Bittermens Cocktail Competition

On Sunday July 28th there was a competition, held in 1885 by the lovely people at Tickety-Boo of behalf of the Bittermens range,

“Entrants will be required to make 2 cocktails, one using at least 30mls of one of the fabulous new Bittermens Liqueurs, and the other using at least 8 drops of one of the Bittermens Bitters.”

  • First prize is an Ubertools Boston Bar Roll valued at over $500.
  • Second prize is your choice of $200 worth of Bittermens products.
  • Third prize is your choice of $100 worth of Bittermens products.

In the past I’ve seen cocktail competitions as a nice distraction from a weeks events, but rarely had time to put in the effort and creativity required to wow judges and audience members. Occasionally entering drinks that have been made seldom if at all!
So it’s good to have a bit of time to prepare and work on not ONE but TWO drinks for a competition.

From what I’ve seen in my experience of competitions, being prepared is half the battle:

  • Having speciality glassware, and I mean really amazing glassware that suits your drink, is a great place to start.
  • Knowing your drink recipe, you’ll be surprised how many people turn up and wing it)
  • Being able to talk about the products you are using, and giving reasons why you chose them over alternatives shows that you have considered variations on your recipe.
  • Using easily accessible ingredients, This I see as being very important. It’s all well and good to use a special ingredient that you create (with a lengthy prep time) in your own bar, but drinks submitted to competitions should (In my opinion at least) be possible for any bartender to make in any bar in the world.
  • Dressing for the occasion! Quite often Bartenders will dress up in costumes, or the staple Bartender uniforms (e.g. Suspenders, Bowties, Waist Coat & Tie.) Over the years I’ve seen Top Hats, Joke glasses & fake noses, Afro wigs, Masks, Scarves and even sunglasses and a bottle of campari all being worn/used by bartenders in order to impress the judges/audience.
  • Cleanliness is essential, you want to be sure to wash your hands when handling ingredients, and ensuring that your workspace is clean and tidy when you finish (just as you would in work hopefully).
  • Enthusiasm is key, You have to be enjoying yourself, A bit of charisma goes a long way, as does a little humility.

To help my chances I also decided to scour the web to see what people might have to say on the matter of competitions and found 3 particularly useful websites :

  • I found a great article on the (Simon) Diffords Guide which definitely reiterated a few of the thing I’ve picked up and highlighted some others as well.
  • And this little gem from the Diageo World Class website written by Tim Judge
  • And a third from reiterates some of the above ideas but was useful as well.

One great tip I remember from the above articles was to put all your products up on the bar and to move each ingredient from one side of your work space to the other, giving you a visual reminder of where you are in your recipe should you get lost.

On The Day

For some 4pm is a little early, but most managed to arrive more or less on time. As the contestants and supporters filtered in the usual introductions and reunions occurred, this is actually one of my favourite parts of competing, getting to meet and spend time with other passionate industry members.

Just getting my ingredients ready for the competition

Just getting my ingredients ready for the competition

Once recipes had been submitted and rules explained we got off to a start.

The rules for the competition ran as follows, 1 min prep time, followed by 8 minutes to make your drink for the four judges, then another minute to prepare for your second drink, and another 8 minutes to prepare your second drink (x 4 again).

For my first drink I entered a variation on A Bitter Pill to Swallow

As the rules required that I use “at least 30mls” of a bittermens liqueur, I upped the amount of Citron Sauvage and took out the Sipsmith Sloe Gin, and complimented the drink with some vanilla liqueur Licor 43 to replace the sugar syrup, this was the strengthened by the potent 50% Abv of West Winds Cutlass Gin and balanced with lemon juice.

30ml Citron Sauvage
10ml Licor 43
30ml West Winds Cutlass Gin
15ml Lemon Juice

The ingredients were shaken and double strained into crystal wine glasses that I re-appropriated from my brother-in-laws’ cupboard, and served with a twist of grapefruit and 4 drops of Bittermens’ Orange Cream Citrate

My second drink was based on the recipe for El Querubin, This drink I developed considerably over the  week running up to the competition. I was lucky enough to have one of my locals and Agave Tequila Imports NZ owner Adrian Ceballos come down and bring me some of his T1 Selecto to practice this recipe. After reading The Electric Cockail Acid Test & The Super Geeky Citrus Guide I had inspiration to look at different ways of balancing cocktails. I ended up reading some articles about making shrubs, by soaking ingredients in vinegar, and while the most popular method of creating shrubs seems to be soaking seasonal fruit like berries in vinegar I found a few articles relating to herbal and floral shrubs sweetened with honey. I reasoned that with a cocktail using Tequila as it’s base spirit,  a shrub sweetened with Agave syrup would help to accentuate the tequila in the drink.

