As a rule, Pittsburgh is a fiercely proud and independent city, one that doesn’t need outsiders patting us on the head and telling us we did a good job. That said, everyone likes a shiny trophy. And at the recent American Craft Spirit Awards, Pittsburgh’s distillers brought home quite a few — including the biggest award of the night.
The competition, which took place in Chicago earlier this month, is organized by the American Craft Spirit Association, a nonprofit trade group that advocates for small distilleries. Now in its third year, the competition saw the highest number of entrants yet, with nearly 450 spirits from across the country vying for top marks.
For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh cleaned up. Disobedient Spirits, a new distillery in Homer City, won several medals, including a gold for its Blue Corn Vodka. Wigle Whiskey earned medals in several categories, too, as well as Best in Category awards for both its Barrel Rested Ginever and Straight Wheat Whiskey. But the biggest win of the night went to Maggie’s Farm. Along with picking up several medals and a Best in Class distinction, distiller and owner Tim Russell snagged the Best of Show award with his Single Barrel Rum.
This means that a funky, complex rum won out over hundreds of more approachable and neatly categorized spirits. It also means that a rum made in a modest copper-pot still in a wholly unassuming Strip District warehouse bested bigger, better-known craft distilleries from bigger, better-known cities.
The win not only testifies to the talent of Russell and his team, it signals that American craft distilling is maturing. American drinkers are ready for spirits with character. We are ready for spirits that challenge and surprise, that move beyond sweet, smooth bourbon and tasteless vodka. And though we might not need the validation, the ACSA results confirm that Pittsburgh is leading the way in the next wave of American distilling.