Find happy hours and drink specials anywhere you are

By the Numbers: The Ultimate Spirits Challenge Takes Rating Booze Seriously

by Felicia D'Ambrosio on Mar 16, 2012 in Liquor
By the Numbers: The Ultimate Spirits Challenge Takes Rating Booze Seriously

Lined up dozens of bottles deep on white-draped banquet tables, the entries to this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge appeared like a boozehound’s survivalist fantasy. Consuming and rating this liquid goldmine were fourteen authors (David Wondrich), buyers (James Conley), journalists (Doug Frost, Jim Meehan), publicans (Julie Reiner, Tad Carducci) and consultants (Dale DeGroff) considered the top palates of the spirits biz.

This elite panel was assembled at Astor Center in New York City by judging chairman F. Paul Pacult, the editor of Spirits Journal and co-founder of the Ultimate Beverage Challenge, an organization that performs identical taste-offs for wine and cocktails. “Many of the supposed top spirits competitions are rife with judges that are, to be kind, out of their depth,” said Pacult. “Wine judges shouldn’t be evaluating reposado tequilas and single malt Scotch, period.”

Booze brands pay $395 per expression to enter their products into the voluntary competition, which evaluates gin, whiskey, tequila, rum, vodka, brandy and liqueurs.

Tasting totally blind, judges were presented with four- to six-glass flights of a class of spirits (aged rum, flavored vodka, anejo tequila, etc.), as well as still or sparkling mineral water, mild Meunster cheese, crackers and celery as palate cleansers. As some judges prefer a splash of beer as a palate refresher, glasses of Stella Artois were also close at hand.

Supporting the judging was a back-of-house team that co-chairman Sean Ludford deemed “more qualified to judge than most judges in other competitions.”  In order to keep the tasting totally blind and scrupulously organized, team leader Leo DeGroff (Dale's son) employed a system of bottle numbers, glass numbers and miles of blue painter’s tape to identify each sample in the flights, designed by spirits expert Sean Kenyon. “All the judges see are random numbers,” said the younger DeGroff.

Over five days, the hard-working panelists blind-tasted 220-250 spirits from each category, evaluating them on a 1 to 10 scale for visual, olfactory and gustatory quality. These number scores were averaged to create a final “hard score” out of 100 possible points, with any spirit rating 85 or above appearing in the UBC’s published results, complete with tasting notes and ratings from each individual judge. Following the first round of tasting, all spirits that scored 90-plus were tasted by different panels in a second round; the highest scoring products from the second round were tasted once again to identify finalists and the Chairman’s Trophy winners in each category.

Ensconced in their gallery, the judges sniffed, swirled, spat and made copious notes. They conferred over their glasses at times, re-tasting and eyeballing the mystery in each glass. Leo DeGroff sailed into the room, hoisting a tray heavy with shining brown spirits. His dad Dale paused in his notes to question his son on the timing of the next flight. “We’ve got it coming now,” replied Leo, just a bit exasperated. “And you’ve got crumbs all down your front.”  Even for the King and Prince of Cocktails, this boozy family business is hard work.

Check out all of this year's Chairman's Trophy winners, below.

Vodka – Unflavored
Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium

Vodka – Flavored
BAK’s Bison Grass Zubrowka

Gin
Plymouth

Genever
Bols Barrel Aged

Tequila – 100% Agave
Blanco: Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver
Reposado: Ambhar
Anjeo: Siete Leguas
Extra Anejo: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia

Mezcal
Del Maguey Vida Single Village

Rum
Appleton Estate Reserve

Rhum Agricole
Rhum J.M. White

Cachaca
INOX Original

Whisk(e)y – North America
American Whiskey: Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt
Bourbon: Blanton’s Single Barrel
Rye: Masterson’s
Tennessee Whiskey: George Dickel Barrel Select

Whiskey – Ireland
Blended: Midleton Barry Crockett
Irish Pot Still Whiskey: Redbreast Cask Strength 12 Years Old
Single Malt: Bushmills 16 Years Old

Whisky – Scotland
Blended Malt: Johnnie Walker Green Label
Blended: Buchanan’s Special Reserve 18 Years Old
Single Malt: Caol Ila 12 Years Old

Whisky – Canada
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel

Whisky – World
Japan: Yamazaki Single Malt 18 Years Old

Brandy
Armagnac: Delord 1978
Calvados: Calvados Drouin 25 Years Old
Cognac: Frapin Château Fontpinot XO
Grappa: Jacopo Poli Sarpa Barrique
Pisco: Pisco Porton

Liqueur
Green Chartreuse

Apertif
Lise Baccara Troussepinete Red

Photos by Felicia D'Ambrosio

Recent Articles
spacer

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
In Case You Had Forgotten, Drew Barrymore Tells Us How to Drink Wine

In Case You Had Forgotten, Drew Barrymore Tells Us How to Drink Wine

Back in April, Drew Barrymore sat down for an interview with Vogue about her latest rose from her wine company...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Aug 15, 2017
Things No One Asked For: Prosecco Donuts

Things No One Asked For: Prosecco Donuts

In case you were tired of drinking Prosecco the regular way, a New York bakery has introduced a new way to imbibe it: a Prosecco donut....read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Aug 8, 2017
Wed
Aug 23
Sat
Sep 9
Registration at The Prospect 
SPONSORED
Find happy hours and drink specials anywhere you are
Head to These D.C. Bars for National Rum Day, August 16

Head to These D.C. Bars for National Rum Day, August 16

National Rum Day falls on August 16, and to celebrate, we've pulled together a list of events and specials taking place throughout the month....read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Aug 8, 2017
This New York Winery is Producing a Rose-Inspired Gin

This New York Winery is Producing a Rose-Inspired Gin

Can't decide between a gin & tonic and a glass of rose? Thanks to Wolffer Estate Vineyard's newest gin release, you don't have to choose....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Aug 8, 2017
Since Humans Aren't Creative Enough, Robots May Be Naming Our Beers Soon

Since Humans Aren't Creative Enough, Robots May Be Naming Our Beers Soon

Research scientist Janelle Shane decided to take matters into her own hands - well actually, the hands of robo...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Aug 8, 2017
Here's Where You'll Be Celebrating National Rye Month in D.C.

Here's Where You'll Be Celebrating National Rye Month in D.C.

August marks the beginning of Rye Month, and there's no better way to celebrate the grain than by sipping on drinks that are made with it....read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Aug 1, 2017
Guillermo del Toro and Patron Tequila Collaboration Release

Guillermo del Toro and Patron Tequila Collaboration Release

Guillermo del Toro, Mexican writer, designer, and director for films such as Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy, is working with Patron Tequila on a new expr...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Aug 1, 2017
Things No One Asked For: The Wine Necklace

Things No One Asked For: The Wine Necklace

Drinking wine can be such a hassle. First, you have to hold the glass in your hand like some kind of animal. Then, if you want to do something with ...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Aug 1, 2017
Beer Brand Aurosa Makes Beer 'For Women,' Women Say They Already Have a Beer, and It's Called Beer

Beer Brand Aurosa Makes Beer 'For Women,' Women Say They Already Have a Beer, and It's Called Beer

Throw away your beer stash ladies, because a Czech beer company has made the only beer we will need. The compa...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Aug 1, 2017
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close