To make my shrub I took a 500 ml bottle which I put 250ml of Red Wine Vinegar and a large handful of thyme sprigs (at least 20+ sprigs) and i soaked it for a week before the competition, shaking it regularly to help speed up the process. Before the competition I had intended to strain the vinegar and to add equal part of agave syrup to balance the acidity, unfortunately I ran out of agave syrup the night before the competition and ended up using 1:1 honey syrup on the day which didnt quite have the sweetness required to balance the drink.

My Second drink was “The End of Thyme” Ironic really as i ran over time by about 30 seconds on the final round:

45ml Tequila Uno Selecto (43% Abv)
15ml Cherry Heering
2.5ml Hellfire Habanero Shrub
10ml Thyme infused red wine vinegar
15ml Honey syrup (1:1)
15ml Lime Juice
30ml Egg White

The drink was then dry shaken to emulsify the egg into the drink, then shaken again with ice and double strained into a coupe with a sprig of thyme placed on the foam as a garnish.

Making my 2nd drink of the day pic by Adrian Ceballos

Making my 2nd drink of the day pic by Adrian Ceballos

This was the first time I’ve had to compete with 2 separate drink recipes, so I was glad to have the opportunity to develop my drink recipes thanks to the support of friends, co-workers and a few importers I was very pleased with the result. In the end I managed to place 2nd on the day coming behind the fabulous Timothy Martin of Mea Culpa who claimed first place and ahead of Venetia Tiarks of Fukoko.

I had a great day and look forward to trying my hand again next month at the Strega Competition.

Many thanks to the people at Tickety Boo & 1885 for putting on the event and to the industry people who supported me on the day, in particular Dan Walker from Neat Spirits and Adrian Ceballos from Agave Imports NZ

Shrub artilces :


The Electric Cocktail Acid Test

Quite a handy graph and certainly an interesting look at what brings together cocktails!

Stirred, Not Shaken

Part two of an investigation into achieving balance in spirits-driven cocktails.

[Author’s Note: The following post was mostly written back in June to document the second half of my investigations in acidity in spirit-driven cocktails. July saw me at Tales of the Cocktail and then in early August I turned all of my energies to starting up the cocktail program and bar at Daniel Patterson’s restaurant Plum. Due to differences in style and vision, I parted ways with Daniel & Company few weeks after the opening of Plum Bar in mid-November. In the interest of getting back into blogging, I’ve decided to publish my work to date, though clearly there’s more work to be done. As I get some of the questions it has raised answered, I will report back.]

Back in March I wrote about trying to improve a spiritous cocktail I had created (Criollo #2) which on reconsideration…

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Rum Masterclass July 17 2013

Rum Masterclass

What more could you ask for on a Wednesday, than fine rums, great friends, and a few cheeky rum punches 😉
Tonight I had the opportunity to bring together Bartenders and Bon Vivants of Auckland in an evening of rum.

We started with a sorrel rum punch:
30ml Plantation dark over-proof
30ml Sorrel (*recipe coming)
30ml Ginger cordial (*recipe coming)
20ml Freshly squeezed lime juice
20ml Demerara sugar syrup (1:1)
2 Dashes allspice bitters (*recipe coming)
Shaken and served in a tall, chilled and ice filled glass topped with soda.

EDJ Photography

EDJ Photography

Once everyone had the chance to enjoy the tasty pies provided by the mother ship.

EDJ Photography

EDJ Photography

We got onto tasting our rums! First we started with four of the Plantation Rums presented by Dan Walker from Neat Spirits.

Dan took us through which the countries the rums were sourced from, the double ageing process used by Plantation rums, and the distillation methods used in the 3 Star, Original Dark, Jamaica 2000 and Panama 2002 rums.

EDJ Photography

EDJ Photography

Next we had the lovely Jacqui Clarke from Tickety Boo presenting us four of the El Dorado rum range, Jacqui filled us in on the history of Guyana rums, age, distillation and blending of the 3, 5, 12 & 15 Year old rums, and gave us a few serving suggestions, with a lot of emphasis on people trying an old fashioned with orange bitters and the El Dorado 12 year.

