So What's It Like Judging Whiskey, Anyway?

So What's It Like Judging Whiskey, Anyway?

I judge Whiskey for my job. I also judge cocktail competitions. It’s a rough life but somebody has to do it. Even though this is my everyday life it still surprises me when people ask me questions about what it’s like judging these competitions. So here goes:

Do You Get Really Drunk Doing This?

The short answer - not if you’re doing it right. Even in a Whiskey competition where you are judging dozens of samples it’s not like you’re just knocking back 40 shots or a dozen full cocktails. You would die that way.

To judge a Whiskey sample I only need the tiniest sip. I’m judging based on things like appearance and nose as well, so I don’t need to just sit there and drink and drink each sample. We also have spit buckets for this so if we need a larger taste we don’t have to swallow the whole thing.

There’s also the time factor - large scale judging is usually stretched out over the course of many hours with food breaks in between rounds.

How Do You Score?

Scoring is different for every competition. Most will give you criteria. For others it’s up to you.

When I judged the World Whiskies Awards in November in Washington, D.C. we had a particular set of criteria, including whether we thought this was something consumers would enjoy drinking.

Other competitions are looking for technical aspects of the distillation, such as whether it was aged enough, whether it was bottled at a good proof, and whether there was anything wrong such as mustiness.

Commence judging of the World Whiskies Awards!

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For cocktail competitions the criteria are usually less strict. What I’m generally looking for first is whether the cocktail basically adheres to its namesake - I had a lovely cocktail once with fresh pureed watermelon but unfortunately it was at a Mint Julep competition and there was nothing Mint Julep like about it.

Do Whiskey Competitions Really Mean Anything?

This one depends on who you are and who’s doing the judging. New craft distilleries have often found that entering their spirits into competitions that look for technical flaws is a great way to refine their process and improve the quality of their products.

Other competitions can help consumers choose a new product to try if they aren’t sure what to get because oftentimes a bottle will have accolades mentioned right on the label. Some people do find it useful, but others may think it is just a gimmick. It really depends on what information you are looking for.

How Can I Get A Job Like That?

This is where I like to remind people of that old adage: don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get here.

If you’re serious about wanting to do this for a living, you can always check out Steve Beal’s Whiskey Judging School coming up at Moonshine University. There you will learn the ins and outs of what to look for when nosing and tasting and you’ll have the necessary credentials to be able to throw your hat into the ring if you ever decide to turn pro.

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