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Celebrate the Winning Bottles of the 2024 L.A. Spirits Awards

For the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of bottles stocked in your local liquor store or loaded on the virtual shelves of online retailers, a medal can be a make-or-break moment.

With such a rich tapestry of spirits at our fingertips, from regimented whiskeys to apéritifs crafted with ingredients that sound more at home in a botanist’s notebook than in a pre-dinner cocktail, selecting which one to purchase can be overwhelming. But a gold emblem that proudly declares, “I’m a winner, baby!” cuts through the noise and helps that particular bottle stand out.

What helps even more than a spirit adorned with glossy accolades is the integrity of those accolades. The judges behind the medal matter; in the case of L.A. Spirits Awards, they’re the best in the biz — they’re also representative of the wonderfully diverse world that the alcohol industry has become.

“L.A. Spirits Awards is the friend you call when you’re looking for not just a new rye whiskey, for example, but the best new rye whiskey,” says L.A. Spirits Awards co-founder Joel Blum. Medals aren’t given out lightly, and the 20 impassioned judges, all experts in their respective fields, are known to go to bat for the spirits that they believe in.

“Winning an L.A. Spirits Awards medal has been a boon to our marketing,” says BHAKTA Spirits project manager John Lickteig. “Having the third-party validation and recommendation of a respected organization like L.A. Spirits Awards helps consumers know that what they’re getting in the bottle is of the utmost quality and that it’s not just us telling them so.” The brand received a Best Whiskey medal in 2023 for its 2013 Bourbon and a 2022 Gold medal for its limited-edition 50-year Armagnac.

For smaller distillers embarking on the seemingly Sisyphean task of gaining distribution and name recognition, L.A. Spirits Awards is a great place to start. The competition’s optional Insights program provides brands with feedback and commentary from the judges who have evaluated their entries, helping producers home in on what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, L.A. Spirits Awards offers resource matchmaking to help connect entrants to a range of critical industry services, from importing and distribution to public relations, legal resources, and more.

For the 2024 winners, a medal is just the beginning.

Best in Show Winners — L.A. Spirits Awards 2024

Best Vodka: Rocket Vodka

Founder Dariusz Paczuski created Rocket Vodka in homage to his father, a hobbyist distiller who created brandy using a makeshift still and apples from his backyard in Drammen, Norway. Rocket Vodka is American-made, created in small batches from a blend of California-grown Fuji and Golden Delicious apples. It emerges from the cask at an intense 95 percent ABV before being cut to its final 80 proof with mountain water from the Sierra Nevada. The result is a smooth and sippable vodka that offers the faintest hint of fruit on the nose and a satisfying finish.

Best Rum: Ten to One Caribbean White Rum

This exceptional rum from Ten To One has won L.A. Spirits Awards’ judges’ highest praises year after year. Well balanced with great citrus notes, the wonderful depth of this white rum is especially impressive considering it is unaged. The brand’s Trinidadian founder, Marc Farrell, created Ten To One in 2019 to challenge common expectations about rum and reinvigorate the way people taste, experience, and talk about the spirit. Farrell aims to depart from long-held notions of rum as a too-sweet, “spring break” spirit, and from the narrow themes of “pirates and plantations” that for so long have been the narratives of the U.S. rum industry.

Best Mezcal: Cutwater Spirits Mezcal Joven

Cutwater is perhaps best known for its many award-winning RTDs, but the brand’s agave spirits consistently impress L.A. Spirits Awards’ judges. This joven mezcal is made from wild Maguey Cenizo that is roasted in traditional volcanic rock-pit ovens and distilled in the rocky arid region of Durango, Mexico. Open fermentation allows the area’s wild yeasts to naturally inoculate the sweet agave mosto. Hints of smoke from the cooking process strike a beautiful balance with the mezcal’s deep agave flavors.

Best Bourbon: Uncle Nearest Single Barrel Whiskey, Batch 101

The Uncle Nearest distillery is a Black/women-owned business whose name pays homage to Nathan “Nearest” Green. Born into slavery, Green was hired out by his corporate owner to a local preacher for whom he distilled his popular whiskey and taught a young Jack Daniel the art of Tennessee whiskey. Uncle Nearest’s master blender is none other than Green’s great-great-granddaughter, Victoria Eady Butler, the latest in the long line of his talented whiskey-making descendants and the first Black female master blender in America. This Uncle Nearest expression offers a nuanced premium whiskey experience, bottled at 59.2 percent ABV, smooth as can be, and packed with flavor.

Best Rye and Best Whiskey: 15 STARS First West Straight Rye Whiskey, Batch 2-SSDD

15 STARS was founded by father-son duo Rick and Ricky Johnson and is named for the number of stars on the second U.S. flag — the 15th star representing the brand’s home state of Kentucky. Honoring the craftsmanship and tradition of early Kentucky distillers and combining it with innovative blending, aging, and finishing techniques, 15 STARS First West Rye whiskey is a blend of straight rye whiskeys from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This rye is a beautifully complex spirit. Toasted oak with hints of spice and dried fruit on the nose.  The spice continues and hits mid-palate with bold herbal and nutty notes. The sip ends with a long finish of citrus and layers of floral notes. It’s no wonder that this spirit wowed L.A. Spirits Awards’ judges to take home the honors of Best Rye Whiskey and Best Whiskey in show!

