West Fork Whiskey and Old 55 Distillery Grab Many Medals for Indiana at International Whiskey Competition

West Fork Whiskey and Old 55 Distillery Grab Many Medals for Indiana at International Whiskey Competition

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

It doesn’t matter what your alcohol of choice is, Indiana is home to some of the best producers in the nation. It’s no secret that Indiana craft brewers are recognized around the country for all the medals that they have won. We write about them all the time. Newer to our coverage is Indiana wines and artisan spirits, but it turns out that they are no less accomplished than the brewers when it comes to national and international competitions.

The latest example is the International Whiskey Competition, judged over the span of June 10-14 in Estes Park, CO. This tenth edition of the competition was affected by Covid-19 like everything else – judging was moved to June from the original May dates and to Colorado from Las Vegas. Indiana’s own Ron Smith was one of the judges for the competition, but all judging was blinded, so even if he was inclined to give Indiana an advantage (he wouldn’t) he couldn’t have. Ron told me that this competition has a unique judging process, with the single presentations at a time, no discussion of any products, and minimum scores required for medals. This means that any medal won is a medal justly deserved.

This competition focuses only on whiskies, and the entrants are presented to the judges one at a time for judging, so medals are coveted and recognized as very important. For three Indiana distilleries to come home with medals is an accomplishment and deserves recognition. Ron Smith said, “I am very excited about how well Old 55 and West Fork/Old Hamer performed in this prestigious competition.  We have a lot of history of whiskey making here in Indiana, from providing the corn for much of the Bourbon made in Kentucky, to MGP making much of the World’s Rye Whiskey and private labeled Bourbon, and now our craft distilleries are starting to show their capabilities to compete on a world class level.  Really exciting for those distilleries, as well as the whole Indiana distilling community, including Sugar Creek Malt that provided the malt for what is now the Best American Single Malt!  Such great recognition for everyone involved and all their hard work.”

West Forke Whiskey brought five medals back to Indiana. image credit: West Fork Whiskey

There were a dozen categories in which Indiana distilleries were eligible to win medals, and the state’s distilleries won medals in five of them. One big winner was Indianapolis’ West Fork Whiskey (1660 Bellefontaine Ave.). They took home five medals in total, including:

  •   Best Microdistillery Whiskey – 1st place, Old Hamer Cask Strength
    • Best Cask Strength Bourbon – 2nd place, Old Hamer Cask Strength (90.9 points)
    • Best American Rye Whiskey – 2nd place, Old Hamer Rye Cask Strength
    • Best American Rye Whiskey – 3rd place, Old Hamer Rye 90 Proof
    • Best Indiana Whiskey – 1st place, Old Hamer Cask Strength

For those of us who are now learning more about whiskies, cask strength means that the whiskey hasn’t been diluted. Usually, whiskies are drawn from the cask and then diluted to a standard proof. However, with cask strength whiskies, whatever the proof is when it comes out of the cask, that is what it is bottled out. Needless to say, they can pack a flavorful punch. The other term shown above that could be explained is the definition of a microdistillery. For the purposes of this competition, a microdistilled whiskey is anything under 150,000 bottles. With West Fork’s gold in this category and Old 55 Distillery’s silver and bronze – Indiana produced a clean sweep in the category! Old Hamer is produced by MGP in Lawrenceburg for West Fork, but since it is produced in small enough quantities to be considered a microdistillery product.

Blake Jones, co-founder of West Fork Whiskey, told me about how they see the medals as a sign that they are getting where they want to go in artisan distilling. He said, “At West Fork, we say we are hell-bent on creating great, Indiana-esque whiskey. It’s what we are in business to do. The recent awards from the International Whisky Competition are testaments that we are beginning to fulfill that mission. Our hope is that this is just a start of things to come as we develop our whiskeys further. But right now, everybody at the distillery just feels great seeing our Old Hamer brands recognized on such a large scale.”

Old 55 makes great products, including one of the the only 100% sweet corn bourbon whiskies anywhere, with the sweet corn grown right there on the family farm. image credit Old55 Distillery

Another great performance was put in by Old 55 Distillery in Newtown (311 E. Washington St.). They won four medals at the competition, including:

  •   Best American Single Malt – 1st place, Old 55 Single Barrel American Single Malt (87.4 pts)
    • Best Microdistillery Whiskey – 2nd Place, Old 55 Single Barrel Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond (87.7 pts)
    • Best Microdistillery Whiskey – 3rd Place, Old 55 Single Barrel American Single Malt (87.4 pts)
    • Best Indiana Whiskey– 3rd Place, Old 55 Single Barrel Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond (87.7 pts)

Again for us learners, bottled-in-bond means that several rigorous standards are set for the product. It must be packaged at exactly 100 proof, it must be aged for at least four years, it must be produced by a single distillery in a single year, and it must be aged in a bonded warehouse. Overall, it is meant to tie the product to a single locality and emphasize the terroir (characteristics of a single place) of the whiskey.

Jason Fruits, co-owner and distiller at Old 55 Distillery told me, “The family and I are blown away to have our Single Malt named the best in America for 2020.  This is a very heavy Scotch and peated whiskey competition and to be named the best among the group of competitors is amazing!  We just released our Bottled-in-Bond Single Barrel a couple weeks ago.  We knew it was an incredible spirit and one of the first estate-produced single barrel bottled-in-bond bourbons on the planet.  However, to win 2nd place in the microdistillery division and 3rd place in Indiana Bourbon category is superb!  The family and I can’t thank our fans and customers enough and know that we plan on continuing to make the best family farm to bottle Bourbons on the planet.  We would also like to thank Sugar Creek Malting Company and the Michalke family for making the best malts on the planet right here in Indiana. Cheers!”

The one other medal taken by an Indiana distillery was a 2nd place for best Indiana whiskey by the Remus Repeal Reserve Series III (90.1 pts) from the George Remus Bourbon label in Lawrenceburg, IN. You can find all the results from the International Whiskey Competition here. Congratulations to all the winners and be sure to get out and support your local Indiana artisan distillers.

banner image credit: International Whiskey Competition

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