SF Days 4-6 – ADI – Judging of Craft Spirits 2020

Last year I was relatively disciplined with writing posts each day. It was easy to find a little time on waking up or going to sleep and it’s really good for my head to help evaluate the experience.

This year it’s been very different. This year I’m returning to friends.

The ADI family are such a fantastic group of people, their knowledge and experience is just extraordinary. And, now I’ve got friends there, there is just too much to talk about and too much fun to be had geeking out over spirits.

So, the last few days have flown by and it’s time to catch you up.

Firstly, the ADI Judging of Craft Spirits was mindblowing, again. The standard of quality of the entries get’s better and better every year. Medalling is one thing, but the real value to the submitter is the feedback. The panels are organised to include a mix of industry types, from distillers, to media, bar owners and distributors. By doing this, the feedback is varied and the final judgement of score comes from all different angles. There is, in fact one of each of these making up each panel. So each spirit is equally covered by these types. Once we’ve scored, we talk. We discuss our score and feedback. Some spirits are quick to agree on, others take time. There was one spirit alone that took a thirty minute debate with several people to score. The integrity of the judges is something that I really prize. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s professional and the passion for the spirits being judged is second to none. I think you need this, because as the 2-3 days of flights comprise somewhere between 50-60 per person, you do need to love doing it to keep the detail of notes flowing until the end. It’s such a worthwhile and wholesome experience.

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Last year I focused on gin. This year I got to try my hand at all sorts of spirits! I tasted gin, barrel aged, whisky, rum, aquavit, crème liqueurs, all sorts! The education I gained from discussing these spirits was a lovely boost to my always growing expertise. That’s the thing with judging, especially at the competitions where the scores and opinions are discussed. It’s always an education. I firmly believe that even the best judges should be open to opinion. Sometimes you can be quite decided on something and then with someone else’s explanation you understand the spirit in a different way. As I like to say, there is always something new to learn, even when you think you know it all. And, it’s that ability to listen and reevaluate with more information that I think is a big factor of being a good judge. Sometimes it can get a little heated in these debates, and it’s important to respect the other judges and their opinions. Something I learnt last year that was a huge boost to my confidence, is that everyone’s opinion is valid at the table. We’re all there because the organisers see something in the way we judge spirits that they can get behind and even if you and someone else on the panel come from different directions, you can always talk it out and settle on a compromise.

The evenings were full of fun. The annual drinks and Uno night was amazing. Everyone chips in to a grazing table and drinks. A ten person game of Uno is quite the feisty experience and it is probably the best night of the bunch for good conversation with the crowd. I missed it last year but was honored to be a part of it this time round.

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The judges all worked together and made excellent progress through the first two days, so the third day was a lot easier and a few of us went for a walk along the seafront. The view of San Francisco and Golden Gate bridge was spectacular and sightings of sea lions and porpoises made my day. After popping into a great little thrift shop near the lodge, I hopped on into my first podcast, discussing RTD’s with industry greats David T Smith, Keli Rivers and the ‘man on the street’ Joe Barber. Eric Kozliks Modern Bar Cart is a fantastic show and if you’ve any interest in spirits I highly recommend you check out what he does here. He’s got a wealth of show’s covering all sorts of topics. I will also share a link to the RTD show once Eric has had a chance to edit out all of my faux pars, of which I’m sure there are plenty.

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Once we had a bite to eat, we judged the grand panel which is the best of the best, all the high medallers. At this stage, it’s a lot easier as we only need to decide on a top three as feedback has already been gathered in the previous round. That said, choosing between the high medallers is a tough choice, even when still in categories, and especially with gins where the spirits can be so very varied. Big plus for me, after we were finished I still had a bit of time to get in the pool and jacuzzi and enjoy some sunshine which I desperately needed to do seeing as I had left such miserable temperatures at home to be there.

The evening soiree was some next level stuff! Having access to try all of the entries is such a beautifully indulgent thing and the joy of recommending favourites and the shared enthusiasm is wonderful. The glorious reveal of the ‘opening of the spirit room’ was enhanced somewhat with the addition of karoke. Honestly, singing karoke with so many amazing people in a room of seven hundred and fifty odd bottles of spirit is one of the best experiences I’ve had in this industry. I thoroughly hope that this will be a regular thing. Please take note, ADI! It only finished a week ago and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Once again I was careful to stash some RTDs before bed, so once again I got to take a morning dip with a Bloody Mary. Now I’ve done that two years in a row, I’d like to say that it’s a tradition. So after full holiday mode sipping in the morning sun, it was time to head back to the city for some more adventures and drumroll please: to pick up my lost purse!

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