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 WhereYat.com 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.
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.
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.
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 :