Overwhelmed by the sheer number of spirits at your local liquor store? Need some advice on your next purchase? Take a cue from the judges at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge! Every year, the cream of the crop in spirits reviewers from around the globe gather in New York for the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, held at the Astor Center. The four-day tasting session which began on Tuesday (with set up over last weekend into Monday) includes 15 esteemed judges tasting spirits from around the world. Entries were open to all spirits at a cost of $425 each, and were submitted earlier this year.
Judges include F. Paul Pacult, Sean Ludford, Jacques Bezuidenhout, Tad Carducci, James Conley, Dale Degroff, Jim Meehan, Dan Nicolaescu, Steven Olson, Julie Reiner, Jack Robertiello, Andy Seymour, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Katie Stipe and David Wondrich. Every day, each judge tastes about 60-70 different spirits, scoring on categories like aroma, taste, finish and more. Palate cleansers are everywhere, from cucumber to celery to cheese to crackers. The judges all remain in one room while set up happens in another to ensure that each spirit is tasted blindly. The spirits are poured in clear glasses, and each judge scores on his or her own. The results are then averaged judged again. “We want this to be as fair as possible,” says Co-Chairman of Judging Sean Ludford. Sean also notes that rotating the spirits is key. “Judges have to adjust their olfactory senses and mind. We need to be cognizant of the order spirits are tasted in. Once you go to certain places with your palate (for example with absinthe), you can’t go back.”
This year, the judges will be reviewing roughly 650 bottles. Results will be announced on March 21st. All scores above 80 will be shown, with tasting notes available for all scores above 85. Additionally, all bottles that are sold at Astor Wines and Spirits will show an icon next to the score for easy purchase. A Chairman’s Trophy will be awarded to one brand per category, with a special award and presentation at Keen’s Steakhouse on October 7th.
Will your favorite spirit be scored well? Keep a look out at the website for the results! Cheers!
* Thank you to Manuela Savona for the invite and tour of the competition!