Great Taste Awards 2019: Spirits Judging

In what appears to be something of an occasional series, my latest food judging experience to recount has been the Great Taste Awards. This is one of the most prestigious food competitions in the UK. All types of food and drink are covered. I believe this year over 12,000 products were entered into the competition.

Great Taste Awards judges badge 2019

While most of the judging takes place in a general format, there are a few areas where specialised judging takes place. I had really wanted to take part in the beer judging specifically, but as the days selected for this are the week before my due date, I couldn’t really risk committing to a trip to London!!

Gin Lane

So, in the shadow of the Shard, I headed to the cosy Guild of Fine Food offices where I met my fellow judges for the day. We were allocated pairs – one regular judge and one co-ordinator. It was a long and intense day, with something in the region of over 50 spirits judged by each table.

Laura Hadland is judging the spirits category in the 2019 Great Taste Awards.

The judging has its own inbuilt set of checks and balances to ensure consistency and fairness. Each entrant was judged by a number of tables and those with Great Taste Award star winning potential are re-judged and scrutinised by more pairs.

Salt, lemon & lime optional

As ever, there was a great deal of drinks industry experience in the room casting expert eyes and palates over the entries. As you may well expect, the highest proportion of entrants were gins and flavoured gins – with the ubiquitous rhubarb being… well… ubiquitous. There were also a surprising number of salted caramel based spirits, liqueurs and the like. Trends for over sweet, easy to drink ‘pop’ flavours are still clearly abundant!!

Judging gin in the spirits category of the Great Taste Awards 2019

By far the highest scoring gins were the ones that took a simple concept and did it well. More often than not just a really classic London dry gin. As I found with the chocolate judging a few weeks ago it really is all about getting the basics right.

However, it was not all bad news by any means!! There were a notable number of really, really exceptional quality British vodkas making an appearance. I was pleased to also get to try a couple of whiskys and tequilas that made a big impression.

Great Taste Awards Judging

I’m really looking forward to the results being announced in a few months. There were a few quite distinctive spirits that I hope I might be able to recognise from their unique description! Of course we were tasting blind. However, many were so good that I’d like to at least have a go at finding them to try again. Not least once I’m not pregnant anymore! (And yes, spitoon all the way before anyone makes a comment!!)

The judges chambers

Thanks to the Guild of Fine Food for inviting me down. It really is the biggest and most prestigious of the UK food awards calendar. Such an incredibly gargantuan process to organise the judging of so many different products. What a privilege to be involved!


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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