Gin Journey · Gin Reviews

Gin Judging (…for absolute beginners!)

So, on the 11th June I had the absolute honour of being a judge for The Gin Guide’s 2018 Gin awards…I’m still floating around in a haze of excitement and confusion about exactly how it happened, but the story goes something like this…I should also point out for those of your in a rush…this is one of my longer reads.

For those of you who haven’t heard of The Gin Guide, go check out their website and social media channels now, it’s seriously fab. Launched in 2015 by Paul Jackson, The Gin Guide set out with the aim of helping people discover new gins and ways to enjoy gin. Gin first caught Paul’s attention in 2013 when he was exploring London’s incredible range of cocktail bars. Gin and its range of servings instantly clicked with Paul and from then he focused his explorations on gin and gin cocktails, aiming to discover as many gins, distilleries and gin bars as possible.  The concept of The Gin Guide was to appeal not only to us, Joe Public, but also as a channel for gin producers, to gain honest and independent exposure for their products.  With a current following on Twitter of almost 11K and just over 35K on Instagram Paul must be doing something right!  It’s popularity with consumers and the way in which gin producers have embraced and benefitted from The Gin Guide have been something which Paul has found hugely rewarding and quite frankly, I’m not surprised at it’s success.  The Gin Guide Awards first took place in 2017. Between then and the 2018 Awards, new categorisations, new judging criteria and a new format has been established, along with much greater coverage and industry support.

I vividly remember discovering The Gin Guide in a google search, where I was directed towards the “Garnish Guide” section of the website.  I remember the elated feeling I had,  like I’d struck gold when I was still oh so ginnocent, looking for a garnish to pair with Copper House gin!  Thankfully their garnish guide is in alphabetical order and I didn’t have to search far for Adnams.  What really caught and captured my attention at this point was their caveat, which read…​

“Ultimately there is no ‘correct’ choice of garnish or ‘perfect serve’ and it comes down to your own preferences, so take this guide as a starting point and the beginning of your experiments on how to serve each gin!”

I knew from this point that The Gin Guide and I were gindred spirits (I’m getting all the gin puns into this one!) and I couldn’t quite believe my luck when in some series of blurred and rather fortunate online chats, Gin Obsessions was featured on The Gin Guide’s website.  I can’t even begin to explain just how excited I was that I had been referred to as a “Top Ginfluencer“…me?!? SERIOUSLY?!?! I was absolutely thrilled and may have told quite a few people and shamelessly brandished the article all over social media.

At the time Paul had mentioned something in a passing email about judging the Gin Guide Gin Awards 2018, which I obviously very eagerly showed interest for, but never actually believed anything would come of…oh how wrong I was!

I honestly couldn’t believe it when Paul contacted me earlier this year to ask if I wanted to be an actual judge for their Gin Awards 2018.  I have to admit, it took less than a moment for me to agree…I was perhaps a little to keen…but there was no way I was going to miss out on this opportunity.  It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when I was messaged with the date, venue and itinerary that I had a wee bit of a wobble…

Now, as you all know, I love my gin and I know a fair bit about it.  Definitely more than your average Joe, but I am by no means a fully fledged expert.  I have had no formal training, no one has educated me in tasting etiquette and I am most definitely not experienced in the world of judging…

“Oh my word, what have I done?”

It wasn’t actually until the day of the judging that I even confided in Hubby that I was in fact totally freaked out about the whole thing and ridiculously nervous.  His response…

“Bubby, you’ll be great.  You haven’t anything to worry about.  Just do what you normally do, you know how to taste gin!”

Do I?  Really?  I hadn’t got a clue anymore!  Thankfully the judging was being held in a pub not to far from me, and I had already met one of my fellow judges, the lovely Andy from Gin Rag but, I was still blinking nervous…and running late, ARGH, no time to fester on worry!!!

Long story short…too late I know…I got to the venue and out came all the nervous random chatter (oh and I find handshakes weird so I either wave at or hug people, it just got more awkward) as I met my fellow judges:

Paul from The Gin Guide (FINALLY we met in person)

Andy from Gin Rag (previously known thank goodness!)

Alex from Griffiths Brothers Gin

Rhys from Wayfinder Gin

We were in what felt like a huge room, with a massive table in the middle and tucked away in the corner was a white sheet which formed the silhouette of beautiful skyline, beneath it, the hidden bottles of gin which we were going to be sampling later on!  Our gin waiter for the evening was none other than Paul’s mum, who I ought to add was totally fabulous!

