2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition: The Best Booze in the Biosphere?

First, you mint a coin in honor of ‘Dirty Jobs’—that enchanting cable TV show that finds host Mike Rowe up to his neck in manure, leeches, cucarachas or bull semen in the Discovery Channel equivalent of a ‘Stay in School, Kids’ campaign.

Then you flip the coin over.

Now you have some concept of what the judges at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition contend with.

This year, for the annual judging, thirty-three of the world’s most prestigious hooch hounds spirits experts huddled at the Hotel Nikko to sample more than a thousand liquors entered in such categories as Best Reposado Tequila,  Best Cream Liqueur, Best Extra-Aged Rum, Best Gin and Best Shōchū.

Best Shōchū?  That race may have been neck and neck, but how many necks could there have been?

The boozearama heralded competition is founded, chaired and Executive Directored by one of my favorite wine writers, Anthony Dias Blue.

Blue holding white

In 2011, it celebrated its eleventh anniversary, making it the oldest and biggest spirits competition on the planet. Entries represented 61 countries and six out of the seven continents—only Antarctica was missing since distilled whale blubber didn’t make the final cut.

Ziggy like bubbles more than stardust

Surely, if judges had been picked by virtue of quantity consumed, yours truly would have been confirmed Chief Justice.  As it was, the judges’ judges were apparently more concerned with quality consumed—thus, folks like Master Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, Wine & Spirits Editor Jordan Mackay, radio host and Countess of Cocktails Ziggy Eschliman, Meridith May, editor of The Tasting Panel and ‘Tequila Master’ Julio Bermejo landed coveted berths on the crunk cruise.

Me, I was overlooked as a junkst judge for the eleventh consecutive competition and had to hear about the results over a cheap can of beer and AOL, leaving me a sadder man Budweiser.

On to the winners…

In the event that you are getting tired of Five O’Clock Vodka, so named because they began production of your bottle at five o’clock yesterday afternoon, the 11th Annual Spirits Competition recommends that you tuck into a fifth of Alberta Pure Vodka ($18), awarded Best Vodka.  Oddly enough, the hooch hails not from Mother Russia but from Canada—one more nail in the Commie coffin.

  • Best Gin is Sloane’s Dry Gin from Netherlands ($40).  Best Rum? Tøz White Gold Rum, St. Lucia ($26).  Best Single Malt Whiskey is Caol Ila from Islay, Scotland ($60) and Best Pisco, that urinary-sounding slug from Peru, was bestowed upon ORO Pisco Italia Mosto Verde.
  • $160 will buy you Best Calvados—Christian Drouin Calvados Pays d’Auge 1990, and if you have another $160 left on your Bridge Card and can still stand, you can stop by Skeeter’s Liquor and Check Cashing and pick up a fifth of Best Armanac: Chateau de Laubade Armagnac 1981.
  • Suntory was the bomb! Oh, sorry bout that.

    Among the more esoteric categories was ‘Best Other Whisky’.  Envelope, please…?  Suntory The Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky  proving to the ‘Anything You Can Do, We Can Do Better’ Japanese that they might just have a point.

  • In another oddball category, Best Botanical Liqueur went to Luxardo Sambuca.  Luxardo was once the largest distillery in Italy until we blew it up during World War II.
  • Taking top honors as Distillery of the Year was Del Maguey of Mexico.  Importer of the Year was captured by Gemini Spirits & Wine of Chicago and Director’s Award was won by Pernod Ricard, New York.
  • Ah, yes.  Best Shōchū was awarded to Kai Young Coconut Shōchū from Vietnam—so now you know.

Overall, in 82 classification categories, 92 Double Gold Medals were awarded. Double Gold occurs when all judges on a panel agreed that the spirit was Gold, which immediately upgraded it to Double Gold status.

Sounds like the 11th Annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition was a smashing—if smashed—success.

BTW, it was quickly followed by the 11th annual San Francisco Aspirin and Over-The-Counter Analgesics Competition.


Complete results can be found at www.sfspiritscomp.com.

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