Opinion: A Judging Opinion

Other: Opinion

This week was all about judging competitions. The weekend started in the sunny surroundings of Puerto Rico, for the annual Taste of Rum festival. The event, in its 2nd year, heralds rums from all over the world’s largest exporting country to showcase them to a rum loving audience. I was invited to be one of the judges to determine the top Rum of Puerto Rico. All in all, the other 12 judges and I were forced to sip 50 rums over two days. An enjoyable task until the flavoured rum section. There are some decent flavoured rums out there, but believe me, there are more bad ones too….and especially when you have to try them neat….and at 10 am in the morning! The highlight of the tasting was the Don Q’s Grand Anejo. A soft subtle rum with hints of butterscotch, maple syrup, honey, orange peel, cocoa butter and sweet sherry aromas, with a warm palate of toffee, vanilla, dried summer fruits, raisins and chocolate. A blend of rums from 3 to 12 years, with a light medium finish. Worth the trip to alone.

After two days of sun, sea, sand and rum, it was back to the good old U.K. (for a day) to be one of the judges in Asahi’s Rising Stars competition.

  One of the most enjoyable parts of being a spirits ambassador is that I get to judge a few cocktail competitions every now and again. Now, I’m not saying that I’m an expert in the finer art of making cocktails for competitions, even though I’ve won a few comps in my time, but I am an expert in the fine art of drinking cocktails. But then aren’t we all cocktail experts in our own right? I know what type of drink I prefer, so as a judge those are the drinks that will impress me and score the most points. I try not to be influenced by fellow panel members and I hope that I don’t influence them too. For isn’t the reasoning behind having several judges, with different beliefs and palates, is that you’ll have a cross section of opinions culminating with the best all round drink? Maybe?

Over the last two months I have been fortunate to judge cocktail comps in Madrid and Barcelona for Diageo’s “World’s class”, as well as in sunny Cheltenham and even sunnier Manchester (yeah right) for last weeks Asahi event. With future competitions waiting in London & in Cuba, I should be in my element. The beauty of being a part of these events is that you get to taste some amazing drinks that are not only cutting edge, but demonstrate the expertise and craft of some of the world’s best bartenders. Alas as in most competitions, there can only be one winner. Which means there will be a few dashed hopes from the “also ran’s”. But one of the things I have learn over the years within this industry is that you have to turn a deaf ear to a judge or two when  it comes to cocktail competitions. Just because a panel of 3 or more people prefer one drink over another, doesn’t mean the losing drinks are any worst. In fact, if there were another panel of judges, with different palates, I would bet that most cocktail competition results would be slightly different. Wouldn’t it? I always like to remind some of the young bartenders that regardless of the result, the most important thing to remember was their goal to create a good drink. And don’t make losing a competition dissuade from being the best bartender you can be.  I once heard about three frogs racing to try and climb a mountain in front of thousands of people. “You’re only a frog. You can’t make it to the top”, shouted the crowd to the first frog. And sure enough the first frog failed to make it to the top. The second frog tried to climb the mountain too. Again the crowd bellowed, “You can’t make it, you’re just a frog”. And just like his predecessor, he succumbed to the taunts and gave up the race. But the third frog kept on going and going. “You can’t make it, you’re a little frog”, chanted the crowd, but the third frog still kept on going until he reached the top to claim his victory. What made him succeed, where the other two failed? He was deaf. F.R.O.G….Forever Remembering Our Goals.

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Ian Burrell

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