7 bartenders, 3 rounds, 1 trip to Kentucky. The final of the Jim Beam Noe Your Bourbon competition produced a heck of a battle.
Cocktail competitions are always more than just the making and serving of a drink. Like a good novel there are many side stories at play, which add to the excitement of the day.
At the final of the Noe Your Bourbon competition that was certainly the case with Lee Potter Cavanagh competing in his last comp before he heads back to Australia (albeit only for a couple of months), James Walls first comp in 18 months and his first since his recent engagement, poor old Nicci Stringfellow having her homemade pumpkin butter thrown away by tidying housemates hours before the comp started or the traditional ‘what shirt and tie combination is Ruairidh Muir going to rock up in’ game.
However there was one other side story that ended up dominating the day, but more of that later.
Noe Your Stuff
Each of the finalists had not only had to enter their signature Jim Beam White Label cocktail on line but also complete a short Jim Beam quiz. At the final and with not only a trip to Kentucky, but also a chance to meet Fred Noe and have the winning cocktail served to him in London, up for grabs Jim Beam and Mixxit decided to up the stakes…. a lot.
The 30 minute quiz all of the contestants sat was a real tester. In fact at one point their was so much steam coming out of the finalists ears I was worried Wayne Collins would mistake the room for a sauna and start stripping off.
Luckily there were plenty of Jim Beam and Ginger Ales on hand as well as a lovely Jim Beam Vanilla Milk Punch, which Amanda Humphrey from Mixxit had knocked up especially for the final.
When the time was up there was only one contestant who seemed to think he had got much more than 50%. That person was Lee. He was right. His showed once again his knowledge is spectacular and once the adding up was done it was clear he had blown the others out of the water in the first round.
Noe Time to Relax
With barely time to stop for air the contestants were straight into the signature serve round with 5 minutes to make their entered drink for the three judges of BarLifeUK, Amanda and Ian McIntyre, bar manager at NOLA.
Over at BarLifeUK we are big fans of Bourbon, however it is a category that seems to shy away from cocktail competitions a little which is a huge shame. Once again the 7 bartenders who presented proved the versatility and complexity in cocktails that this category can bring.
We were treated to a variety of techniques and flavour combinations from Gareth Evans’ White Said Fred which whilst waiting for the soda stream to do it’s job created the line of the day when he announced ‘when it make’s a farting noise it’s done’. He also produced the serve of the day, serving up in bottles with an image on the front of George Washington holding a bazooka, riding a Bald Eagle with an American Flag in its talons (he had googled ‘most American picture ever’).
We also had James stirring his homemade strawberry syrup based drink in an ice cooler before trying to pour it into a champagne bottle for serving only to find his funnel didn’t have a whole in the bottom! Troels Knudsen threw his Anchor Steam Beer laden drink before serving with some rather marvelous homemade Apple Pie tarts.
Joe MacBeth presented his German inspired drink in purpose made wooden tankards that had every bartender in the room asking where he bought them. It was Lee however that arguably got most creative of the round using a salted and banana infused Maple Syrup with Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
Noe Backing Out Now
That creativity was going to be tested in the final round. Some bartenders love mystery box rounds, some bartenders hate them. Judging them is often a step into the unknown, however one thing is for sure, shopping for the ingredients is awesome fun.
Joining Amanda for the shopping trip earlier that day was one of the funniest experiences we have ever had in a Tesco’s. Just the thought of their faces as they opened up their bag of goodies had us cracking up.
Each bartender was to be given either Jim Beam Honey, Red Stag or Devil’s Cut and a bag containing a herb, dairy, sweetener, fruit, lengthener and something ridiculous. There was also a selection of liqueurs, bitters and juices available.
We were cruel. The bartenders were inspired. Every drink served was drinkable and some were actually what can only be described a nice. If you think this is a little exaggerated let’s have a look at just some of the ingredients that were actually used in the cocktails we drank.
Yakult, Mirin, Rocket, Black Treacle, Coconut Yogurt, Rice Pudding, Squirty Cream, Custard and Lemon Curd (some of the ingredients that went straight in the bin included Strawberry flavoured Marshmallow Fluff, Nerds, Christmas Pudding, Mexican Tinka Paste, Paul Newman Ranch Dressing and Balsamic Aged Pickled Onions).
As it turned out it was also a breeding ground for pun based cocktail names – It’s a drink Jim but not as we know it (Gareth), Balance Beam (Joe) and Papaya Don’t Preach (Dan Reid).
Noe Doubt About It
Earlier we promised you another side story. This one involves Gareth. Over the past couple of years Gareth has done exceptionally well in competitions, making finals and winning heats left, right and center. That is unless BarLifeUK have been judging him.
He estimates around 12 competitions that we have judged him in and he has never triumphed in a single one. It has become a running joke that has begun to give Gareth a bit of a complex. In fact when he told his bar team that he was in the final and we were judging they suggested throwing the drink in our face rather than serving it, as he was never going to win anyway.
A lot of his competition banter was built around this fact and to be honest we didn’t really bother taking many pictures of him because he was never going to win…..
Except he did. Gareth Evans finally won a competition we judged. The curse has been lifted and on the day he was a thoroughly deserving winner. Both of his drinks and presentations impressed the whole judging panel and as the drinks got passed round the other competitors the empty glasses which returned spoke volumes.
Lee was a close second place and his signature Old Jake’s Fashioned was our drink of the day. With James proving he hadn’t got too rusty picking up third (beating Ruairidh by half a point)
Gareth is jetting off to Kentucky next year to visit the Jim Beam distillery and his winning drink (specs below) will be served at an exclusive event thrown in Fred Noes honour later this month, which Gareth will also be attending.
A thank you to the guys at Joe’s Bar and Kitchen in Covent Garden for looking after us so well and to Jim Beam, Mixxit and Lime PR for putting on such a great comp and day. As always a huge thanks to all of the competitors for all the effort they put in not only on the day but also in the lead up.
I will leave the final words however to Ruairidh who summed up so many peoples thoughts during the mystery box round so succinctly ‘I’m really looking forward to the lumpy texture of this drink’
1st Place – Gareth Evans, Blind Pig
White Said Fred
- 30ml Jim Beam White
- 35ml Sacred Spiced Vermouth
- 15ml Briottet Crème de Peche
- 15ml Kamm & Sons
- 2 dash absinthe
- 1 dash acid phosphate
- 25ml filtered water
Combine ingredients and chill down as much as possible, stirring. Carbonate using soda stream. Decant into 125ml bottles, label and serve alongside rocks glass with large chunk of ice and grapefruit zest.
2nd Place – Lee Potter Cavanagh, Big Easy
Old Jake’s Fashion
- 40ml Jim Beam White Label
- 10ml Becherovka Bitters
- 10ml Harvey’s Bristol Cream
- 5ml salted Maple Syrup infused with banana
- Ginger Beer
- Cinnamon stick
- Lemon twist
Fill a chilled rocks glass with enough ginger beer to coat the glass. Burn one end of the cinnamon stick, empty the glass and upend over the burnt cinnamon stick to catch the smoke. In a mixing glass add all of the remaining ingredients, fill with cubed ice and stir until sufficient dilution and chilling has been achieved. Strain into the now smoked glass, add one large chunk of ice, add the burnt cinnamon stick as a garnish and spray the lemon twist on the surface of the drink then discard.