Sonoma Trip 2014 Header Ad
Moletto Prosecco Header

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
Apparently The War On Drugs' Robbie Bennett and Dave Hartley Drink and Eat Just Like the Rest of Us
Rittenhouse Row Chefs to Host Four-Night Culinary Collective Dining Series, Aug. 4 - 7
Beam Suntory Expands Laphroaig Portfolio with the Rollout of Laphroaig Select
spacer
2 Gingers Below Features
From Around The Web

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:
 
Beam Suntory Expands Laphroaig Portfolio with the Rollout of Laphroaig Select

Beam Suntory Expands Laphroaig Portfolio with the Rollout of Laphroaig Select

Inspiration for Laphroaig Select comes from both American bourbon traditions and the history and family lineag...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jul 24, 2014
Join Us for Beers, Boats, & Fun at the Drink Philly Summer Boat Party, July 30

Join Us for Beers, Boats, & Fun at the Drink Philly Summer Boat Party, July 30

On Wednesday, July 30, prepare to hoist anchor for a three-hour tour of crazy proportions. We'll sail down the...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 8, 2014
SPONSORED
Perch Pub Brunch Rectangle
SugarHouse Expansion to Include Four New Restaurants

SugarHouse Expansion to Include Four New Restaurants

More restaurants, more parking and more gaming are on the way...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 23, 2014
Best Bars for Outdoor Drinking in Philadelphia

Best Bars for Outdoor Drinking in Philadelphia

Whether it's to enjoy the first warm breezes of spring or the summer's sunshine, Philadelphia is full of great places to drink in the great outdoors....read more ›

by Polly Math Apr 7, 2014
30 Places to Find the Best Philadelphia Brunch Cocktails

30 Places to Find the Best Philadelphia Brunch Cocktails

In Philadelphia, brunch isn't just a portmanteau, it's a religion....read more ›

by Polly Math Feb 10, 2014
'More Dinner-Friendly' Tria Coming to Fitler Square

'More Dinner-Friendly' Tria Coming to Fitler Square

The latest expansion will have a full kitchen and daily dinner service ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 23, 2014
Where to Celebrate Christmas in July in Philadelphia

Where to Celebrate Christmas in July in Philadelphia

It's almost kind of like the most wonderful time of the year, but a hell of a lot hotter...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 22, 2014
Black Powder Tavern Hosts Allagash Beer Dinner, Wed., July 23

Black Powder Tavern Hosts Allagash Beer Dinner, Wed., July 23

The Maine-based brewer is about to get schooled on Colonial-era history ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 22, 2014
Marcus Samuelsson, Martha Stewart and Other Big Names on Tap for Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival, July 25 - 27
by Drink NJ Shore Jul 22, 2014
SPONSORED
View all Articles

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

Close