A Candid Q&A with San Francisco World Spirits Competition Judges Gary Gruver and Molly Horn

by The Tasting Alliance Team  |  01.31.2024

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at one of the most prestigious spirits competitions in the world? Join us for an exclusive Q&A session with two seasoned judges from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition – Gary Gruver and Molly Horn. These industry experts share their insights into the judging process, their favorite spirit categories, valuable lessons learned, and their take on the exciting trends shaping the future of the BevAlc industry.

What do you love most about the judging process and what excites you most about being selected as a Tasting Alliance judge?

“Blind tasting and offering a pure, unadulterated assessment of the spirit based solely on its own merits within the glass. This approach transcends standard marketing narratives and challenges preconceived expectations, allowing for a truly authentic judging experience.” – Gary

“It’s hard to say what I love more about the judging process – I have to say both the experience of getting to work and taste with some of the most passionate and knowledgeable individuals in the spirits world and the opportunity to blind taste hundreds of incredible products to both reinvigorate my palate and my enthusiasm for the industry.” – Molly

Spirits can be very diverse in terms of flavor profiles. Are there particular categories or types of spirits that you enjoy judging the most, and if so, what makes them especially interesting to you?

“My passion lies with aged spirits that pack a bit more punch, which naturally draws me to the robust world of whiskey. Hailing from Kentucky, the heartland of bourbon certainly fuels that affinity. But my tastes don’t stop at the famed Bourbon Trail; I have a deep appreciation for the complex character of Cognac and other finely aged brandies. My palate also craves the unique profiles of exotic agave spirits. And I must say, exploring the intriguing flavors found in the Amaro category during competitions is always an exciting venture for me.” – Gary

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your experience as a spirits judge, and how have they shaped your appreciation of the BevAlc industry?

Don’t judge a book by its cover, you might be surprised by whats inside. – Gary

In your opinion, what recent trends or innovations in the BevAlc industry are the most exciting or game-changing, and how do you see them shaping the future of the industry?

“I’m particularly excited about the low-alc trend that has been on the rise over the last few years. I think it’s a game changer in that it relies more on flavors and unique ingredients than your typical base-spirit-driven cocktails do, leaning heavily on cordials, Amari, aperitifs, and lower-abv spirits such as Sake and Soju, opening the door to more items that the customer isn’t yet familiar with in the same way – aka without the same strong brand loyalty.” – Molly

“I think it’s exciting that brands of all sizes are taking into consideration and making real moves on sustainability. Being a proponent of this is a real need for the world today.” – Gary

The dedication to blind tasting, the appreciation for diverse flavors, and the embrace of industry trends showcase the dynamic nature of the competitions hosted by The Tasting Alliance. Our judges not only continue to unravel the complexities of their craft but leave us with invaluable insights into the ever-evolving and fascinating spirits universe.