Spirited Away


If you think covering the world of wine and spirits is fun, imagine going to work on a Saturday morning and tasting 16 vodkas before 10 a.m., followed by 14 flavored vodkas, then 13 white rums. This is my life . . .

I don’t do this every weekend, but last weekend the San Francisco World Spirits Competition took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Sansome St., and I was pressed into service. Run by Anthony Dias Blue, this is the largest spirits competition in the country with over 700 entrants coming from around the world. The judges came from all over the country, and it was great fun to be around luminaries like spirits writer F. Paul Pacult, Pegu Club owner Audrey Saunders, Master of Scotch Steve Beal, and SF bartender legends Julio Bermejo and Jacques Bezuidenhout.
At first, I have to say, I was slightly nauseated when I started to smell all those vodkas in front of me that early in the morning. Since I had been taken down with a harsh cold as well as jetlag, it had also been about a week since I’d had a drink. But once I got going, it was actually quite a good exercise to taste that many examples from the same category at one time. Since the judging is blind, differences in styles and production methods really become apparent. Later in the day, my group and I moved on to reposado tequilas, Tennessee whiskeys, and rye. Continuing on Sunday, we judged more vodka (by far the largest category) as well as Armagnac and fruit liqueurs (a rather unpleasant category).

On Sunday afternoon, after all the preliminary judging is done, the top spirits from each category are put together into a monster round of about 50 contestants. The quality was very high, and it was obvious that some of the spirits on the table could cost well over $100-$200 a bottle. When it came down to the best white and best brown spirits, the winners were from the same categories as the previous year: a gin and an Islay scotch. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the identities of the victors, as I had to leave before the names were revealed. But check the website (www.sfspiritscomp.com) in a few days and discover which spirits were crowned best in the world 2007 in San Francisco.

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