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

2020 Best Red Meritage: Oak Farm Vineyards 2017 Genevieve, Lodi

2020 Best Primitivo: Cedar Mountain 2017 Sblendorio Vineyard Reserve, Primitivo, Livermore Valley

2020 Best Pinot Noir: Red Thread 2018 Pinot Noir, Carneros

2020 Best Barolo: Collina San Ponzio 2016 Barolo Fossati, Barolo DOCG

2020 Best Petite Sirah: Jacob Franklin 2015 Leeds and Pesch Vineyard, Petite Sirah, Napa Valley

2020 Best Petit Verdot: Auburn Road NV Volume One, Petit Verdot, Outer Coastal Plain (no link)

2020 Best US Red Blend: Porterhouse Winery 2016 Reserve Lot Red Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

2020 Best Shiraz: Jip Jip Rocks 2019 Shiraz Cabernet, Padthaway

2020 Best Merlot: Sharrott Winery 2018 Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Malbec: Oak Farm Vineyards 2018 Malbec, Lodi

2020 Best Argentine Malbec: Alamos 2016 Selección, Malbec, Mendoza

2020 Best Italian Varietal Blend: Emporium 2017 Appassimento, Salento IGP

2020 Best Grenache: Crux Winery 2016 Grenache, Russian River Valley

2020 Best Chambourcin: Bellview Winery 2018 Estate Bottled, Chambourcin, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Carmenère: Yorkville Cellars 2017 Rennie Vineyard, Carmenère, Yorkville Highlands

2020 Best Spanish Red: Anayón 2015 Carignane, Cariñena

2020 Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Reynolds Family Winery 2015 Reserve 300 Series, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

2020 Best Cabernet Franc: Monte De Oro 2016 Deportola Vineyard, Cabernet Franc, Temecula Valley

2020 Best Bordeaux Varietal Red: Sixteen Appellations 2016 Red Blend, Napa Valley

2020 Best Red Bordeaux Varietal Blend: San Simeon 2016 Stormwatch, Paso Robles

2020 Best French Rose: Jas Des Vignes 2019 Rosé, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

2020 Best Rose: Cantina Zaccagnini 2019 Dry Rosé Wine, Terre di Chieti IGT

2020 Best Prosecco: Ruggeri 2018 Giustino B. Extra Dry, Prosecco Superiore DOCG

2020 Best Moscato d’Asti: Risata 2019 Moscato d’Asti DOCG

2020 Best Pet Nat: Bellview Winery NV Pet Nat, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Champagne: Heritage Prince Henri D’Orléans NV Blanc de Blancs, Champagne

2020 Best Cava: Cupcake NV Cava DO

2020 Best Blanc de Blancs: William Heritage 2017 Blanc De Blancs, Outer Coastal Plain (no link)

2020 Best Sweet Wine: St. Clair Winery 2018 Bellissimo, New Mexico

2020 Best Sweet Wine: Corte Bella Rosso

2020 Best Late Harvest Wine: Medal Royal 2018 Late Harvest with Natural Botrytis, Muscat, Curico Valley

2020 Best Bianco Vermouth: Drapo NV Bianco Vermouth, Italy

2020 Best Red Vermouth: Drapo NV Rosso Vermouth, Italy

2020 Best Viognier: Alexandria Nicole 2019 Crawford, Viognier, Columbia Valley

2020 Best Vignoles: Mount Pleasant Estates 2019 Vignoles, Augusta, Missouri

2020 Best International Sauvignon Blanc: Domaine Beausejour 2019 Les Silex, Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine

