After seeing catching a glimpse of newsletter tittle mentioning Gin Judging, whilst scrolling through my 300 odd emails I get every day, I clicked through to find out more.
The peoples choice drinks awards were back for a second year, and looking for judges to help crown this year’s favourite. You had to submit an application detailing why you think you would be suitable so I thought what the hell.
I forgot all about it to be honest, but a few months later I had an email inviting me to the judging at a venue in Camden in London. It was a half day affair, requiring me to taste my way through up to 30 gins with the chance to take home some surplus supplies for the hardship too. RESULT!!
As luck would have it, the judging day happened to fall on the weekend of Albert Adria’s Cake and Bubbles opening in London too and I managed to get a table.
After arriving in Camden and finding the venue by 10.30am on a Saturday from Cardiff, I was feeling quite impressed with myself. I wasn’t alone and was joined by my partner (in crime) and fellow Cardiff Gin Club organiser to help prop me up, if I overindulged on the bountiful supply of potent aqua vitae.
There were around 20 of us tasked with finding today’s winner of the Peoples Choice Drinks award for the gin category. I would have been the only guy had one fellow judge not brought her husband on the trip to London and was squeezed in due to a no show. Not that I was that bothered.
We were divided into about 6 tables, given scoring cards and had a run through what was expected of us. There were two rounds of the scoring, one was the gin with the taste and what we thought of the actual liquid. The second round of scoring was based on the branding, bottle and back story.
Round 1 of gin judging
After being shown how to score the gin based on taste, mouthfeel, smell, clarity and mixabilty we dived straight in. Armed with a spitting device, we were told that we didn’t need to swallow the gin and should be able to taste and score just from swilling it around the mouth. The organisers were gin judges for a number of awards and said they sometimes go through over 100 gins in a day. Ok, that might be a challenge even for me, but 30, I’m sure I’ll be fine I thought.
We weren’t served full shots anyway, just tasters of about 1/4 of a shot. Also at our disposal were bottles of tonic to open up the flavours after the initial neat taste of the liquid and plain crackers to help neutralise the taste in our mouth between gins.
The pace was fast, with the first 6 coming in quick succession. We were sat with a couple from Brighton who we got on really well with and discussed what we thought of the gin’s and what we could taste. As fast as we could taste and decide on a score for each of the scoring area’s another one or another two gin’s appeared from nowhere.
After getting to about half way through and swallowing basically everything in sight, I started to get a head on and it started to hit me. Luckily we had a short 15 minute break in between to save my legs from going underneath me when we broke for the first part. After the quick pause in the sprint through the 30 gin’s, it was back at it at full speed.
The majority of the gin’s presented to us were more than palatable, there were only a handful of less desirable and one just downright nasty that came in a rose tinted colour. I swear it wasn’t just my distaste for fake pink gin, none of the table enjoyed it.
I was quite surprised how quickly a table of 4 would smash through a packet of plain crackers too. By the last 5 we were on 3mm x 3mm crumb ration each, but we all made it to the finishing line in one piece.
Breaking for lunch after the tasting was a very good idea to help soak up the juniper laced spirit and of course I noticed the pie, mash and jellied eels old school cafe on the trek from the underground to the venue.
Full up on meat pies, mash potato and liquor, I was ready to take on the second round of judging head on. Back at the venue, I only then realised they had none other than a Tiny Rebel tap take over going on. Well i’ll be damned! You can take the boy out of Cardiff but… Pint please bar tender.
Round 2 of gin judging
Everyone was definitely a bit more chatty after the first round of scoring that’s for sure. Next we were handed 4 bottles at a time so we could look at the branding on the bottles and a blurb on each of the distilleries about their back story including who they were, how they started, unique selling point and a bit about some of the key botanicals.
Again it was a bit fast paced and we weren’t given too much time to read over the back story before swapping with other tables. We did notice that some distilleries had submitted several varieties of their gin, in hope of one of them winning.
I was surprised having such a decent selection at home that we didn’t have more of the gin’s on show today. I had 3 of the masons gin’s but there was a new pear variety, which I was keen to try. I found flavour wise they were all quite high up on my scoring but for me on the day, my favourite gin was the Dublin City Gin.
We eventually found out that the nasty, chemical tasting and rose tinted gin was a new variety of one of our most popular Cardiff Gin Club pop up event gin’s. Bloom jasmine and rose. Uch a fi, sorry but I would not recommend that gin to anyone even if I’m not allowed to say. I cannot be held responsible for people wasting their money on that bunk.
After the scores were all handed in there was a kind of raffle going on, where one organiser would pick up a bottle of surplus gin and the other would call a name and we got to keep the bottle to take home. I could just see me coming home with that pink garbage but I was in luck. I got to take home last year’s winner, Brighton gin. Much to the dissatisfaction of my fellow table members who had travelled up from said town of the same name.
Llio also managed to bag a bottle of the sea side inspired Whitby gin and a half bottle of Shetland Reel Fire.
All in all, a very productive Saturday in work. A bit longer than my normal 1.5 mile bike journey to work, but all worth it in the end. I loved the experience of judging the gin’s and it was great to be involved in helping to promote some of the very good craft gin coming onto the market at the moment. I’m not sure if the awards is going to happen again this year, but if it does then I’d recommend it to anyone. Just take an extra packet of crackers, in case you run out half way through like us.
Then it was off to taste some cakes from the a pastry chef, voted the best in the world Albert Adria at Hotel Cafe Royal, before lugging our haul of gin back to the motherland.