What does that gold medal on your single-malt really mean anyway?

It’s common today to see top-shelf bottles of booze brandishing medals, but is that all just marketing, or do these distinctions really mean something? Here’s the skinny.

Unlike the Olympics, in the world of fine spirits “gold doesn’t mean first place, silver doesn’t mean second place and bronze doesn’t mean third place. Most competitions give out multiple medals of all types in each category, ” Fred Minnick, long-time whiskey writer and judge of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, told Playboy.



“Because brands have to pay to enter, there’s a problem that if brands don’t get awards, they get mad. This leads to lots and lots of medals being given out,” Michael Neff, the manager of bar programs at both Manhattan’s Holiday Cocktail Lounge and Los Angeles’ Clifton’s Cafeteria, added.

Moreover, with a growing  number of alcohol competitions being established, it’s hard to know which one really matter.

Experts say that the best way to tell which organizations’ awards are most meaningful is to seek out competitions that take pride in selecting expert judges, such as ones that have those who have authored books about the spirits being judged. Another thing to look out for in a legit contest is how categories are subdivided. Lastly, a major red flag is too many awards — like if you see a dozen medals on a bottle and haven’t heard of any of the competitions.

Neff and Emil Jattne, co-founder of Brooklyn Gin. put the aforementioned San Francisco World Spirits Competition, New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, World Whiskies Awards, the American Distilling Institute, American Craft Spirits Association. and Ultimate Beverage Challenge on their lists of top competitions. Happy drinking.