I’m seated in the rather glamorous River Room overlooking Millbank and the Thames. Excitement is mounting at the start of the UK final of the World Class cocktail competition.
Things are about to kick off with the round one, a quick-fire round of questions on drink related general knowledge. Each contestant has two lives.
Round one – The Knowledge
The in-depth questioning on Diageo reserve brands is challenging to the 13 rather nervous looking bartenders but surprisingly its the more general questions that are proving a hurdle to the contestants. For instance “Which club did the Old Fashioned originate at? ” (The Pendennis) takes a life from one competitor very early on.
After the first round only four contestants have both lives left – the atmosphere is warming up and the contestants are supporting each other in a sporting fashion.
The second round leaves nine men standing with only Stephen Martin with two lives left. Things get nasty as the guys now can nominate other contestants to answer. They are soon falling over questions such as which cocktail consists of Tanqueray, apple juice and calvados? The answer seemed to stump then unanimously – an Angel Face. At the end of the round, five men are left with one life each. The questions that knock each man out are:
What year did prohibition start? 1920
What year did prohibition end? 1933
Who is masterblender for Ron Zacapa?
The runner up is eliminated with a tricky question about distilling, leaving Stephen Martin victorious in an impressive display of knowledge – taking the quiz master to his very last question before he finally gets one wrong. Well done Stephen!
Round two – Bartending skills
All the bartenders have to create a Martini and a Margarita against the clock. Each judge votes on whether they would actually buy the drinks or not – the judges are Simon Difford, Barrie Wilson, Andy Morris and Andy Pearson.
1. Erik Lorincz brings his pair of drinks in at 1 min 12 and gets four big ‘yes’es from the judges. (The Margarita is a ‘lovely balance )
2. Christos Kyriakides gets three out of four with criticisms of too wet on the Martini and too tart on the Margarita.
3. Conor Foley gets four out of four but the judges are increasingly picky – they now want a half rim of salt on the Margarita.
4. Joey Medrington delivers in 1 min 24 and the judges are very impressed.’ Best Margarita I’ve tasted’ says one, though slightly light quantities on the Martini say two of the judges. It’s four out of four.
5. Alex Kratena whips up some excitement with his flair and equal fastest time so far at 1 min 12. Charming the judges with some old school service, Andy Pearson says it’s the best pair so far, as does Barry! Four out of four again.
6. Alistair Reynolds takes the time challenge at 1 min 11. But unfortunately he has committed the cardinal sin of getting ice in the Martini. He is the first contestant to get three ‘no’s so that’s the first fail.
7. Tom Mountain is even speedier at 1 min 8. Is the quality going to match? It certainly is with a ‘superb’ four out of four.
8. Stephen Martin gives an intense performance at 1 min 9. His Martini is pronounced ‘very accomplished’ but his Margarita is not so skilled and even a little tart, still its four out of four. I get to taste these and its one of the smoothest Martinis I’ve had but the Margarita is definitely on the sour side.
9. Mark Scott takes his time at 1 min 33 – will the quality reflect this? Some cavilling from the judges on tartness once more but again, four out of four. I think the time is going to really count here.His Margarita is indeed a little tart even though I like a bite to hit through the Tequila.
10. Stefano looks composed and really is taking his time – is he going to break the two minute limit? He just squeaks in at 1 min 59.. a close shave. it was worth the wait according to the judges as they call decree them the best drinks all day. I find the Martini a little sweet though.
11. Neil Sutton finishes in 1 min 12. One judge’s verdict is they ‘taste like he spent a lot of time on them’. Result:
12. Marco takes 1 min 33. His Martini gets a unanimous vote of approval with a general four out of four. I agree with the judges in voting this the best Martini.
13. Ryan is last year’s winner and the judge’s comments are loud in their approval especially Andy Pearson,”Shite…is not a word I could use about these drinks, unfortunately’.
We now await the judges overall verdict…
Round three – Mixology Skills
Going into round three the top five are:
Erik – 160
Alex Kratena – 170
Neil Sutton – 180
Tom Mountain – 220
Stephen Martin – 350
Contestants now have to produce an original aperitif cocktail (Base Reserve spirit: Tanqueray 10 or Ciroc) and a digestif cocktail (Base Reserve Spirit: Ron Zacapa or Johnnie Walker Gold).