2020 Best US Sauvignon Blanc: Reynolds Family Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

2020 Best Riesling: Wakefield/Taylors 2019 Riesling, Clare Valley

2020 Best Pinot Gris: Portlandia 2019 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley

2020 Best Pinot Grigio: Ca’ Montini 2018 Single Vineyard, Pinot Grigio, Trentino DOC

2020 Best Malvasia: Pillsbury Wine Company 2018 Bonnie Lee, Malvasia, Cochise County, Arizona

2020 Best Chenin Blanc: St. Clair Winery 2017 Special Reserve, Chenin Blanc, New Mexico

2020 Best Chardonnay: Publix Premium 2017 Limited Edition, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

2020 Best Albarino: Alexandria Nicole 2019 Affinity, Albarino, Columbia Valley

2020 Best Cream Cocktail: Kringle Cream NV Latte

2020 Best Hard Seltzer: Greenhouse NV Pink Grapefruit Hard Seltzer, California

2020 Best Mimosa: Aldi NV Orange Mimosa, American

2020 Best Cognac: Pierre Ferrand Selection des Anges XO Cognac

2020 Best Wood Aged Cachaca: Pitú Vitoriosa Cachaça

2020 Best Cachaca: Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça

2020 Best Gin: Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin

2020 Best Barrel Aged Gin: District Made Barrel Rested Ivy City Gin

2020 Best Herbal Liqueur: June by G’Vine Gin Liqueur

2020 Best Liqueur: Tempus Fugit Creme de Banane Liqueur

2020 Best Orange Liqueur: Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge Liqueur

2020 Best Cream Liqueur: Trader Joe’s Cocoa Cream Liqueur

2020 Best Coffee Liqueur: Herencia de Plata Coffee Tequila Liqueur

2020 Best Aperitivo: Tempus Fugit Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur

2020 Best Mezcal: Mezcal Vago 2019 Espadin Mezcal Artesanal

2020 Best Non-Alcoholic Spirit: Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative Other Spirit

2020 Best White Rum: Cane Run Rum

2020 Best Rum: Motörhead Premium Dark Rum

2020 Best Rum Aged 3 years or less: Bayou Select Barrel Reserve

2020 Best Flavored Rum: Jan Stephenson Pineapple-Flavored Rum

2020 Best Reposado Tequila: Cazcanes No. 7 Reposado Tequila

2020 Best Tequila: Alquimia Reserva de Oro 14 yr Organic Extra Añejo Tequila

2020 Best Cristalino Tequila: Cenote™ Cristalino Tequila

2020 Best Blanco Tequila: Cazcanes No. 9 Blanco Tequila

2020 Best Añejo Tequila: El Tesoro Anejo Tequila

2020 Best Vodka: elit Vodka

2020 Best Flavored Vodka: Zubrówka Bison Grass Flavored Vodka

2020 Best Craft Vodka: Heritage Distilling Co. D’s Seasoned Vodka

2020 Best Wheat Whiskey: Old Elk Straight Wheat Whiskey

2020 Best Rye Whisky: Old Elk Straight Rye Whiskey

2020 Best Bourbon: Doc Swinson’s 15-Yr Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

2020 Best Scotch Whisky: Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky

2020 Best Whisky: Kavalan Solist Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky

2020 Best Japanese Blended Whisky: Tenjaku Blended Japanese Whisky

2020 Best Island Single Malt Scotch: Jura Tide 21 Year Old Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky

2020 Best Irish Whiskey: Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey

2020 Best Irish Blended Whiskey: Jameson Bow Street 18 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey

2020 Best Highland Single Malt Scotch: Aberlour Casg Annamh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

2020 Best Flavored Whiskey: Journeyman Distillery Field Rye Fig Flavored Whiskey

2020 Best Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey: Widow Jane 10 Yr. Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey

2020 Best American Single Malt Whiskey: Boulder Bottled in Bond American Single Malt Whiskey

2020 Best American Blended Whiskey: Rebecca Creek Double Barrel Blended Whiskey

2020 Best Ready-to-Drink Cocktail: Kirkland Signature RTD Golden Margarita

2020 Best Sake: SakéOne Naginata Junmai Daiginjo Sake

2020 Best Heritage Cider: Two K Farms 2019 Russet Heritage Cider

2020 Best Fruit Cider: Kaneb Orchards Cranberry Crisp Cider

2020 Best French Cider: Maison Hérout 2017 Grand Cuvée Extra-Brut French Cider

2020 Best Wit: Damm Brewery Inedit Witbier

2020 Best Ale: Hofmühl Weissbier

2020 Best American Style IPA: Full Sail Brewing Co. West Coast Style IPA

2020 Best Pilsner: Hofmühl Privat Pils

2020 Best Lager: Hofmühl Hell

Clear Intent: Setting the Stage for Quality Vodka

“Vodka has its place, and it’s not just to pay the light bills.” – Allison Evanow, Founder of Square One Organic Spirits

Through the spirits market’s endless trend-shifting, vodka has cruised along both as a neutral springboard for cocktails and as a money-maker for small producers while their aged spirits develop. At BTI, we wager that curious consumers will be shifting their focus from mass-produced offerings to spirits that are unique and different. Understanding the reasons for this shift is crucial to predicting future success in the category, and in order to do so, we spoke with three producers whose unique methods of production have elevated what consumers can expect from vodka.

Easier is Almost Never Better 

With a standard production method of multiple distillations resulting in an odorless and colorless spirit, vodka can be produced from nearly any base material. Rachel de Caen, Owner of Royal Mash Vodka, says that “vodka can be relatively easy to make” which explains “why there are so many mass-produced vodkas on the market.” When Allison Evanow, Founder of Square One Organic Spirits, was getting into the spirits market, her friends assumed that she “must really like vodka,” but Evanow explains that “I actually didn’t like vodka…that’s why I started a vodka company.” In-line with de Caen, Evanow started with vodka as the flagship product for her all-organic line to challenge the perception that “it’s easy to do for money-making purposes and less about the process and how you make it.”

