The 2023 L.A. Spirits Awards: A Competition for a Modern Industry

When it comes to the spirits industry, the only thing you can count on is that nothing stays the same for long. The constant release of new products and different trends emerging every time you refresh your feed puts spirits competitions in a unique position: How do you respond to a continuously shifting landscape? More so, how do you respond in a meaningful way?

L.A. Spirits Awards Team: Cecilia Loschin, Joel Blum, and Nicolette Teo. Photo Credit: Robiee Ziegler @TheBestDrinkEver.

L.A. Spirits Awards, which was founded in 2019, manages to do both. Joel Blum, a co-founder of the competition alongside Nicolette Teo, notes that the other major spirits competitions were often led by a homogenous group of judges. “The impression you get when you look out at a roomful of judges [at a competition like that] is that they’re all old white men,” Blum says. “And that’s just the way the industry — the old industry — was.”

It goes without saying that that’s not an accurate reflection of the modern spirits industry, an industry that’s alive with innovation, the convergence of cultures, and cutting-edge ideas. “When we went out to create this competition, our top priority was to find a judging panel that represents today’s spirits industry and not one that pulls from the standard,” he says.

L.A. Spirit Awards Judges Panel. See the full list of judges on L.A. Spirits Awards’ website. Photo credit: Teimur Aliev @TheBestDrinkEver.

For the 2023 competition, which took place June 26 and 27, L.A. Spirits Awards gathered 19 of the most well-respected tastemakers in the drinks field. With diversity in race, age, gender, and thought, as well as a tried-and-true judging process, entries were guaranteed a level playing field.

Some of the esteemed judges include Tiffanie Barriere, “the bartender’s bartender” and winner of the 2020 Tales of the Cocktails Dame of the Year Award; Raul Pool, a food and beverage industry veteran and major advocate for the ancestral cultivation of agave-based spirits; and Samara Davis, the founder of the Black Bourbon Society.

One of the judges, VinePair’s very own managing editor, Tim McKirdy, had this to say about the competition: “Having the opportunity to sample and evaluate an expansive selection of spirits is, in itself, always a great experience. But doing so alongside such a talented group of industry professionals makes it all the more enjoyable.”

How L.A. Spirits Awards Sets Itself Apart

Beyond assembling a squad of impressive judges, L.A. Spirits Awards showcases aspects of the drinks industry that other old-school competitions may turn their noses up at, like non-alcoholic (N.A.) beverages. “The N.A. panel is a differentiator for us, not because N.A. entries aren’t accepted at other competitions — they are — but because we have a judging panel dedicated exclusively to the category,” Blum says. In fact, they offer 25 distinct judging categories for N.A. submissions. “I like to think our judges celebrate modern developments in the spirits industry in a way that I’ve not witnessed in other judging panels,” he adds.

In addition to the N.A. panel, L.A. Spirits Awards this year began offering a brand new feedback program called Insights. The program, Blum notes, was inspired by entrants’ frequent requests for more comprehensive feedback than a medallion alone can provide. Participants who opt into the program receive an in-depth report containing expert observations about their products from L.A. Spirits Awards’ judges at a fraction of the cost of hiring an independent spirits consultant.

“I’d urge all producers who are considering entering the competition to sign up for the Insights feedback program — and I really can’t stress that enough,” McKirdy says. “Obviously, winning any kind of medal is a great achievement, but how good is that accolade without knowing why you’ve been awarded a Gold, Silver, Bronze, or Best in Show signifier? Having been a part of it, I know how valuable it would be to spirits producers, whether established or upstart craft brands.”

Photo credit: Teimur Aliev @TheBestDrinkEver.

More Than a Medal

For distillers and business owners, L.A. Spirits Awards go beyond simply judging a spirit. Though that Gold medallion of approval on a bottle may help sway someone browsing in a liquor store, the knowledge that it was awarded by a group of people who reflect the modern consumer makes it even more impactful. With innovations like the meticulously categorized N.A. panel and the ever-useful Insights feedback program, L.A. Spirits Awards has defined itself as a contemporary competition by the people, for the people.

Now on to what you’ve all been waiting for: Meet the winning bottles of the 2023 L.A. Spirits Awards.

Photo Credit: Robiee Ziegler @TheBestDrinkEver.

Best in Show — L.A. Spirits Awards 2023

Best Vodka 
Safi Artisanal Vodka
Texas, USA

Best Flavored Vodka 
Three Olives Vodka Orange
Indiana, USA

Best Gin 
Bareksten Botanical Gin
Bergen, Norway

Best Rum 
Ten To One Caribbean White Rum

Best Reposado Tequila 
Cazadores Reposado Tequila
Jalisco, Mexico

Best Tequila & Best Añejo Tequila
Cierto Reserve Collection Añejo Tequila
Jalisco, Mexico

Best Mezcal
Catedral de mi Padre Madre Cuishe Mezcal 
Oaxaca, Mexico

Best Agave Spirit 
Nocheluna Sotol 

Best Straight Bourbon 
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon 
Kentucky, USA

Best Small Batch Bourbon
Barrell Batch 035 Bourbon
Kentucky, USA

Best Whiskey, Best Bourbon & Best Single Barrel Bourbon
BHAKTA 2013 Bourbon
Indiana, USA

Best Tennessee Whiskey
Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey
Tennessee, USA

Best Rye Whiskey 
Sausalito Liquor Company Unsinkable Rye Whiskey

Best Canadian Whisky 
Crown Royal Noble Collection: Barley Edition Blended Canadian Whisky

Best North American Single Malt Whisky 
Glen Breton Rare 19 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
Nova Scotia, Canada

Best Single Malt Scotch 
Mortlach Distiller’s Dram 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch
Speyside, Scotland

Best Pisco 
Pisco Huamaní Torontel
Lima, Peru

Best Liqueur & Best Cream Liqueur 
RumChata Original

Best Ready-To-Drink Cocktail 
Cutwater Spirits White Russian
San Diego, USA

Best Cocktail Mix 
Q Mixers Spectacular Bloody Mary Mix
New York, USA

Best Non-Alcoholic Spirit Alternative 
Wilderton Botanical Spirits Bittersweet Aperitivo
Oregon, USA

Best Non-Alcoholic Ready-to-Drink Cocktail 
Tilden Lacewing Non-Alcoholic Cocktail

For a complete list of the winners, click here!

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