As bonafide gin lovers (proof of our love - we started the Craft Gin Club:-), the proposition of tasting 40 gins in one day was like discovering our Mecca - a real religious experience. Invited as part of a panel judging the Global Gin Masters competition, we jumped at the opportunity to contribute our knowledge of gin while also knowing that we would learn more about our favourite spirit that is undergoing a renaissance and revolution in the products that some distillers are making.
Overall, we learned just as much as we brought to the table and had great conversations with our fellow panelists. But as you might imagine, by the end of the day, 40 gins catches up with you. Here’s what it’s like to taste 40 different gins in one day.
How the tasting works
The Spirits Business, a trade publication for the industry and adjunct to the Drinks Business magazine, organised this particular tasting as the main judging event for its Global Masters series. Apart from Gin Masters, the publication holds similar competitions ranging from absinthe to tequila and Irish whiskey to Scotch whisky, all with the objective of selecting the finest spirit in each category, categories which are also split into subcategories.
The gin categories that we judged were:
- Premium (£10-£19.99)
- Super Premium (£20-£39.99)
- Ultra Premium (over £40)
- London Dry
- Old Tom
- Navy Strength
- Sloe gin
- Flavoured gin
Distillers could enter their gin in as many categories as they liked, for instance, London Dry and micro-distilleries if the gin fell into both categories.
The panel of judges ranked each gin on a score of 100 split into four different criteria:
- appearance (10 points possible)
- nose (20 points possible)
- palate (40 points possible)
- overall balance (30 points possible)
All of the tasting was blind and kicked off at the ungodly drinking hour of 10:00am. So let’s look a bit closer into what it’s like beginning to taste gins that early in the day.
What it’s like to taste 40 gins
Honestly, it’s amazing. As a judge, you get intimate with a wide variety of gins ranging from the pure, juniper-led London Dry to contemporary styles with more emphasis on citrus or floral and from gins that have a lot going on bursting with different scents and flavours to those that smell like cheap washing up liquid. The variety in one flight is incredible so if you’re looking for a crash course in the differences in your favourite spirit, this type of tasting will certainly educate though.
The best part is discussing each gin with your fellow judges. By smelling and tasting each sample separately and comparing them with others in the flight and talking about your thoughts with the other judges, you reach a consensus on what deserves to be a Master and which distillers should go back to the drawing board.
Since taste and preference are personal, you would think that different judges would have incredibly varied opinions of each gin. But even though there were a few samples to which the individuals on the panel gave very distinct notes, for the most part the judges agreed on the best, the mediocre and the poor - certainly a reassuring sign for those skeptical of these sorts of competitions.
As for how tasting 40 gins affects your bodily functions over the course of an entire day of sipping gin, you definitely feel it. You spit out the gin as opposed to swallowing it but some gets inevitably ingested and the mere fact that it’s in your mouth permeating your pores means that the alcohol gets into your system. In terms of effectiveness its’ kind of a cliff curve - gradually throughout the day your senses actually become more attuned to the activity and you are able to begin picking out more scents and flavours until, towards the end of the day, your palate and nose become corrupted, almost burned by the alcohol.
To avoid this from ruining the judging - and this worked to a large degree - categories such as sloe gins which is very distinct from other traditional styles were left to the end. This helped to mitigate any deterioration of your senses and to some degree perked them back up as you smell and taste completely different products.
Throughout the day you sip water to cleanse the palate, eat crackers and have a good, hearty lunch, all which help you from falling over when you rise from your chair. Still, by the end of the day, you’re fairly inebriated, definitely enough so that you should not be operating heavy machinery and enough that you become quite chatty. The next day you’re a bit sluggish too but not terribly hungover as if you’d gone out all night.
In conclusion, if you get the chance, we highly recommend participating in tastings such as this. If you’re new to gin, do so with a guide. If you’re a gin lover like we are, doing so with other gin lovers is a fabulous experience in that you get to share your thoughts. You will discover styles of gin you didn’t think you would enjoy and others that you hope you’ll never drink again. And that’s why we started the Craft Gin Club - to curate the ever-growing selection of gins help our members discover the best that are out there.