Last week Diageo announced the winner of their unique Show Your Spirit Competition, who will have their own brand join the Reserve Brands Portfolio.
Earlier this year the Show Your Spirit Competition was launched to much excitement with every other bartender we bumped into insisting they had the idea that was going to make them millionaires.
You see not only would the winner of the competition see their own spirit or liqueur launched into the market but they would also gain 5% of the net sales over the first 5 years with a further 5% going to a bartender initiatives fund.
From the hundreds of entries that were received a final 5 was announced (with one making it through an on-line wildcard round which attracted 20,000 on-line votes) and their journey soon began.
Fast forward to last Thursday and BarLifeUK arrived at the top secret Diageo World Innovation Centre (near Bishops Stortford just off the M11, if you reach Muggin’s Wood you’ve gone too far) to catch up with the finalists.
They had been locked in this amazing research and innovation centre, which has seen the birth of many of Diageo’s most iconic brands, since the start of the week, turning an idea in their heads into a physical product. We were going to get the chance to try all 4 (one of the finalists couldn’t make it) of the creations but first a quick tour of the facilities.
The Innovation Centre is home to some amazing technology including a mini bottling line, stills, homogenisers (the very one used to create Baileys) and all sorts of other shiny metal machines which did things.
There is also an onsite multi-sensory department which supported the finalists during the week by helping them understand what consumers want. This was achieved by incorporating their Tasting Panel (a group of consumers who have all had 4 – 6 months training before being allowed to influence any decisions) to get instant feedback.
In Takes Two
In the main lab we were introduced to the finalists, their products and the Liquid Developers each contestant had been paired with. It became instantly obvious that whilst the technology had helped each finalist it was their partner from the centre that had been the most instrumental in the process. A real camaraderie and respect had built up between the teams and they both truly believed in their end result.
Dee Davies from the UK was teamed up with Nicola Rowntree to develop her Japanese inspired Gin, made from Sake.
Dee’s original idea was to distil the gin from a Sake base however after a bit of experimentation it was decided that it worked better to have a Distilled Gin with a Heart of Sake. Added to this were some Japanese inspired botanicals such as Cherry Blossom (which actually gave very ‘green’ notes to the gin) and Yuzu Lemon (which has a very orange/mandarin aroma and taste) alongside the more traditional gin botanicals.
The end product was superb and it was immediately obvious that it could find a way onto back bars across the world and open a whole new range of cocktail possibilities.
Naomi Mason from the UK was paired up with Peter Brewin to work on her Whisky Liqueur blended with vanilla and blackberries.
Naomi has recently discovered the joy of whisk(e)y and wanted to create a product that would help more women discover this world. The inspiration of combining smoky whisky with vanilla and blackberries came from a cocktail she created in Brighton. Speaking to Peter, who had just watched Naomi working on cocktails for her presentation, the different approaches to creation between scientists and bartenders became obvious ‘I’m very measured & precise when I work whereas Naomi was playing around behind the bar a producing great drinks’.
Between precision and ‘playing around’ they had produced a very good liqueur which still retained the smoky heart of the whisky whilst adding some softer flavours.
Dennis Zoppi from Italy (the wild card winner) was with Dawn Karels from the US office to fine tune his White Tea based spirit.
Probably the most unusual of all of the final 4 products, it was certainly on paper the most challenging as no-one had ever distilled tea before which led Dawn to experimenting in tiny quantities to get all the mistakes out of the way early. The use of white tea was also a challenge as it is one of the lightest tasting teas on the market. On tasting it was sweeter than expected, no sugar had been added and the sweetness came from the botanicals used with the tea.
The sweetness worked really well and the current trend for tea in cocktails made this a product that could immediately pop up on cocktail lists.
Fjalar Goud from the Netherlands was teamed with Aarti Calvin to tinker with his Spiced Aged Jenever concept.
Being Dutch Fjalar is passionate about Jenever and with this product wanted to spread the word to a wider audience. The Jenever was combined with Tonka Beans, Vanilla and Hibiscus to add extra depth to the product whilst not overpowering the base Jenever spirit. In a unique twist the brand would also be sold with a wooden stave to allow ‘wood aging’ in the bottle for customers. This was another first and Aarti had to do plenty of research however she ‘reached out to colleagues with wood knowledge, I don’t need computers I’m surrounded by people with more information than the internet.’
The final spirit was a great Jenever in its own right and the added flavours and the unique stave option really would make it stand out from the pack.
There was no doubt that any one of the 4 finalists had a product that could easily win. They had all worked exceptionally hard over the few days and produced superb liquids. Chatting to the bartenders the passion, belief and pride in their creations was obvious and rightly so.
The hard work wasn’t yet over however. Whilst coming up with the liquid they had also been working with the design team to create a name, bottle design and story boards for the big presentation the following day. They would have to present their brands plus two suggested serves to an esteemed judging panel consisting of Syl Saller, Diageo Global Innovation Director; Salvatore Calabrese; Joerg Meyer; Noel de Munck, F&B Director for the Hilton UK and Daniel Entrialgo, Editor-in-Chief of GQ Spain.
As I left the final 4 to head back to their house for a night of working on presentations and fine tuning cocktails I didn’t have a clue who was going to be victorious the next day. The only thing I knew for sure was that I would be buying a bottle of the winners booze as soon as it was released.
The next day following a 45 minute presentation each, where they were judged on Distinctiveness, Bartender and Consumer Appeal, Size of the Idea and Longevity the final 4 gathered together for the last time ready to see who’s life was about to change forever.
The winner was the UK’s very own Dee Davies from Hyde & Co in Bristol with her Japanese Gin which was announced as Jinzu. As a journalist you have to be impartial but I must admit to being especially pleased it was Dee who took out the win. BarLifeUK have known her for a long time and hearing her talk about the support of the Bristol bar scene and how the win would be for the ‘whole of Bristol’ not just her, was fantastic.
On top of all of that it really is a superb gin and I can’t wait to see what she, other Bristol bartenders and the rest of the world come up with when they get to play with it. A congratulations to Nicola Rowntree as well, who I know Dee would admit she couldn’t have won without, and everyone at the Diageo Innovation Centre who helped Dee and all of the other finalists throughout the week.