Last month, I had the privilege of judging the Illinois finals for the World Cocktail Cup. I was a last-minute add to the judging panel, as one of the judges was not able to attend. On the plus side, I got to hang out with some fun folks and taste lots of cocktails and comment on them. There were many drinks that I liked, and a few that I loved. On the minus side, I didn't get to cheer on my friends who were competing and watch all the action.
I did my best to not hear who was competing, nor what they were using in the drinks - I wanted to judge the drinks solely on their own merits. Unfortunately, this was not always possible - the competition was taking place in the next room, and there was no divider. Plus, we had our fantastic host for the evening, Serafin Alvarado, talking on a microphone and giving the full play-by-play.
As taste judges, we evaluated drinks based on appearance, aroma, taste and overall impression. The taste score had the highest weight, but all elements were important. There were also technical judges assessing each competitors performance on a variety of technical measures, and the scores were combined to determine a winner.
Appearances First: Garnishes
There were lots of creative garnishes, and a few were a bit over-the-top. Some of the judges responded quite negatively to the larger or more unusual garnishes, while a few really loved them - it was interesting to see how divergent the views were on garnishes. Garnishes were sometimes quite intricate, others simple and elegant, and a few were a bit strange.
The Taste: Drinks
The category for the cocktails was aperitif, which means they should be a before-dinner drink, to stimulate the appetite, and made with no more than 3/4 of an ounce of sweeteners. Many of the drinks were great contenders for the category, only a few were too sweet, or too heavy, for a before dinner libation. The event was sponsored by Pernod Ricard, so their products were used for base spirits in all cocktails. Many competitors used gin, while some chose cognac or rye whiskey. I think there may have been a vodka drink or two in there, but as I said I was trying not to listen, so I'm not sure.
One of my favorites was the first whiskey drink we tasted, but because it was the first whiskey drink and no other brown spirit based drinks had been tasted, some on the panel felt it was too heavy. Of course, once we tasted some of the other whiskey drinks, that one wasn't heavy at all. Unfortunately, as judges we were not allowed to go back and revisit scores after seeing the full spectrum of drinks, so what was done was done.
Here are shots of the drinks that I managed to photograph:
Competitor no. 19, DJ Love from Le Bar at Sofitel, won the day with a beautiful, tasty drink. Congratulations to DJ, who is off to San Francisco next month to compete in the WCC nationals. In the meantime, I think you might be able to try his drink if you stop by Le Bar.
And I'm going to have to go and find out who made the other drinks I loved so I can order them again - all I got was a sip (so as to be able to judge 20 cocktails), and I want more!