James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Drinking Whiskey All Day Is Harder Than It Looks

Drinking Whiskey All Day Is Harder Than It Looks

Whiskey in Tiburon, California

Judging a spirits competition is hard work. Generally speaking, your friends and family don’t want to hear that, but drinking whiskey all day is an extremely challenging job. No, really, it is. I swear.

You better fill your belly with an early breakfast, because come 9 a.m., the drinking begins. It’s a damn good thing that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, too, because even the biggest brunch enthusiast out there has to perform some mental trickery to intelligently tackle this task. You’re not indulging in a few rounds of Bloody Marys or mimosas, as social decorum would suggest are acceptable morning libations. No, you’re drinking whisky. A flight of whiskeys. Eight or nine of them lined up in a row.

And they just. Keep. Coming. Before lunch, our table has churned through a handful of flights and dozens of whiskeys, and we’ve been the stragglers. We’ve only finished the first half of the first day of a four-day judging event, and after a quick lunch, it’s right back to the judging table for several dozen more spirits. We’ll clock out at 5 p.m., or really 6 or 7 p.m. because we’re taking too long—and then we’ll probably go to the bar for a beer to unwind from all of that drinking. Does that make sense? It does to us.

It’s a strenuous task, and your mind, palate, and liver will all become fatigued. You have to carefully score, judge, and critique each spirit you taste. You don’t know what they are, as you’re judging them blind, so your sensory skills better not have hit the snooze button. And you need to keep your wits about you and avoid getting plastered, too. So get acquainted with that spit bucket on the table, and be prepared to eat more plain crackers than you can count, serving as both mid-flight sustenance and palate cleansers.

Listen, I get it, I know—you don’t want to hear about it. It doesn’t sound difficult to you at all, and you’d quickly trade your spot at the quarterly sales meeting and PowerPoint bonanza for a seat the judge’s table, palate fatigue be damned. I’m not complaining and I’m certainly not seeking any sympathy, I’m just saying, it’s harder than it seems, alright? It was a four-day marathon that would push anybody to the brink. It may have been a labor of love, but it was also a professional undertaking, and truly, an exhausting grind.

So would I do it again, is that what you’re asking? Hell yes I would do it again, are you kidding me? I got to drink whiskey all day!

Up Next

A Scottish‑Style Whisky With Indian Characteristics

Featured City Guides