This past Thursday I completed a four-hours stint judging gins and vodkas on the Canadian panel for the World Drinks Awards. In company with experienced hands, we took on a group of about 50 spirits overall (gins and vodkas together).
The gins covered categories such as London Dry, Old Tom, Contemporary, Flavoured, Matured, Genever. See the WDA website for further information how the Awards work for beer, gin, vodka, and whisky. Whisky was also judged that day at a separate table.
It sounds daunting, and good concentration is required, but one takes small drops and I doubt I consumed more than two drinks over the session. With regular sips of water and munching on the traditional crackers, each spirit got a fair assessment in both nose and taste. Of course taken into account was the fact that the spirits would often be consumed in a mixed drink or cocktail. A vodka infused with peppers would be ideal for a Bloody Mary or Caesar, say.
The overall quality was excellent. There were few dull or sub-par spirits in my opinion. I rated most as very decent and some superlative. There was a welcome variety of tastes and often some innovative approaches that left me frankly impressed.
Based on this tasting, even as compared to last year’s in which I also judged, craft distillers, who supplied the bulk of the entries, have a good future. Their main challenge, in my view again, is not what they make but how to bring the products to greater notice in an environment often characterized by high taxes and complex regulations.
This Round will be followed by Rounds to determine best of national class, then best in the class internationally, then best overall, gin and vodka separately of course.
Kudos to panel chair Steve Beaumont (the well-known drinks and travel author), to WDA staff, and Maitre D’ Joseph of Via Allegro that hosted the tasting. Via Allegro is a landmark Toronto restaurant known for its first-rate Italian kitchen and extensive cellar extending to whiskies and spirits of all kinds. The hospitality and service were non-pareil.