WSWA: What’s it like to Judge 100+ Spirits

score sheets

score sheets

When Tasting Panel Magazine asked me to judge spirits at this year’s Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, I of course agreed right away. I had wondered how spirits were awarded double gold, gold and silver medals in the previous years I attended WSWA and now I got first hand experience. I felt qualified having judged cocktail contests, traveled to cocktail conventions and attended classes and tastings.

After a good breakfast, the judges marched in and got to work. We had been divided in panels of three for spirits and my panel was asked to tackle 7 rounds before tasting the selected double golds. We were doing so well they gave us another couple of rounds. I tasted everything from vodkas, rums, mezcal, flavored spirits and more. We took breaks as needed, drank plenty of water and there were snacks plus lunch.

We tasted everything blind. Sometimes we are given information such as how long it’s been aged or where it’s from. But mostly we made educated guesses. We do know the products are all being shown at WSWA but I hadn’t had time to look at the show floor so I didn’t know who was at the show.

creamy liqueurs

creamy liqueurs

My panel got off relatively easy on the flavored stuff. I felt almost pity for the panel that had to taste the 15 flavored creamy liqueurs. But they had the last laugh on us as they selected four for double gold. The other two on my panel included a local bar manager and a national whisky ambassador. We made a good team and I felt we awarded the spirits fairly.

Once every panel is done, we tasted the double golds together. The brands have already won their double gold but now we’re handing out such awards as best vodka, best white spirit, best aged spirit, etc.

spirits that garnered double gold / gold medals

spirits that garnered double gold / gold medals

After those awards were handed out, we were allowed to look at what we tasted. Some surprised us like the best vodka came in a novelty bottling — in a hockey stick from Canada!

wine, lots of wine

wine, lots of wine

I talked to a wine judge afterward and he shuddered at the wine based cocktails they had to taste. I told him at least he didn’t get the hemp flavored vodka (which won double gold, by the way). I’ll have to make a deal to get some vermouth from the wine judges to go with whiskey we tasted next time… on the fly mixology?

Everyone is proud of their medals and it’s very helpful when courting distributors to say you’ve won a double gold at WSWA.

medals on display

winners on display

In the end, I tasted over 100 spirits and my sense of smell and palate were blown. But would I do it again? Oh yes. It was enlightening and a great experience.

Related Posts:

2015 Coverage

2014 Coverage

2013 Coverage

Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America

© The Minty  2015