When the Spirits International Prestige (SIP) Awards announced the results of its 2011 international spirits competition the owners and operators of Whistling Andy distillery, located on Montana Highway 35 just south of Bigfork, were given a pleasant surprise as they were the recipients of a platinum award for their Hibiscus Coconut Rum.
"For us to be seven months into production and win an international award is amazing," said Brian Anderson, who is one of the distillers at Whistling Andy.
The Bigfork microdistillery is one of six currently in operation in Montana, all of which opened in the last three years following the implication of new state laws.
Each business has its own take on making liquor, though, and each has its own product focus that sets it apart. For Whistling Andy, that distinction also now includes an award, as it is the only microdistillery in the state to earn an honor for its spirits.
"It feels wonderful to be the first Montana distillery to win an award," Anderson said. "It is a pretty cool accomplishment. Weíve always liked our spirits, but for us to win an award that shows that others like them too is pretty amazing."
The SIP Awards competition, which has been around for three years, is different than most in the industry. The judges are all consumers, who are not associated with the liquor industry, and all of the tasting is done blindly so judges arenít influenced by packaging, marketing, past experience or past awards.
On June 28, 73 judges gathered at the Vin de Syrah spirit and wine parlor in San Diego to taste 249 spirits from around the world and rate them on aroma, taste and finish.
The spirit in each category that receives the highest rating is named platinum-best in class. Those that follow receive platinum, gold, silver and bronze, respectively. Whistling Andy Hibiscus Coconut Rum earned its platinum in the Rum-Flavored-Infused category.
Seralles USA, a distillery out of Puerto Rico, won Best in Class in the category for its Donq Mojito.
"Itís nice to know that all of those massively long hours that we put in in the beginning all paid off," Anderson said. "We have a lot of product lines weíre working on, more than the other distilleries in the state, and so for us to get an award and the nice reviews we have had on our products, means a lot to us."
In addition to the award-winning rum, Whistling Andy distillers also make vodka, gin and moonshine (known as white whiskey), and will eventually have aged whiskey and dark rum available. Anderson said that they singled out the Hibiscus Coconut Rum as their product for competition, knowing they couldnít enter them all.
"That was the product that we really thought was unique and could definitely have a great chance to win," Anderson said.
It is also one of their most popular. Since receiving federal approval to sell the rum in May, the distillers have made eight batches of it, which fill about 400 to 500 bottles apiece. In fact, Anderson said it is their most popular product, accounting for about two-thirds of their sales, followed by vodka.
Anderson said that the success the rum is having is a result of the distilling method. They make a crystal rum with blackstrap molasses and unrefined cane sugar. After triple-distilling it, the rum is infused with dried hibiscus flowers they receive from a tea company in Jamaica and then has coconut added to it that has been spun to remove the particulates
"The dried hibiscus flowers that we steep our crystal rum in really accent all the floral notes that we already have in our crystal rum," Anderson said.
Even though the SIP Award competition results were received just last week, the honor is already helping Whistling Andy .
"The real wonderful thing about the award is that itís given us creditability on the national and international level as we look to distribute into Canada and more throughout the U.S.," Anderson said. "Distributors that were on the fence about whether to carry our product were calling us within 24 hours of us getting the award telling us that they want to carry our product."
Whistling Andy Hibiscus Coconut Rum is available at the distilleryís tasting room as well as in local liquor stores. Pricing starts at $24 for a 750 ml. bottle and $15 for a 375 ml. bottle.
For more information on Whistling Andy call 837-2620 or visit www.whistlingandy.com. For more information on the SIP Awards visit www.sipwards.com.