Did you know 2020′s best craft whiskey was made in Atlanta?

ASW’s Maris Otter single malt whiskey is rooted in beer. Contributed  by ASW Distillery

ASW’s Maris Otter single malt whiskey is rooted in beer. Contributed by ASW Distillery

As Atlanta’s ASW Distillery was creating and donating 1,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to local organizations during the pandemic last year, they also won two of the most coveted awards in whiskey.

ASW made the best craft whiskey in the world in 2020, according to the annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the oldest and largest competition of its kind in the U.S. and second-oldest in the world. Maris Otter single malt whiskey also brought home the 2020 Double Gold, an honor that the 40-plus judges agreed unanimously to bestow on the spirit.

“Obviously, there were more important things to worry about during the early part of the pandemic,” ASW CEO and co-founder Jim Chasteen said. Still, the awards were “something really cool that flew under the radar. According to the most coveted spirit competition in North America, the best craft whiskey in the world was not made in the bourbon basket of Kentucky, the craft hubs of Seattle, or Portland, or Brooklyn. It was not made at some 100-year-old monastery in Europe. It was made at our distillery in Atlanta.”

Part of ASW’s Ameireaganach series of single malts, Maris Otter is named for the two-row winter barley from which it is distilled. The biscuity heirloom malt is prized by craft brewers.

“I created Maris Otter single malt as an homage to my past as a brewer,” ASW Master Distiller Justin Manglitz said. He spent a decade brewing from his homebrew shop before joining the distillery. The malt is central to the world of British real ales, and it was a cornerstone of home brewers around the globe for many years.

“It is very rich, and results in a big malt backbone, with lots of complexity, but is basically never used for whiskey production, as it is comparatively expensive,” Manglitz said.

The whiskey goes through double copper pot distillation and ages in American white oak. Manglitz sources, seasons and hand-selects wood for barrel staves. It’s distilled like a Scotch, but it has the heart of a bourbon. It’s fruit-forward, with black cherry, golden raisin and toasted marshmallow on the nose. There is a slight sweetness on the palate, with hints of candied apple and cardamom. The finish is warm and long.

“After 20 years of whiskey-making, getting that recognition for my art felt like the culmination of my life’s work,” Manglitz said. His response? “I got busy making some more.”

Manglitz originally made eight barrels of Maris Otter single malt, but, because of demand, distilled more a couple of months ago. Those barrels will be ready in a few years.

There are fewer than 150 bottles left from last year. The spirit now is going for $300 per 750-milliliter bottle (54.2% alcohol by volume), and it is available at all three of the ASW tasting rooms, for purchase or for a dram in-house.

If $300 is not in your budget, there is a fun way to experience ASW’s other award-winning whiskies, as well as the local small-batch chocolate Xocolatl. The distillery’s chocolate and whisky tasting, at its Armour Drive location, is $50 for a flight of four whiskies paired with four single origin chocolates. During the tasting, you learn a lot about your own palate, guided by ASW’s new tasting room director, David Galloway.

“When it comes to pairing, there are two ways — you can go like with like, to bring out similarities, or go with contrasts,” Galloway said. This tasting does both, and bean-to-bar Xocolatl puts the same amount of care into the chocolate that Manglitz puts into ASW’s whiskey. By the way, the world’s best craft whiskey pairs best with Xocolatl’s Kilombero Valley, Tanzania 73%.

ASW Distillery has three locations: 199 Armour Drive, Atlanta; 900 Battery Ave. at the Battery Atlanta; and in the West End at 1000 White St., Atlanta. aswdistillery.com.

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