The prize was a trip to Kentucky, the competition was a trip into an alternative universe.
When BarLifeUK were first contacted about the Shake History competition we knew we had to be involved. The idea was a team competition with a difference, testing all the facets of what makes a great bar team combined with all the fun and passion of Jim Beam.
As soon as we sat down with Mixxit’s Amanda Humphrey to come up with the exact details of the rounds, we were looking forward to seeing what the finalists would have in store. The fact the prize was a trip to the home of Jim Beam for the entire competing team only added to the excitement.
The level of entries with regards to both quantity and quality was, unsurprisingly, excellent and as the finalists were decided by Amanda there was a undeniable thought that they had no idea what they were in for (as it turned out we also had no idea what we were in for).
Civil Superheroes Delivered
Describing what unfolded at the final is a little like trying to explain Donnie Darko to your granny. We were there, saw everything happen and yet are still, several days later, not entirely sure what the hell happened.
The undeniables are as follows. There were 6 teams competing. The competition was held at Blues Kitchen, Shoreditch. Looking after us for the day was everyone’s third favourite Mitchell (Grant & Phil still just about edge the top of the list), Sarah. Joining BarLifeUK and Amanda on the judging panel was Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe.
There aren’t too many Master Distillers we have met who would have been as comfortable as Fred in the competition that unfolded. Sure there was the occasional flash of bemusement on his face but in general the expressions were more at the amusement and enjoyment end of the spectrum.
Before the competition even kicked off the atmosphere in the room was fantastic. There were plenty of supporters on hand to cheer the teams and they were busy enjoying the Jim Beam and Ginger Sarah was knocking out as well as a live band banging out classic Southern tunes.
The final 6 teams were as follows:
Cocktail Trading Company, London
Milk Thistle, Bristol
City Social, London
Steam & Rye, London
The first round saw the teams of 3 or 4 members create the drink that had got them into the final. As the first team of Steam & Rye stepped behind the bar in full superhero outfits the tone for the day was set.
Their drink inspiration was Jim Beam Ambassador Mila Kunis and BarLifeUK always applauds any opportunity to think about Mila. City Social’s team arrived as soldiers from the Civil War with some seriously dodgy accents and even dodgier jokes, it was brilliant theatre.
The Milk Thistle crew (calling themselves Stirred Down ‘N Brown in a dig at Bristols reputation of making exclusively that drink style) tied in the story of their bar with that of Jim Beam. Despite more ingredients than a Heston Blumenthal lasagne they managed to balance their Quay Headhouse Punch allowing all of the flavours to come through.
MASH took attempted judge bribery to a new and welcome level by offering each judge an Old Fashioned instead of the usual glass of water as well as a bottle of their awesome danish pastry syrup. This syrup was combined with many ingredients including a mixture of all the Jim Beam products they have in their bar, and anyone who’s been to MASH will attest to that being a fair few.
The Lacehouse team had been stuck in a car down from Nottingham for several hours already that morning and had apparently spent most of that time coming up with a very informative presentation. There Tiki-style bourbon drink was served in a red, white and blue tiki mug with an amazing Americana themed OTT tiki garnish.
The soon to be opened Cocktail Trading Company is being run by a very shy and retiring bunch but they seemed to get over their coyness for us. On the BarLifeUK judging sheet under presentation it simply said ‘YES!!!!’.
There were outfits, a wok for drink prep (it was, apparently, the world’s first ‘Wok-Tail’), Kung-Fu fighting synchronised shaking and some Yuzu or ‘dodgy Asian lemon’ as it was described. However the serve, presented inside a Chinese takeaway rice box complete with menu, delivered via motorcycle helmeted courier to the judges complete with receipt made out to the distilleries CFO, lead to the biggest round of applause of the round.
Mystery Music Punch
After a couple of minutes for everyone to get their breath back round two was unveiled and if we thought round one had been insane we’d seen nothing yet. Round two was a unique proposition with each team having to produce a sharing drink including at least four ingredients from a mystery box with a randomly picked bottle from the Jim Beam stable all inspired by a song that the brilliant live band belted out, oh it all had to be done by the time the song finished.
Two teams went head to head per song and what can only be described as semi-organised chaos erupted. It was one of those moments where, had my mum popped into the bar, it would have been very difficult to convince her that I have a real job.
Our judging notes included the following words and phrases by the end – messy, dirty, better than it should be, can’t place the flavour but not entirely unpleasant, ?, goodish, ohhh that’s hot sauce alright, lovely, is there anything left in that mystery box and who’s idea was this?.
It was hilarious and the live music really added to the atmosphere. In the end there were some surprisingly tasty drinks, a very sticky bar (sorry Sarah) and three confused judges that somehow had to make sense of the last couple of hours and figure out who had won.
As it turned out we couldn’t come to a clear decision and it seemed only fitting in the spirit of the day to give the crowd one last show in the form of a speed-off between the top two teams of Milk Thistle and Cocktail Trading Company. After a frenetic couple of minutes of drink slinging the judges got together again and the winner was announced.
It is the Cocktail Trading Company who will be heading en-masse to the home of Jim Beam (sorry in advance Kentucky) with a thoroughly deserved win. Every competitor and spectator deserved a treat for an amazing afternoon and that was provided by Fred who led everyone on a tasting of the Jim Beam range including the new Signature Range.
Thank you to Jim Beam and the Mixxit team for putting on such a great comp, to Fred for jumping in with both feet, everyone who came down and most importantly Sarah and the Blues Kitchen team for letting us (very) loose on their bar.