Shaken with foamy skim.
Apologia certatim iudicandum---which is Bad Schoolboy Latin for "an explanation of judging cocktail competitions".
I was asked recently, in a very serious and respectful “I would really like to know and understand” manner, why cocktail competition judges make the decisions they make.
Immediately on the heels of that question another person queried, “Yeah, why did you pick that cocktail as a winner and not the other one, because I think the other one tasted better.
Lots of answers to both those questions...although they are really the same question.
•The competition rules: every competition has its own set of rules which the judges agree to adhere to. Occasionally the judges may not like the parameters as stated or the specifications for judgment, but they are duty bound to follow those rules by agreement. In one competition judges were instructed to give a range of points to the bartender’s “je ne se quois”. How do you assign relative points to 'je ne sais quois"?
•What the judges are looking for---what they are tasked to look for---can be very different from what a consumer is looking for in a cocktail. It is not enough to say, “Wow, that tastes good so it should win.”
|Perfect gin martini with|
an exquisite simple garnish.
•Some questions judges may be asking:
--How easy would this drink be to make?
--How much preparation time would it take?
--How difficult would it be to source the ingredients?
--How much would the drink cost versus what a bar could charge---because bartenders are there to make a profit for the bar with their skills and their time.
|Dale DeGroff Jack Rose.|
One perfect rose petal.
Why they call him King Cocktail.
--Would you want to drink more than one of these?
--Would you order this drink if you saw it in front of someone else?
--Does the garnish fit the cocktail? Is it cumbersome or fussy? Is it appropriate? At one tiki-style competition a bartender plopped in an entire nosegay of pungent tropical flowers into the glass; the judges had to negotiate the shrubbery just to taste, and the flowers were so pungent they could not identify the base spirit being used.
--Can this cocktail be replicated? Could you make this drink faithfully at your bar, or at home,
|Wee bit over the top?|
And how would you drink it?
--How does the bartender look, and how does he present himself? (Personable, informative, knowledgeable, eye contact? )
--Does the bartender set up his space (mise en place) properly for efficiency? Does he come prepared? Does he react quickly and easily to unexpected problems? Does he have good technique. In short, does he appear to be professional, or is he making it up as he goes along?
|Too much garnish?|
Ah, but what if it is
a Pimm's Cup? (It is.)
•If the competition is brand-sponsored, does he use the brand to good effect? Every judge has experienced a drink where the sponsor brand wasn’t even evident in the finished cocktail. Don’t make a smoky/peaty Islay scotch cocktail in a gin sour competition. And for heaven’s sake, do not use the brand’s greatest competitor in the same drink: remember, if the cocktail wins it will be used in public relations and brands don’t care to advertise their major compeitors in their cocktails.
•Something often overlooked by competitors, who in their zeal strive to impress the judges by going over the top in their creations, is that a good judge is constantly looking not for extravagance but balance. A judge values harmony of ingredients over garish display almost every time.
•While most judges are chosen to be as non-partisan and independent as possible, and ideally should be people with great understanding of the industry, many aren’t. Those are chosen for their celebrity status (radio personality, sports star, local writer), and may or may not know anything about the spirits or cocktail business. But even those folks are given basic ground rules and scoring ranges so there is at least some discipline to the choice of winners. Plus, they’re usually sitting alongside an experienced judge just in case.
•And if you believe non-trade judges are critical, the professional United States Bartenders Guild member-bartenders that judge, and the USBG rules they are instructed to follow, are precise, highly detailed, and brutal. With USBG rules, even a well-designed cocktail may be deemed a loser because procedure and protocol weren’t followed or the bartender was slack and careless in some regard. They hold themselves to higher standards than non-bartenders do.
In any competition, it pretty much comes down to an aggregation of things that will eventually determine the winner. One thing for sure: it’s never a casual decision. The bartenders take it seriously; the judges take it just as seriously.
Three drinks are from a recent tequila exhibition in Portland:
|By Cori-Lynn Black. A tequila sour with|
floral notes. She used violet flavors, then garnished with
bitters and a single flower petal floating
on top of the egg white foam.
|From Sarah Rehman, the Dulce Brujeria.|
Sarah made a bright, crystalline yellow drink then enhanced it
by sprinking a small dash of Indian Saffron and letting the
tendrils of the spice add color and flavor and aroma.