Wow!! It's been a while since my last post!! Way, way, waaayyyy too long! I must apologise!! First there was the holidays – well needed rest after a year of travel, training and working the stick – and then there was the start of the year – which for the BARTENDER TRAINING industry is FULL FLEDGED SEASON! But I am settling nicely into 2015, a year that promises to be filled with many more travels and stories to share!
In January the Beefeater Global Cocktail Competition was held in London and I got my good friend, Dino Batista, the gent that clenched the title of South African Champion, to send us a feedback report on what went down by the river Thames... Let's see what he has to say:
My name is Dino, I am from Molecular Bars and represented South Africa in the Beefeater MIXLDN 2015 finals held in London. This is a capped review of my experience from conceptualisation to fruition to all that came to me in hindsight after the comp.
The SA finals were held towards the end of November and, being in a mobile bar company, is not ideal as this is the height of your peak season! So preparation and , eventual, celebrating an unexpected victory had to take a back foot in the midst of how much "normal day" work had to be done - it was a whirlwind of a time and continued to be right though till when I touched back down in SA. I hope this will come across in all that I am about to say...
The task at hand was to create a Beefeater-centric cocktail based off the theme of "London inspires you. You inspire London." When developing my cocktail, the first thing that cane to mind was London's pub lunches. I gravitated towards the iconic Fish&Chips which, in UK, is always served with a side of mushy peas - a texture that didn't sit well with me. So I set out to make a cocktail supplement of this side dish to pair up with your Fish&Chips. I aptly named it the "Geezer's 'Rub-A-Dub' Grub" - 'Geezer' being UK slang for a slick/cool guy, 'Rub-A-Dub' being Cockney Rhyming Slang for 'pub' and 'Grub' being a general slang for food. Package these elements altogether with somewhat of a half decent presentation and I came out on tops - which I need to say was no easy task against the strong competitors I was up against. **NOTE: going up after Travis Kuhn's meticulously timed performance to set out music queues really got me shaking in my boots!
Feedback I received in the SA finals that boosted my chances was that my cocktail was (as it was needed to be) London-centric that wasn't too blatant, personal to my own experiences as well as the use of unusual ingredients (sugar snap peas & red wine vinegar). Judges for the day were Sumaiyah Connolly (Pernod Ricard), Gareth Wainwright (The Landmark) and Tim Stones (International Beefeater Ambassador).
Amongst brief celebration and transition in tot he new year I was soon off to London - for miserable weather, darkness at 4pm & some of the best bars in the world!
Once in London we were chauffeured to our hotel and already showered with gifts! Life was good!
Day 1 got off to a quick start with a guided tour of the Beefeater Distillery and talks by Master Distiller, Desmond Payne - a walk through the history of Beefeater, the botanical room, the gift shop (the only place where you can buy Beefeater Garden Edition) as well as the distillation room where we got to stick our heads in one of the pot stills during its 24hour steeping process. It was then off to dinner and after attendance at a rainy (obviously) Ceremony of the Keys performed every night (barr two), since 1340, by the Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters). They took us in to their private bar (ties essential!) for some G&T's! Followed by more G&T's and cocktails at Dandelyan (which was conveniently placed on in the ground floor of our hotel!). Did I mention we drove around in a double decker bus with our names and countries emblazoned on the side!
Day 2 was the big day, possibly the longest day of my life laden with challenges, interviews and shoots but, by far, a great experience! *Just FYI, this, as well as the final, was held in the exact same space as UK's Dragon's Den. Being 30 contestants all representing different countries, we were given our own timetable for the day - I started off with a laid back cooking class (not as random as you'd think) and then on to the surprise challenge - cocktail pairing food challenge.Which seems easy enough especially when you're given 20min to come up with something - but try come up with something you've never had before! Halibut (which is apparently a fish) prepared with a lot of things, amongst, sea herbs and a berry puree. Oh! And it was once prepared by a the head chef of The Mondrian Hotel (the hotel we stayed at) - once second to Gordon Ramsey, himself. The judges for this were Executive Chef Luke Rayment, Sandrae Lawrence (The Cocktail Lovers blog) and Simon Difford (Difford's Guide). Not scary at all!
This was then followed by lunch, cocktail prep for a photoshoot; cocktail prep for a video shoot; presentation of your cocktail to the judging panel: Ryan 'Mr. Lyan' Chetiyawardana (White Lyan), Dave Broom (top spirits writer) and Desmond Payne (Beefeater Master Disteller); journalist interview and video interview! I now hate smiling!
It was then off to The American Bar at The Savoy, dinner and a trip to NOLA - all I can say is TOO COOL! You know that no expense was spared when the entire duration of the trip you did not have to break out the sad, little South African Rands to drink cocktails - as long as it contained Beefeater. No problem there, especially when it's, on average, 12 pounds a cocktail (R220).
Day 3 was more chilled with a Baywatch-styled cruise of the Thames and then lunch at the venue where the Top 8 was announced - USA, Norway, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Russia, Austria and Czech Republic. It was then off to Hide Bar for more drinks before it was off to the finals! On entry, you were given a voting token to vote for who of the Top 8 put out the best cocktail - congratulations had to be given to Brandon Phillips with 'The Hackney Handshake' (I voted for Spain with an equally great cocktail). After a lot of drinking (standard), it was burgers and lobster for dinner and 'finding your name at the bottom of a glass' evening at The Punch Room!
So, after all is said and done - hands down, one of the best experiences of my life! Besides all the drinking, I took a great deal from this whole experience (and I don't mean free toiletries and sleeping masks):
- The biggest obstacle, for me, in the cocktail/food pairing challenge was to be given a task and then a back bar of products I had never seen nor heard of before. Partly because SA is shut off from a lot of the international product market, but mainly because we assist our isolation from being exposed to the product's other countries take for granted.
- The level of skill your average bartender in London possesses is, rightly so, above par - not because they're trying to win a competition but because there's such blatant, obvious pride in what they do!
- And, lastly, even though we only knew each other for 3 days, I can say that I have 29 friends for life - okay, maybe 28 ;)