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.

Philadelphia was represented by Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproductions’ line of heritage-inspired tipples,  Root, Snap and Rhuby. Competing in the liqueur category, they made a fine showing, with the springy Rhuby scoring an 89 (very good, strong recommendation) and Snap an 88.  Root came in at 81 (good, recommended) in the judges' estimation.

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:
 
Troegs Nugget Nectar Beer Now Available in Philadelphia

Troegs Nugget Nectar Beer Now Available in Philadelphia

If nothing else, 2017's beer scene is already off to a great start, with Troegs Independent Brewing Co. releasing its first batch of Nugget Nectar of ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jan 11, 2017
The Inventor of the Solo Cup Has Passed Away

The Inventor of the Solo Cup Has Passed Away

Robert L. Hulseman, who invented the infamous Solo cup present at countless frat parties, barbecues and tailgates, passed away on December 30, 2016 at...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jan 10, 2017
Female Brewers Have Teamed Up to Create a Charitable Anti-Trump Brew

Female Brewers Have Teamed Up to Create a Charitable Anti-Trump Brew

A group of six female badasses from breweries in Denver, Colorado have partnered to create a charitable beer j...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Jan 10, 2017
SPONSORED
Skybrunch Rectanlge Ad
A Swedish Brewery is Coming Out With a Shower Beer

A Swedish Brewery is Coming Out With a Shower Beer

After an absolutely dismal 2016, the new year is off to a wonderful start with a runner-up for greatest beer-related invention ever: Shower Beer. ...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Jan 10, 2017
New Tennessee Law Makes Way for High-Gravity Beers

New Tennessee Law Makes Way for High-Gravity Beers

Tennessee residents, rejoice: you can now pick up beers from your local grocery store with up to 10.1% alcohol - all the better to help put out the fl...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Jan 10, 2017
What Does the Philly Beverage Tax Mean for Drinkers?

What Does the Philly Beverage Tax Mean for Drinkers?

The beverage tax, passed in June of 2016, went into effect on Sunday, January 1. The tax adds a 1.5 cents per ounce cost to most drinks that contain s...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Jan 10, 2017
Snow Day Specials and Bars Open in Philadelphia

Snow Day Specials and Bars Open in Philadelphia

It's a snow day...sort of. Keep checking back, updates will be posted all day. ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jan 7, 2017
Dance, Drink & Celebrate 2017 at Continental Old City's New Year's Eve-Themed Industry Night, January 9

Dance, Drink & Celebrate 2017 at Continental Old City's New Year's Eve-Themed Industry Night, January 9

Make up for a so-so holiday by re-ringing in the New Year at Continental Old City's New Year's Eve-themed Indu...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jan 7, 2017
Kurant Cidery is Opening Up Shop in Fishtown

Kurant Cidery is Opening Up Shop in Fishtown

Fishtown's brewery boom just got even bigger thanks to a new tenant, Kurant Cider, which is moving in to 436 E Girard Ave. ...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Jan 6, 2017
Miller High Life, The Champagne of Beers, Now Has Champagne Bottles

Miller High Life, The Champagne of Beers, Now Has Champagne Bottles

Just in time for the New Year, Miller High Life, AKA 'The Champagne of Beers,' has recently launched full 750 ...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Jan 4, 2017
SPONSORED
View all Articles

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

Close