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Gin Judging for The Peoples Drink Awards in London

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.

The Judging

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.

 

Peoples Drink Awards in London

 

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.

 

Peoples drink awards gin judging sheet

 

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.

 

Dublin City Gin

 

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.

 

Brighton Gin

 

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.

The Verdict

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.

 

New Gin menu launch at Laguna Bar in Park Plaza Cardiff

Last week I was lucky to be invited by Park Plaza to sample the new offerings from their gin menu in Laguna bar and restaurant.

I’ll be the first to admit I was a late convert to the juniper botanical blended spirit but it’s my new go to spirit of choice. The initial hesitation to gin stems from growing up in a pub and no I wasnít an alcoholic child but my grandparents have ran a pub for over 30 years and I’ve lived with them on and off over the years. The problem was the only option we had 15 years ago when I first probably tried it working my way through the top shelf after my shift behind the bar was Gordon’s, Schweppes tonic and a plastic lemon!

One try I had and it put me off until a chance encounter with a wine and gin cellar bar in Chester back last year when I was introduced to what present day craft gin had evolved into.

Since then I’ve attended a few master classes and the Gin Festival down the bay last year and left with a new found knowledge of the craft and history of the stuff from the talks and tasting sessions down in the vaults in Portland House and a book of pairings for the 150 odd gins they had on offer, which has acted as my bible since then.

The Gin Tasting Event

I’d been to Laguna for the Gentleman’s afternoon tea and tried the amazing Sunday lunch but I’d not been for a while to sample the Gins on offer although I have been stalking them on Twitter seeing the ever growing selection they have behind the bar.

Cardiff park plaza gin tasting with Adam

There was a good mix of other bloggers invited to the evening at the Park Plaza with what promised to be a journey the new gin menu sampling 5 of the Gins in the range. I was a bit too keen I think and turned up first so I was kindly offered a choice of any of the ginís from the menu before the tasting commenced and everyone else turned up.

The menu had good balance of familiar faces and some that had I’d heard of but not had the chance to try. I didn’t want to double up and test any on the tasting options we were going through so opted for a new gin the Aviation. The aviation cocktail is probably one of my fav gin cocktails so this was one of the other reasons. I’d not paired a Gin with elderflower previously so this was a pleasant change to my normal choices available.

park plaza gin tasting gin bottles

Our host for the evening was a lovely chap called Adam who was very knowledgeable on the Gins we were sampling, giving a brief history behind the distillery, tasting notes and suitable garnishes to enhance the botanicals.

The gins we got to sample on the night were:

  • Sipsmith
  • Brecon Gin
  • Opihr
  • Caorun
  • Monkey 47

Adam told us about some of the botanicals used in the gins with some having around 5 unique neutral flavours to the German Monkey 47 brand that you’ve guessed it had a whopping 47 botanicals and a cool 47%abv.

I’d tried Sipsmith neat, well watered down with vermouth in a Martini but not tried it with a tonic and garnish. I’ve got a bottle of Monkey 47 in the house too but with the price on it it’s only come out on one or two occasions and Iíve always had it with lime twist.

I was keen to try the Brecon Gin as it’s only one of a handful of Gins produced in Wales and comes from the Penderyn Whisky Distillery the guys behind my favourite Whisky the Penderyn Sherrywood.
Mwsh had ordered an Opihr down The Dock down the bay not long ago but it came with an almost cartoon like chilli the size of my arm, which left me in hysterics so I couldn’t take it seriously at the time but this time it came with a wedge of orange, which cut nicely through the spicy notes of the Gin.

Gin tasting Cardiff Park Plaza Caorunn with apple

The other Gin on my to do list was the Caorunn. I’d seen the uniquely shaped bottle many times but not had the pleasure of sampling it before then. I was surprised to see it garnished with an apple and tonic, which I had never seen before and it turned out to be my favourite pairing of the evening. I think I liked the fact the apple parted with subtle hints of the fruit instead of the sometimes overbearing bitterness and burning taste of the rind of citrus.

Not wanting us to fall flat on our faces by the end of the tasting Park Plaza kindly brought out some sharing plates of nibbles so we weren’t too much affected by the powerful effects of some of the Gin on offer. Olives, cornichons, cured meats and breads with dips a plenty accompanied by some perfectly perfumed spirits, I was now in my oils.

Gin tasting at Park Plaza Cardiff with bulldog gin

After the tasting had come to a close and I’d polished off the lions share of the mezze boards we were given the option of trying one more gin to finish off a great evening of tasting. One I’d seen many times especially spending the best part of the weekend in the Bulldog pub in Krakow the week before was Bulldog gin. The gin was palatable but I’d say it was probably my least favourite of the Gins I’d tried that night but it was up against some stiff competition.

The Verdict

I enjoyed the Caorun so much we went out on Saturday and picked up two bottles from Asda in the World Gin Day promotions they had on. Armed with the menu and tasting notes they gave us on the night to take away in a goody bag we paired a Botanist and Caorun with the recommendations from the menu that evening.

Gin goody bag from Cardiff Park Plaza

I think the new gin menu at Park Plaza is a great idea as it can be quite intimidating ordering gin for the first time not knowing what tonic and garnish to pair with it but the options on the menu have obviously been tried and tested many times before making the final cut on the menu.