It’s pretty incredible, really, that two local distilleries brought home gold after the recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Sutler’s Spirit of Winston-Salem and Fainting Goat Spirits of Greensboro both won a gold medal for their gins, which have already garnered significant local appeal.
Sutler’s owner Scot Sanborn is thrilled.
“This is a big deal because it takes us to another level,” he said. “We’re not just another good local or North Carolina gin. We’re now a good [nationally known] gin and can compete on an international level.”
The competition, now in its 17th year, is one of the largest and most prestigious in the spirits industry. This year saw 2,100 entrants — the most in the event’s history — with many, if not all, spirits categories represented.
Unlike some other competitions, which offer a “pay-to-play thing where you pay [a certain amount of money] to get a medal,” Sanborn said, the San Francisco competition is “truly legitimate.” Judging is blind, and judges include restaurant owners, bartenders, booze writers and other industry professionals. Each rates the spirits on a 100-point scale.
To win gold, a spirit must earn an average score of 90-100 from the judges in that category. Spirits that earn at least 90 points from each judge win double gold. According to the competition’s website, a product that wins gold “is near the pinnacle of achievement. [It] sets the standard for its category.”
Andrew Norman, co-owner of and distiller at Fainting Goat Spirits, has been working on his 12-botanical Emulsion gin for three years.
“This gin is my baby,” he said. “I wanted to see what the best tasters in the world think of it and if they’re as proud of it as we are.”
Made in the New American style, with a light pine taste, cardamom overtones and floral additions like lavender, rose hips and chamomile, Emulsion came out just before Christmas; the distillery opened last September.
“Being six months old, we weren’t expecting much, so we’re incredibly stoked it ranked as high as it did,” he said.
At the Denver International Spirits Competition in March, Emulsion won silver, and Fainting Goat’s Tiny Cat vodka won gold. Norman is awaiting results from the New York International Spirits Competition, at which point the distillery will officially announce its awards on social media.
Fresh from Asheville Cocktail Week, Sanborn said the gold medal that Sutler’s gin won generated “a bit of buzz” among bartenders and others.
The gin, a “unique hybrid between American dry and London gin,” has been on the market for a little more than two years. It incorporates, among other things, coriander, dill, Angelica root, lemon peel and bitter orange peel, giving it a more citrusy flavor and making it distinct from Emulsion. The recent win won’t change the award-winning design of the black ceramic bottle, although the distillery is planning to put a hang tag on the bottle neck to inform consumers of the prize.
The gin is Sutler’s only product currently on the market, and Fainting Goat has so far released only its gin and vodka.
But both distilleries are working on other spirits. Fainting Goat’s three whiskies — single malt, rye and bourbon — are barrel aging. In the meantime, Norman is working on an Amaro liqueur that he intends to craft with feedback from the Triad Beverage Alliance.
Sutler’s distiller Tim Nolan has put rum in barrels, although “it probably won’t be out for another year,” Sanborn said. Nolan is also “working on a few different experiments,” but may have to turn his attention back to gin because, as Sanborn said, “it’s the best-selling North-Carolina-made gin right now.”