By Tom Firth, Competition Director
The future always seems so far off, yet in hindsight, it seems just like yesterday. Just six years ago, we launched the Alberta Beverage Awards, fully knowing that running a solid and reputable drinks competition is a huge effort, and most definitely not a way to get rich. But we did it anyways, and I’m pleased to say that in our sixth year, we are starting to feel as though our efforts are paying off.
We expanded the judging panels this year from 20 judges to 25 of Alberta’s finest palates comprising restauranteurs, retailers, educators, consultants, sommeliers, and media. All people that we feel have the expertise to be a judge, but also experts who can shed some of their own biases (we all have them, mine is pinotage), to work though innumerable flights, hundreds of blind pours, and many hours of judging to find the best examples in their categories. This is serious work my friends.
We saw huge growth with Alberta-based producers, and many of them shone very brightly against national and international examples, but overall, we were down a little from the year previously. On the plus side, we had a lot of work on the back end of the competition trying to determine where the cut-offs had to be – since only about 1/3 of the entries will earn any sort of award, yet the quality this year was stupendous.
In each category there is a “Best in Class”, which is the top performing wine in its category, followed by “Judges’ Selection” which are the other high performing wines in the category. In several categories, there is also a “Top Value”, which is a Judges’ Selection wine that has been identified by the Culinaire editors as providing excellent value as well. Each listed wine has an approximate retail price – every retailer is different, and we’ve included a range in many cases. With so many entries from Alberta producers, some of these products are only available at the brewery/distillery or at local farmers markets, in those cases we’ve tried to use their price rather than a retail price. Each product also has a “CSPC” number, which can be used to help you find it at your local retailer or online at Liquorconnect.com. Some products also have a symbol (EXAMPLE-USE 2017) after them to identify product that not only did well this year, but also in previous years, indicating that this product is not only good, but also consistently good, year after year.
With so many moving parts, the competition has to be a team effort, and we could not even begin to call it a success without our partners, the Hotel Blackfoot, The Import Vintners & Spirits Association, and Liquor Connect. Special thanks go to Len Steinberg, our judges, and our wine stewards; Mairi, Paul, Patrick, Danielle, Darin, Lana and Chelsea, Kelsey, and Patricia, who keep the back room spinning like a top, and a big thank you to Jason Dziver, our talented photographer who shoots all the bottle samples that you see throughout the results issue, somehow finding time to also photograph our judges.