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Behind the Scenes of the 2012 SF World Spirits Competition

on 03/04/12 at 5:01 pm


At an industry event last year, I had a spirit rep get in my face and declare, “Those spirit competitions are bullshit!” The ironic thing is that this statement came after I told him that it was at the competition where I first tried his product and fell in love with it. From the outside, a competition like the San Francisco World Spirits Competition is a little like a black box (or even a whiskey barrel) – there isn’t a lot of visibility to what happens other than when the results are announced. This may lead to confusion or misunderstandings about these competitions, how they are run, and how things actually work with them.

The reality is that what happens inside that “black box” is quite fascinating and probably different than people might expect.

Come with me behind the scenes of the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competitionto see what actually happens behind those closed doors.

The first thing to understand is the submission process for the competition. The competition is open to all brands, spirit categories, and countries. For many years judges have evaluated Bijou, Cognac, Pisco, Gin, Vodka, Tequila, Rum and other spirits from around the world. This is truly a world spirits competition with submissions from all around the globe. The entries span a wide range of producers, from some of the biggest brands in the world to some of the smallest. The competition is also often a place where new spirits will debut. Last year American Harvest Vodka, Don Julio 70, and Bulleit Rye Bourbon all competed for medals before the products were even officially announced. A win at SF Spirits has the ability to significantly influence the trajectory of a spirit.

Brands, manufacturers, and suppliers enter the competition by paying a fee and sending in enough product to be evaluated. Entries are not tied to who does the most advertising, who is the biggest, or any other external factors. You pay your fee and you are in. This year over 1200 different spirits entered the competition, and each and every single one was individually evaluated.

Once all the entries are selected, a large volunteer team handles the massive logistical challenge of organizing and staging these spirits for judging. The scale of this task is mindblowing.


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