Returning after a three year hiatus, the Appleton Estate Bartender Challenge is back.
As in previous years, winning the Appleton Estate Bartender Challenge (AEBC) requires more than a great signature drink. The clue is in the title, this is a bartender challenge, not a cocktail competition.
The AEBC sets out to test competitors’ overall skills, including classic cocktail knowledge, speed and efficiency behind the bar, ability to assimilate brand knowledge, and, of course, signature cocktail creation.
Four regional heats were held across the UK, which would select qualifiers to go through to the two-day final, taking place in London in October, which will ultimately send two winners on an epic trip to Jamaica.
Each heat comprised of three rounds:
- Knowledge of the Classics – In which previous AEBC winner, Richard Tring, compiled lists of rum and non-rum classic drinks. One of each was drawn at random by competitors, who then had five minutes to make them. Points were awarded for knowing the correct specs, and balance and taste of the resulting cocktails.
- Speed and Knowledge – Competitors were told in advance to expect three questions about the Appleton Estate brands. These would be delivered, quick fire, while the competitor made three classic Mai Tais, again in five minutes. Points were given for correct answers, and on the drinkability of the Mai Tais.
- Signature Cocktail – The rules for this were simple, create a great drink, using at least 35ml of Appleton Estate rum or rums, with a maximum of seven ingredients.
The judging panel for each heat comprised of Richard Tring, a previous AEBC winner; Samantha Burke, Gruppo Campari Trade Marketing Manager; and your’s truly (Andy Ives, BarLifeUK editor, just in case you haven’t read the by-line).
The London Heat
With all of that rather formal, scene-setting out of the way, we can talk about the heats themselves. London’s proceedings took place at Portside Parlour on a very wet Monday morning. Considering the early start time of 10:30am, and the inclement weather, the turnout was impressively close to a full house.
Working backwards, as you would expect, all of the signature drinks were good, and London provided a few glimpses of rum comps of the past, with some fire and a fair amount of dry ice wafting about.
Unsurprisingly, it was the classics and knowledge rounds that tripped a few competitors up. From the judge’s perspective (at all of the heats), it was immediately apparent who had prepared for these rounds, and who hadn’t, especially when facing the knowledge questions.
While it is entirely understandable for a somewhat obscure classic cocktails to slip under a bartender’s radar, it is a real shame to see points lost for not knowing ‘Wikipedia page 1’ facts about a brand.
Storytelling was a heavily scored subject, and eventual qualifiers all did well at this. In particular, Lauren Taylor really nailed this aspect of her presentation, weaving brand facts and use of props seamlessly into a description of what she was doing as she made her cocktail.
A few competitors knocked themselves out of the running by drawing a blank when the quick fire questions came their way, and a few more lost points because their storytelling was a little wayward. However, it was still mightily close at the top, and the judges, none of whom are any good at maths, required more time than usual to add up the three round’s score.
Arithmetic finally done, the three London bartenders coming to the final were:
London Qualifiers and Their Drinks
Gergo Murath – The Rum Kitchen, London: Sailor’s Delight
- 35ml Appleton V/X
- 15ml Appleton 12
- 15ml Briottet creme de bergamote
- 30ml Lemon juice
- 25ml Earl Grey tea syrup
- 1 Egg white
- Angostura bitters spritz
Lauren Taylor – Hawksmoor Spitalfields, London: A Cup of Tay
- 50ml Appleton’s Extra 12YO
- 35ml Banana Purée
- 25ml Raisin-Tea Syrup
- 5ml Velvet Falernum
- 10ml Lemon Juice
Shaken, served over ice in a copper mug and garnished with orange rind and the next year’s fortune.
Adam Seidman – Rotorino, London: Honey Berry
- 40ml Appleton 8YO
- 10ml Cynar
- 15ml Guinep Syrup (2:1 Sugar:Guinep)
- 2 Dash Eest Indian orange bitters
Stir. Serve up.
The Glasgow Heat
Over the past five years of judging comps around the UK with BarLifeUK, we have watched with interest as the various cities have waxed and waned, in terms of competition quality. At the moment, Glasgow is smashing it. Every heat we judge there seems to produce an amazing standard of drinks and presentation.
Taking place at Kelvingrove cafe, this half of BarLifeUK’s current favourite UK bar, competitors from Glasgow, Aberdeen, and an interloper from Leeds, had clearly read the brief, as both the standard of knowledge and storytelling were very good.
The drinks were great too, with Shea Campbell’s Red Stripe fizz winning him a few extra ‘ha, that’s cool’ points, and the judges found the scoring difficult as the front-runners were so close.
As ever, winners had to be decided, and after much deliberation, the two bartenders representing Scotland at the final are:
Glasgow Qualifiers and Their Drinks
Shea Campbell – Bosn, Aberdeen: Ginger Bread on your Red Striped Tai
- 40ml Appleton Estate
- 12.5ml Jamaican spiced gingerbread syrup
- 25ml Fresh lime
- 10ml Rhubarb shrub
- Top with 25ml of Red Stripe Jamaican Lager
Shake and serve over crushed ice in red stripe can with baby rhubarb stick stirrer
Johnnie Arthur – Orchid, Aberdeen : J. Wray’s Cave
- 30ml Fresh lemon juice
- 3 Barspoons superfine sugar
- 15ml Egg white
- 1 Dash Angostura Bitters
- 12.5ml Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
- 37.5ml Appleton Reserve Blend
- 20ml Port (float)
Add all ingredients aside from port to a shaker. Dry Shake. Hard Shake. Double strain into a half pint tankard over cubed Ice. Pour port on top. Flamed clove studded orange zest (dropped in)