Tremaine Atkinson, Founder and CEO of CH Distillery, states that because it is “one of the biggest categories, there should be room for really well-made vodka.” Vodka has been Atkinson’s “go-to spirit” for over 35 years, and he defines a high-quality offering as one that is “clean and crisp and modern” because “when it’s made well, it’s interesting.” Though the category does sell an excess of “placeholders,” which Atkinson defines as when a producer is “buying grain neutral spirit from somebody else and doing something, not much, to it and then putting it in the bottle and putting a brand on it,” it is the high-quality of intentionally produced vodkas that is quietly driving consumers to the category. Atkinson points to these “real vodkas” as ones where “the distiller is doing the fermentation” because “ultimately the fermentation is where vodka starts and if you don’t control that aspect, you’re making somebody else’s vodka.”

When it comes to demand for premium vodka, de Caen assures that consumer interest is growing. “There is a combination of factors: international travel and a greater knowledge and appreciation of drinks and food leads people to want to discover things that are not only new and different but of high quality.” Royal Mash Vodka, for example, is produced from Jersey Royal potatoes, which have the tuber equivalent of an AOC. Atkinson has also risen to the uptick in consumer calls for excellence, explaining that “the demand for high-quality spirits and high-quality beverages in general is always on the rise.” He finds the root of this fast-growing demand in the fact that “younger generation drinkers have grown up with food and beverage celebrated all around them.” With a wide array of offerings in the market, these modern consumers are looking for depth and character in their spirits, as well as the story of why the producers made the recipe choices they did, like Atkinson making CH Distiller Vodka from Illinois grain with hometown pride and because “nobody was doing it.” Producers like Evanow, whose Square One Organic Vodka is made from 100% organic rye, feel that these intentional choices based on “good flavor profile” as opposed to “making anything, and cheaply” have the potential to create vodka fans from consumers that before were wary of the category because “most [of them] have not had a good vodka.”

Maintaining Integrity When Facing Challenges

The task of encouraging a consumer to shift from the inexpensive vodka that is made, as Evanow puts it, by “buying in bulk, backing the tanker truck up, and throwing it in a bottle,” to a higher-priced quality vodka that Atkinson describes as one “made from scratch and with an idea in mind” is not a simple one. Evanow nods to bartenders as “our biggest supporters” because they “have the education” to understand that “what we’re doing is more costly but it’s with more care and the result is a better-quality product.” Though it is widely acknowledged that the pandemic has made consumers less likely to go to bars, and Atkinson admits that many consumers wouldn’t otherwise know that good vodka exists “until it’s been put in front of them,” de Caen makes the point that when people do go out, though less frequently, their expectations are higher, meaning “the cocktails must be excellent, not just okay” and “premium drinks are made from premium spirits.”

Although Atkinson reassures that “on-premise isn’t going to be gone forever,” many smaller producers must reconsider how to reach their target market without the helping hands of knowledgeable bartenders in a pandemic-wounded industry. Evanow advises that instead of trying to convince non-vodka drinkers to make the switch, “it’s a big part of strategy to find those consumers who generally love vodka.” She explains that many of these imbibers generally go by what they know, and that it’s worth investing in educating at the consumer-facing level in order to grow sales. Evanow gives the example of one loyal customer in particular that switched to Square One Organic Vodka and reached out to her with glowing feedback, even detailing that he stocked up for a cross-country move because he wasn’t sure his favorite pour would be available in his new town. She spotlights this customer as encouragement for producers to “find those people and develop the relationship with them” because “they’ll tell their friends,” recognizing that while “it’s a slower build,” it’s ultimately an “authentic” one.

Further leaning into new challenges presented by the pandemic, de Caen’s insights on the contemporary consumer’s draw to high-quality new experiences suggest that if they are making cocktails at home, they will want well-made spirits in their recipes. Most consumers do not possess the blending skill set of a professional bartender, so if they’re starting with a high-quality product there will be less work for them to do. More time interacting directly with the spirit develops within the consumer a deeper understanding of quality, and de Caen believes that “a memorable product eventually becomes part of the [consumer’s] brand portfolio.” Though Atkinson does acquiesce that this relies on the type of consumer that is “willing to spend a little bit extra to get something that’s really of high quality,” he bolsters that “they’re going to buy it again because it’s good.”

Consumers’ exponentially growing demand for thoughtfully made products can be thanked for igniting the sales of high-quality spirits and ultimately raising the bar for the beverage industry as a whole. Now, more than ever, small producers have the opportunity to find their niches and grow; and in those expanding niches, Evanow promises that “vodka has its place, and it’s not just to pay the light bills.”

 

Our 2021 call for Vodka is on! Learn more about submitting your quality liquids to our 2021 review.