|4275 KM TREK!|
As most competitions of this nature go the judges are kept secret until the actual award date and the samples are tested blind (only numbers appear on the sample bottles when received). A detailed scoring sheet is given to each judge with a list of criteria and there is absolute radio silence during the process, going as far as ensuring the judges do not discuss any scores among themselves. As I picked up my box of samples mid November, I was a bit surprised at the size. When I put it down on the table and opened it I was truly in awe and almost immediately a bit overwhelmed as I began to count how many samples I would be reviewing.
I had 30 days to nose/sample and score almost 60 samples. WOW! I was extremely excited and started to plan how I would go about accomplishing this very large undertaking. I had done blind tastings before, but never like this! I set out and decided I would start by tackling a flight of 5 randomly chosen samples per night and give them an initial label of fail, poor, average, good, great or excellent. That took 12 days. Next level was to place the ones I thought were in the same category and put them in flights of five against each - another 12 days. Some changed groups either moving up or down whereas some stayed the same. Once I was convinced I had them in their proper groups I spent the next 7 days doing what I would consider speed rounds. 3 flights of 3 per day (nose/taste/spit/score) then a few randoms against each other as a final check. So if I thought one ranked an 85, then I went back to my list and compared it against something else that I had ranked an 85. Overall it was a tedious, long and in some cases very difficult job especially with "real life" always present and looming around. Once done and happy with my methodology and scores I sent off my results to the head judge and then waited...
It's funny the things that went through my head after that. Nervous/scared that I would make a fool out of myself; after all some of the judges had much more experience then I did and I was the new kid. What if I didn't know anything at all? What if my scores were way off compared to everyone else's? What if I was too harsh? Too generous? What if....? I thought of them all, worried and fretted. Why? Because I wanted to do well. Because deep down I needed to know that my nose is as good as I truly think it is. I started to compare myself to some people that appear on American Idol or Next big star who really "think" they can sing and come to find out they are completely tone deaf. OMG!? I was torturing myself... Back and forth. Then I simply let go. Whatever happened, would happen. I came to terms with it and realized that my nose is mine, my methodology works for me and that's what truly matters. End of story.
Christmas came, then the flu, then the new Year so it's not like I lost any sleep on finding out the results. A few days before the show I got "the email". Results were in and I sat staring at the unopened message on the screen sitting in my pj's drinking coffee. With one click, all would be revealed. Was I an idiot who couldn't sniff her way out of a paper bag soaked in Gibson's 18 or would I stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the judges? I scanned, looked across the spreadsheet and found my scores. The names were not stated, so we don't know who gave what scores but I was able to compare my scores against the other 7 judges. Elated, and relieved: I was ok. There were very few areas where I was all by myself on a whisky. One I noted I was almost 20 points below every other single judge and I know why. I really didn't like that type of flavor profile, and I never do in any whisky that uses that finish style. The rest, mostly, I was bang on or varied no more than 7 to 8 points away. So with total relief and pride that I survived and wouldn't be the laughing stock of the Canadian Whisky World, I was ready for Victoria.
The awards were very well organized and had a great turnout. It was truly an honor to meet the people behind the whiskies. True pride in their hard work and product was demonstrated every time one of them accepted an award or medal.
|John Hall accepting Whisky of the year for Portwood Release|
The dive into the deep end happened when I started receiving very negative comments on twitter and my facebook. I still can't believe some of the things people either tweeted to me directly or indirectly as to how the awards were practically bogus, fixed, not warranted or that everybody seemed to win something. I was a bit shocked that some of the comments were actually coming from people I would have considered "twitter friends". BIG sigh...
So try as I might to set the record straight for some nay-sayers:
1. NO JUDGES received any remuneration for doing this.
2. NO JUDGES had their trips paid out to Victoria for the awards or anything related to the festival.
3. NO JUDGES worked or represented industry or had any alliance with any distillery.
4. Samples were strictly kept secret, with nothing but a number on the bottle as an identifier.
5. Nobody contacted me and I spoke to none about what I thought or scored, not even after the competition or awards.
How is it then possible that some of these "awards" or "medals" are so questionable? I pondered how to handle this disappointment and what seemed like total disrespect from some people. Then I realized something. No other judge was saying anything to these people so what was I wasting my time for? Well because I'm a newbie that's why and I let the negative people get to me. I may have a decent nose when it comes to whiskies but I have a lot yet to learn related to the other stuff that comes with the responsibilities of doing something which is my opinion is very important, being a good judge. Canadian whisky is something to be proud of yet it's something most Canadians seem to be ignorant or ashamed of for some strange reason. "How can that whisky possibly win an award"? Really......... ???
Mark Gillespie from Whisky Cast said it best when we did the virtual panel with him on January 20th. Canadians seem to have an inferiority complex when it comes to whiskies made in their own country.
The virtual panel: http://www.whiskycast.com/files/WCVT/WCVT_0113.mp3
Correct, it's not bourbon or scotch and I for one am glad it's not. Canadian whisky stands apart and I'm truly an advocate of that. I had Canadian pride WAY before I was a judge (check this blog, Facebook or my twitter account), I especially had it during the Victoria Whisky Festival and I will have it FOR A LONG TIME TO COME. Regardless of being a judge or anything else for that matter. Canadian whisky is a passion of mine and if some choose to criticize instead of embrace they obviously don't see what I do. There it was, the wow moment. I "get it". I am a true whisky geek, aren't I? Not only is my nose in the right place, so is my heart. How refreshingly and wonderfully ironic suddenly :) **Lassie beamed! **
Being on the judging panel taught me that I had the capacity to accomplish this. It reinforced that I should have faith and pride in my ability to nose the delicate qualities in some of our unique and beautiful Canadian made whiskies. It allowed me the opportunity to stretch my boundaries and soar with some people I admire and very much respect: Davin de Kergommeaux (THE Canadian expert and a Malt Maniac), Lawrence Graham - Malt Maniac, Mark Gillespie - Icon of the whisky fabric, and the rest of the judges which I didn't get to meet but share a common bond with now.
The deep dive into the other stuff, well that's where the big lesson came. I know not to take these things too seriously in the future and that nay sayer's and "haters" as my daughter would say are going to believe whatever they want even if you tell them the absolute truth. I don't have anything to prove and in the long run my blog, my love and my passion for whisky will speak for itself. I'm a true whisky geek and now I have the proof. It was there all along I guess just needed to dive into the deep end to figure it out for myself. :)
I want to thank the Canadian Whisky Awards for entrusting me to be a judge this year. It truly was a wonderful way to finish 2012 as well as start 2013.
So, moving on... Where does the whisky road take me next.. Tune in and find out, Victoria Whisky Festival blog is next and that will be a "Dram-hoot-t-nanny". I'm pretty sure that's a word!
On the lovely, but freezing whisky trail (IT'S BLOODY WELL COLD HERE -23C with the windchill)...
I remain the lovely, passionate but wiser Whisky Lassie