Touching down in San Diego at 8am Saturday morning. I realized I needed to be at the venue to judge the first flight of spirits at 10am! I politely asked my uber driver to get me to my hotel as quick as possible. This way I could at least dump my bags, grab my camera, and splash some water on my face.
I plopped down at the judging table just in time for the first flight of spirits….vodka. After re-introducing myself to all the judges from the previous years, we reminisced on the past year’s spirits and events. We slowly tasted through each spirit and every flight. Upon finishing the last line of hooch, I had to take a moment to sit back and smile. Perhaps it was the residual spirit that made it in my body (even after spitting and dumping). I thought about all the spirits we tasted and how much better the spirits were this year in comparison to last.
Each category was amazing. Almost every product was well made with great flavor. I mean of course you might get that odd Nacho-Cheese flavored tequila that perhaps might not sound too appealing. However, if it was well balanced and the base spirit was of quality, then it could absolutely take double gold. Personally, I love nachos. So to all the distillers reading this: Please make that spirit!
The judges made their way to the back room that was filled with bottles. We finally got a chance to see the bottles that we loved or laughed at. But we were all pleasantly surprised. I was able to snap a few shots of the judging crew and have a laugh before heading down to see what the rest of the San Diego Spirits Festival looked like..
Entering the event space I was greeted by half naked women! Well…close to it. There were acrobats hanging from the ceiling, Brazilian Mardi Gras chicas walking around, and even a burlesque show! So after cruising through the space once, I stopped into the first booth that grabbed my attention. Papalote! This was Cheech Marin’s mezcal. I popped in to taste his product and was saddened to find that I missed Cheech! Unfortunately due to his busy schedule, he could only be there for a few hours before he had to leave. So perhaps next year, he will make a longer appearance.
Next I jumped to TequiPonch. They are one of the few producers getting geared up for California’s marijuana legalization for recreational use. They created a tequila based spirit called “Herb Formula.” Of course this can’t be sold legally, so instead of the real thing they use hemp leaves, which gave a similar body and aroma. Or so I’m told.
After bouncing around the event like a child with ADHD, eating, drinking and tasting new spirits, I wrapped up day one. I decompressed while soaking up some San Diego sun. After all, this event is one of the best benders money can buy.
I dragged myself in on day two, but was soon back in the swing of things after a few “tastes” of mezcal. Which, by the way, there was an abundance of. I admit, mezcal isn’t the first spirit I ask for when I’m out. But I was very surprised with the quality, variation, and passion that the distillers put into this spirit.
I then checked out the cocktail competition. Some of the best mixologists from around the area: Vegas, San Diego, LA…These guys (Yes! Unfortunately I didn’t see any females shaking up drinks!) were bringing out their polished shakers, dried fruit garnish, and house made tinctures. I was able to try a few and what I did try was complex, delicious, and well balanced. These fellas would be great friends to have at your next mixer.
In reflection, this blurry event was better than last year. There were craft spirits, large spirits, but all in all quality spirits. The cream is certainly floating to the top in this industry. Every medal awarded was honest and true. I can’t wait to see what next year holds.