Best Single Malt Whisky:  Single Malt KANOSUKE

Kanosuke Distillery was named in honor of Kanosuke Komasa, grandfather of the distillery’s owner/CEO Yoshi Komasa and creator of Japan’s first cask-aged shochu, “Mellowed Kozuru,” released in 1957. This exceptional Japanese single malt is aged in ex-shochu American oak casks, lending an Eastern perfume not found in whisky from other regions of the world. The whisky is bold, fresh, and beautifully balanced and smooth. A delicious sip well worthy of L.A. Spirits Awards’ Best Single Malt Whisky title.

Best Flavored Whiskey: Dough Ball Cookie Dough Whiskey

Don’t laugh! There is a time, a place, and a consumer who loves a good flavored whiskey, and L.A. Spirits Awards’ judges aren’t too high and mighty to acknowledge that. Tasting exactly as its name suggests, Dough Ball Cookie Dough has a light nose of freshly baked cookies with hints of chocolate, rich butter, and sweet caramel on the palate. Fun for those who don’t take themselves too seriously.

Best Liqueur: New Deal Cascadia American Bitter Liqueur

New Deal Distillery began creating high-quality craft spirits in 2004 when its founder Tom Burkleaux and then-co-founder Matthew VanWinkle launched the company with the simplest and most humble of all business plans: Sell one bottle to one stranger off of a liquor store shelf. What was once the smallest licensed distillery in America now produces a more ambitious line of artisanal spirits, crafted from locally sourced natural and organic ingredients. A Pacific Northwest twist on traditional European herbal liqueurs, New Deal’s Cascadia American Bitter Liqueur is distilled from flora found in the Cascade Mountain Range: rose petals, wild lavender, and other carefully selected botanicals finished with a gentle maceration of gentian and angelica root. An inviting American twist on traditional European herbal liqueurs, this aromatic spirit offers layered bitter, floral, and herbal notes and a long, bittersweet finish.

Best Ready-to-Drink Cocktail: Horton Rum Mixed With Pineapple Soda

Founded by influential content creator Krista Horton, whose goal is to make diet-friendly RTD cocktails, Horton Ready-to-Drink Cocktails offers a line of coconut rum-based canned cocktails — and it’s their Pineapple Soda expression that particularly wowed L.A. Spirits Awards’ judges this year, securing the awards for Best Ready-to-Drink Cocktail. Made with smooth coconut rum and pineapple juice, this expression is crisp, refreshing, and perfectly carbonated. One judge commented, “I can picture myself on a fishing boat, with the sun on my skin, sipping this RTD.” 

Best Mixer: Rhoot Man Beverage Company — The Cucumber Shrub

Rhoot Man Beverage Company is the culmination of years of experience by founder Sidney Lance, a veteran Savannah-based bartender. A refreshing mixer that would pair perfectly with club soda, vodka, or gin for a particularly refreshing cocktail, the Cucumber Shrub delivers clean, bright notes derived from a fresh cucumber press. This shrub offers up notes of cucumber and lime on the nose; on the palate, strong fresh cucumber notes mingle with the distinct — but not overpowering — vinegar notes of the shrub.

Best Non-Alcoholic Spirit Alternative: Bark & Bitter Novara Aperitivo

Bark & Bitter was founded in 2019 by hospitality veteran Nick Nemeth, who holds the deep conviction that the enjoyment of cocktails needn’t be synonymous with alcohol consumption. Inspired by Nemeth’s love of the classic Negroni cocktail, the brand’s Novara Aperitivo is a complex, non-alcoholic alternative to the traditional Italian bitter aperitivo. With a base of non-alcoholic citrus distillate, it’s lightly sweetened and finished with eight aromatic herbs and botanicals, including quassia, rhubarb root, and bitter orange peel. Bright cherry bomb colored, with vibrant citrus on the nose, it’s totally appealing. On the palate, sweet and bitter notes balance themselves nicely. A proper Campari alternative for abstainers, this spirits alternative shows beautifully in a non-alcoholic cocktail.

Best Non-Alcoholic Ready-to-Drink: NoliQ Amaretto Sawa

Frustrated by the poor selection of alcohol-free drinks on the market, NoliQ’s founder Nyina Muigai set out to create her own line of healthy, alcohol-free cocktails, drawing inspiration from the rich culture of her Kenyan upbringing. This NA, vitamin-infused ready-to-drink offers an inviting marzipan and almond nose, with additional sweet almond along with creamy caramel, sweet maraschino cherry, and a touch of Amalfi lemon.

This article is sponsored by L.A. Spirits Awards.

The article Celebrate the Winning Bottles of the 2024 L.A. Spirits Awards appeared first on VinePair.

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