EDJ Photography

EDJ Photography

After a grateful thanks for everyone’s help in making this events happen we got down to finishing off our tasting mats (a few got poured into glasses of our house ginger beer), and then we got started on the rum cocktails!

We sadly ran out of the over-proof Plantation pretty quickly, but we had a great selection of rums to choose from.
After a few more of the sorrel rum punches (this time made with 60ml Mount Gay Eclipse) the night grew late for the day walkers and our guests departed.

All in all a great night of rum and wonderful people!

El Querubin

A little experimentation... Your choice of 100% Blue Agave Blanco Tequila, Bittermens Commonwealth Liqueur, Dolin Blanco, a little grapefruit bitters stirred and served straight up with a grapefruit twist. Dubbed El Querubin, a sweet and delightful cherub

A little experimentation… Your choice of 100% Blue Agave Blanco Tequila, Bittermens Commonwealth Liqueur, Dolin Blanco, a little grapefruit bitters stirred and served straight up with a grapefruit twist.
Dubbed El Querubin, a sweet and delightful cherub

Working on a Mexico inspired menu this week has left me with the space at the end of my page for just one more cocktail…

And so El Querubin was born!

  • 30ml Premium Blanco Tequila (Patron pictured, but any good quality 100% Blue Agave Tequila would probably work)
  • 15ml Dolin Blanco
  • 15 ml Bittermens Commonwealth Liqueur
  • 3-4 drop of Hopped Grapefruit bitters

Stirred lovingly and strained into a chilled cocktail glass, sprayed with the oil from a grapefruit twist, rim glass and float on top of the drink.

Just a bit of tequila fun for Friday evening 🙂

Smokey & The Bandit

A great smoky sour that really showcases this great mezcal!

A great smoky sour that really showcases this great Mezcal!

Now while I can’t take credit for this great creation, I’ve had great response from running this cocktail in my bar this week.
The original recipe and video care of the Small Screen Network can be found here on Youtube.
This drink appeals to my love of making sugar syrups and for making delicious sour style cocktails.

So first of all you need to make your Syrup!
Lapsang Souchong simple syrup:

  • 1 Boston glass of freshly boiled water
  • 4 large bar spoons of Lapsang Souchong (think 4 x normal tea)

Leave “Tea” to infuse for up to an hour (15 mins+ is fine)
Strain out (don’t squeeze the leaves as they will release a lot of bitterness)
I then heated the “Tea” up on my trusty hotplate just to get it warm enough to make dissolving the sugar very quick and easy, I then pour my “Tea” into the boston glass to ensure I match the volume with castor sugar, usually I’ll just top it up with some freshly boiled water to make up a full boston glass of tea.

  • 1 Boston glass of strong Tea
  • 1 Boston glass of castor Sugar

Pour into a jug/boston tin and stir! They don’t call it simple syrup for nothing! 🙂
Now I always add the sugar after heating, just to avoid any possibility of caramelising the sugar.


  • 60ml Reposado Ilegal Mezcal
  • 20ml Lemon Juice
  • 20ml Lapsang Souchong Syrup
  • 1 organic egg white

Dry shake to incorporate the egg into the drink (if you have a smaller boston tin for a tin on tin shake, this is a less risky way of mixing the ingredients) otherwise just use a boston glass and be a little more careful!
Add ice to your shaker and shake well, double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Optionally you could add a little lemon zest just to garnish the drink.


Available in New Zealand from Neat Spirits

Ilegal Mezcal Website


Splice The Mainbrace

Splice The Mainbrace

Historically given as an order aboard naval vessels to issue the crew a drink it became a euphemism for authorised celebratory drinking!
Splice The Mainbrace is a punchy ginger crazed twist on the classic Dark & Stormy

30ml Ginger-infused rum (*recipe coming soon)
20ml Home-made Ginger Cordial (*recipe coming soon)
20ml Fresh Lime Juice
15ml Raw Sugar Syrup
3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters
2-4 dashes Bittermens Habanero Shrub

Shake and strain into a highball filled with fresh ice, top with soda and top with:

30ml Cruzan Black Strap Rum

This drink is pretty hefty on the spice, so I’m always careful to confirm with the customer they comfort level surrounding spice/heat, My Ginger Cordial is pretty spicy and the Habanero Shrub adds a considerable amount so both can be increased/decreased to cater for differing palates.