Our places were adorned with a style guide, scorecard guide, score sheets, a menu (food is a must!) napkins and a spittoon…we spit it out?!?!?!?  Who spits out gin?!?! Well, I must say I’m terribly grateful for my spittoon because she allowed me to wake up on Friday morning without a hangover and completely capable of classroom management!

Scorecard Guide

I was part of the team who would be judging the Contemporary Gins, which basically means, gins with identifiable juniper and non-traditional botanicals or profiles (e.g. bold floral, spice or herbal profiles) but excluding flavoured or fruit-led gins.  The score card guidance sheet outlined what we were to look for in each gin and a maximum total for each of the following categories; appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, finish and overall balance and appeal.  I read through my Scorecard Guide carefully taking it all in.  In all honesty mouthfeel was the section which got me and it was out of a maximum of 20 marks…what on earth is mouthfeel?!  Hey ho, it was bound to make sense once I’d started tasting…right?

A brief welcome and introduction from Paul and we were off, the first flights were brought to the table, and, still feeling nervous, the room fell silent and I set about the task at hand.

(I really don’t deal well with silence, I work in a classroom filled with 30 children all day, silence is pretty much an alien concept to me and it makes me quite uncomfortable.)

Scoring Card

Suddenly this scorecard seemed very daunting and I was thrown back to school and university exams, sat in large, unsettling, silent halls.  I was acutely aware that I was surrounded by people who really knew their stuff, there was only one thing for it.  Copy someone else’s score card answers.  Complete honesty.  There was absolutely no point in trying to be anything I wasn’t, everyone is different, therefore everyone’s tastebuds are different, therefore everyone will have a different experience tasting the same gin, therefore I couldn’t be wrong!

Deep breath and go…

It took me ages to get through my first flight, because I wanted my scores to be fair.  I kept going back for another look/smell/taste and changing my score, then looking/smelling/tasting again…and changing my scores again.  Once I got into the flow of things my confidence grew, (the silence broke thank goodness,) and we had some great conversations about various gins in each flight.  There are a few key botanicals which I am confident in identifying, but there were so many fascinating aromas and flavours, it truly was an eye opening and educating experience.

Some gins had wonderfully rich and full aromas, while their taste didn’t quite match and some were so delicately subtle on the nose, but packed a mouthful of flavour.  There were ones which I loved and became quite fascinated and obsessive about, and there were, of course, ones which most definitely weren’t to my taste at all.

I worked through five flights before it was time to go home, which is 25 gins…we did have a break for dinner!  I’m pretty sure I’ve never tasted so many gins in one sitting in my life and if I’m perfectly honest, my glass of soda water when I got home was a welcome change and arguably one of the most refreshing things that I’ve ever tasted.

A week or so later Paul got in touch to let me know the results were in.

“Hey Nat,

Hope you’re well! Thanks again for being involved in the judging for the Awards and you’ll have seen that a number of your highest scoring gins have scooped the top prizes!”
WOOOO HOOOO, I did good!!!  I was really interested to find out how my scoring had compared to the other far more experienced judges on the panel, so I messaged Paul back to ask…
Just out of interest, how did my scoring compare you guys?  I was acutely aware that I was coming at it from a different approach having had no formal training, so was a bit worried that I’d be way off the mark.
I guess there are no real right or wrong answers, as it is all down to personal preference, but I’d be interested to find out.
His response
Exactly, no right answers and I was really keen to not just have distillers because they taste gin differently to the way a consumer would, and that’s who the gins have to please. Our three sets of scores were actually pretty consistent and although we had different averages across all the gins, we largely scored the same gins higher or lower – so you were on point!

YAY!!! Needless to say I was over the moon.  What a fantastic experience the whole affair had been, a huge thanks to Paul for including me.  My confidence in tasting has certainly grown and while one part of me is really keen to go out and get some formal training in tasting, the other part quiet enjoys the naivety which I have.  I enjoy the fact that gin is my hobby and almost don’t want to spoil that by adding formality to it, I think I’ll be sticking with my consumer hat!

The Gin Guide are already looking forward to developing the awards further and continuing to celebrate the incredible quality and diversity in the industry in 2019.  I can’t wait to see what comes out on top next year.

Gin Obsessions logo

For a full listing of the Gin Award Winners 2018 just click on The Gin Guide logo below.

The Gin Guide Logo



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