From San Francisco To Your Cocktail Cabinet

Whether you’re a seasoned spirit drinker or want to confidently flick through more pages of the drinks menu — the San Francisco World Spirit Competition has just made it easier for you to pick a winner. Here’s what happens at the event, and how the best spirits from around the globe are crowned.  

San Francisco: the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, Mrs. Doubtfire and one of the oldest spirits competitions in North America. If you’re a spirits devotee you might’ve heard of the San Francisco World Spirit Competition (or, as some call it, ‘The Oscars of Booze’) — and if you’ve never heard of it and tune into the actual Oscars instead, you’re about to get schooled on spirits (and impress all your whisky-drinking mates).

Line up of glassware filled with Whisky on a brown bar from Starward Australian Whisky

The judges
Let’s break it down. Two weeks, nearly 5,000 entries, 70 judges: the San Francisco World Spirit Competition means business. Judges from all walks of life come to swivel, sniff and sip — from bartenders and educators to sake sommeliers and distilled spirit consultants (yes, we like the sound of those jobs, too) — these people are American mixology royalty, and know their way around spirits.   

Distilling a winner
It starts with highly controlled blind tastings. Judges divide and conquer, tasting every product to determine if it’s medal worthy. Aside from a quick spiel on proof, age and any notable barrel finishing —the judges don’t know what they’re sipping; this ensures every spirit is judged fairly and without bias. Each spirit is then assigned a score by a judge (Platinum, Double Gold, Gold, Silver or Bronze) before the entire judging panel collectively decides on final scores for each entry. Any medal at these awards is one to be celebrated — Gold is great! Double Gold? That’s really something. To take a Double Gold home, the entry must receive a Gold medal rating by all members of the judging panel. They’re hard to win — but when a spirit does, it’s considered among the finest in the world.

Tasting Gold
So, what are the judges looking for when awarding a medal? Spirits are evaluated on several criteria including quality of distillation, complexity, delivery of flavors, use and integration of ageing (for aged spirits) and representation of the class and category. And what does a Double Gold-winning spirit actually taste like? Take our Fortis (a Double Gold winner in this year’s competition): it shows fruit on the nose, with hints of caramel. On the palate there’s caramel, licorice and ripe stone fruits. The finish is long, sweet and fruity.

Bottle of Starward Australian Whisky with floral and glass decorations on a deep red background

And the (booze) Oscar goes to…
Australia was up there this year; our country’s whiskies are truly world class. There were nearly 250 Australian medal-winning entries, 100 of them won a Gold or Double Gold medal — Starward included (we took home 12 Double Gold and 3 Gold medals this year). And we know what you’re thinking — what about the Platinum award mentioned earlier? This medal is awarded to the very few entries that receive a Double Gold medal for three consecutive years. Well, you know what they say — shoot for the stars…

Keen to sip a Double Gold whisky? We don’t blame you. These simple cocktail recipes are a great place to start.