(Too many tasting notes to upload now so expect these in the next few days.. Cliff notes version: Aperol and Velvet Falernum ruled the day – personally I found Marco from Bramble offered the best two drinks overall. His vodka take on a Sazerac was aromatic and palate stimulating and the use of Lagavulin in his digestif was a bold move that he played with a steady hand). Judges decision to come.
Judges decision now in. The four semi-finalists are:
Neil Sutton – the Sage and Onion martini was an amazing drink – original and accomplished at the same time.
Stephen Martin – Great knowledge and skills in transferring that knowledge.
Eric Lorincz – his aperitif was a delightfully light take on the Negroni (Tanqueray 10, Camomile bitters, Aperol, dry sherry and a rhubarb foam on the side).
Tom Mountain – great presentation and knowledge. His aperitif was too sweet for my palate but his digestif, based on a rum baba was impressively thought out with a rich butteriness.
Round four – Secret Ingredients Box
This round is an obvious tribute to the Master Chef connection with the judges. Finalists have 30 mins to create two cocktails using the selection of chosen ingredients.
1.Short (on the rocks or straight up)
Each bartender has 15 minutes to consider their cocktails and 15 minutes to get behind the bar, create and serve to the judges. Each box of ingredients is the same and each bartender will have the same amount of time in private to create their cocktail.
Eric Lorincz is first up. He uses mint, fresh raspberries, lemon juice, ginger syrup, fresh apple juice and Ciroc Vodka to make a Summer Garden, a Collins style cooling number. This is fruity and fresh – perfect for a summer afternoon. His second drink uses fresh lime and lemon, sugar syrup, sage, a dash of cassis and Pampero Blanco. This is double strained into a martini glass and christens an Angel. Sharp and fruity, the sage is a very subtle element. Both drinks take a mere five minutes to make.
Stephen is next behind the bar. He starts with 50 ml Talisker, ginger syrup, lemon juice and a ‘clap’ of mint to cool the potential heat and smoke of the drink – served on the rocks. This is delicious and the Talisker, a pretty hot whisky, is nicely balanced out. The ginger is a bit lost though. Called Skye of the Tiger in tribute to the whisky’s origin and the heat of the ginger. His long drink utilises Ciroc, sugar, lime, lemon and thyme – an early drink to start he day he reckons, calling it Breakfast Thyme. Served in a martini glass straight up with a sprig of thyme – it’s very tart. A real palate cleanser.
Tom Mountain is third to present. Aiming for a strong classical short drink, he uses 50 ml Pampero Blanco, 7.5 Grand Marnier, 7.5 ml elderflower cordial, 12.5 ml water and honey. Sweet and summery, the rum should still shine through. His long drink is a twist on a Mule with 50ml Ciroc, lime juice, 6 muddled raspberries, framboise, ginger syrup and apple juice to lengthen.
Neil Sutton is last up to the bar – will nerves affect his performance? Not at all judging by the way he swaggers on to stage. Light summer flavours with 50 ml Ciroc, rose cordial, redcurrant puree – served on the rocks. His second drink is Pampero Blanco, elderflower cordial, grape juice – served in a Martini glass. Neil serves his drinks in laid back fashion – 10 out of 10 for sangfroid.
The drinks were all amazing so how the judges decided I don’t know, but the two finalists are Eric Lorencz and Stephen Martin.
Round five – The Final Mix Off
The final two contestants have to create a bespoke cocktail using either Ketel One vodka/ Tanqueray 10 or Grand Marnier as the base. The cocktail must show represent the personality of the bartender and provide theatre for the on-looking crowd.
Eric uses Tanqueray 10, fresh coriander leaves, yuzu juice, lemon, fino sherry, pineapple juice, simple syrup, a hard-shake technique and botanical-infused dry ice for a real crowd-pleaser.
Stephen Martin finishes the night with a variation of a Ramos gin fizz. Tanqueray 10 , lime juice, tonic reduction (camomile, grapefruit and kumquat to highlight citrus notes of the gin), grapefruit bitters, basil infused egg-white (which takes away the wet-dog sensation of egg white).
It’s down to whether the judges prefer the elegant sophistication of Erik’s style which evokes the era of old Europe hotel culture over Stephen’s more modern bar theatre. A few minutes will reveal all.
And after a long, slightly booze-sodden day, the winner is finally announced as Eric. And a damn fine choice he is too. Let’s hope his sophistication can win the international final in Greece and salvage some World Cup pride…