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How To Win a Spirits Competition: Insider Tips

Spirits Marketing

Key Highlights

  • Matching your spirit to the right competition can greatly increase your chances of winning.
  • Effectively utilizing awards in your marketing efforts can enhance your brand’s image and boost sales.
  • Participating in spirits competitions brings many benefits to your brand

Getting Started with Winning Spirits Competitions

Spirits competitions are not merely about showcasing products but also a great way to gain recognition and credibility within the liquor industry, as well as attract investors. Winning can significantly elevate your brand and open doors to new opportunities, including increased sales and visibility. To succeed, understanding the nuanced methodologies of judging and the strategic selection of competitions, as well as the importance of packaging, is crucial.

And a little disclaimer here: This article reflects my perspectives as a spirits marketer on how to win a spirits competition, based on my experiences attending various competitions and advising liquor brand clients on strategic competition participation. Areas like sample handling and production are not my main expertise, so this article won’t cover the production aspect.

The Importance of Spirits Competitions For Your Liquor Brand

Spirits competitions allow brands and producers to submit their products to be evaluated by expert panels. These events showcase the finest bottles and recognize excellence in the craft. The highly competitive nature of the industry means that winning a competition, such as the San Francisco World Spirits Competition or the Singapore World Spirits Competition, can substantially boost a brand’s market presence and reputation.

Whether you’re a small craft distillery or a well-established brand, participating in these international wine competitions provides valuable feedback and a benchmark against industry standards. Additionally, winning a competition can also open up opportunities for recognition and distribution of award-winning products.

Liquor store owners particularly value awards, as they can give brands a significant advantage in off-premise accounts, especially when trying to sell in. However, for on-premise accounts, the impact of awards on market penetration is not so huge. Your market penetration strategy will determine which ones and how many competitions you should enter.

Purpose of Joining a Competition

Joining a spirits competition serves several key purposes:

  • Satisfaction: The personal satisfaction from winning can boost your confidence as a distiller. (Nothing wrong with it!)
  • Credibility: Achieving recognition at a competition can serve as proof of your quality, moving beyond the endorsements of friends and family to impress investors and validate your status as a credible producer.
  • Marketing: In an industry with crowded shelves, an accolade can differentiate your product, enhancing its appeal and sales velocity through marketing tools like award neckers or shelf-talkers.
Host announcing the gold medal winners at a spirits competition, with participants eagerly awaiting results in the background.

Judging Process in a Spirits Competition

Each competition uses a different methodology. Some will have a blind tasting by a panel of experts, where each entry is assessed based on aroma, taste, balance, and finish. Knowing the types of judges and their approaches—whether they assess each product on its own or compare them side by side—can influence which ones you decide to participate in.

At the spirits competition, esteemed judges play a crucial role in evaluating the quality and craftsmanship of various spirits. Some weeks after your participation, winners have the opportunity to receive valuable feedback from these judges, gaining insight into the flavor profile and quality of your spirit. The esteemed judges, with their knowledge and discerning palates, contribute to shaping the modern spirits landscape and are highly respected in the industry.

Choosing the Right Competition for Your Distillery To Join

TCrafting exceptional spirits is just the first step; knowing how to win a spirits competition involves strategy too! The choice of competition is critical and should be informed by understanding the different judging methodologies and aligning your spirit with the right event.

Understanding the Different Methodologies for Judging Your Products

Competitions vary widely in their methodology:

  • Some, like the Whiskey Advocate, assess each sample on its own, which can benefit products with unique or subtle qualities.
  • Others, like the San Francisco Competition, conduct judgments in panels where spirits are compared directly against each other, favoring entries that stand out in direct comparison. In the San Francisco Competition, all the judging happens at once. Judges are looking at those products back-to-back and rating them. So it is said that products with a higher proof will do better when judges are flighting different samples.
  • At the American Craft Spirits Awards, participants are evaluated using a 100-point system, focusing on their overall, cohesive impression. So in this competition quality and smoothness are more important than adhering to a classic flavor profile for that category.
  • The IWSC whisky competition is a prestigious event where top-performing professionals and bartenders come together to judge the best spirits of the year. The judging panels evaluate various categories, including Whisky of the Year, Rum of the Year, and Gin of the Year. This competition provides a platform for emerging brands to showcase their quality products.

Selecting the Right Competition for Your Spirit

  • Consider the category you are entering and the nature of the competition. For unique or unconventional spirits, choose competitions known for their openness to innovation, such as the ADI International Spirits Competition.
  • For products with classic profiles, select competitions where traditional quality and craftsmanship are valued, such as San Francisco Spirits.

After You Win: What to Do Next to Keep the Momentum Going

  • Marketing Your Wins: Use your awards to enhance your brand’s credibility and visibility. Highlight these accolades in all marketing efforts, including social media, website, shelf-talkers, bottleneckers, etc. You can promote your awards on POS up to 2-3 years after you receive the accolade!
  • Leveraging Awards for Growth: Use the recognition to open new distribution channels and attract new customers. Awards can serve as a testament to quality and help negotiate better placement and visibility for your products.

How To Win a Spirits Competition

Participating in and winning competitions can transform your brand’s presence in the industry. By strategically choosing the right competitions, understanding the judging criteria, and effectively leveraging your wins, you can enhance your brand’s reputation and market position. Remember, each competition is an opportunity to showcase the quality and uniqueness of your product, so choose wisely and prepare thoroughly to maximize your success.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Benefits of Being an Entrant in Competitions?

Awards entries are a great way for liquor brands to showcase their best products and gain recognition in the industry. These competitions offer a platform for spirits producers to highlight their craftsmanship and innovation, ultimately helping consumers discover new and exceptional bottles. The awards not only celebrate excellence but also drive the industry forward by encouraging competition and continuous improvement in production techniques.

How Can Distilleries Tell Which Competitions Are Worth Entering?

When deciding which ones to enter, consider their methodology, judging panel, and the recognition they offer. Look for prestigious trophies and awards that align with your brand’s goals. Research the competition’s track record and subscribe to industry newsletters for updates on reputable awards.

Can Winning an Award Really Boost My Brand’s Image?

Yes, it can boost your brand’s image. It provides validation of your brand’s quality and craftsmanship, increasing consumer trust and confidence. It positions your brand as one of the best in the industry and may help attract investors. Winning awards can also attract attention from distributors, retailers, and consumers, helping you expand your reach and grow your brand’s reputation in the liquor industry.

How Often Should I Enter?

The frequency depends on your brand’s goals and resources. Some distilleries choose to enter multiple competitions throughout the year to maintain a consistent presence and increase their chances of winning. Others focus on strategic entries, targeting specific ones that align with their brand and offering. It’s important to strike a balance and allocate resources wisely to maximize your chances of winning and keep your brand in the spotlight.

Ready to promote your accolades? Contact Spirits Marketing today to leverage your achievements!

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