6 bartenders from across the globe fought it out in Ibiza to be crowned the 2015 Gin Mare Global Champion and pocket a check for €4,500.
The sounds of waves gently lapping up against the shore were in the darkness to our left, the imposing rock face was lit in a variety of soothing colours to our right, a table laden with food and wine was in front of us. This was turning out to be a pretty damn good evening.
There were 3 tables full of people enjoying the evening, company, drinks and surroundings just as we were. Well almost everyone at the tables. There were 6 poor souls who could be occasionally caught with a glance out of the corner of your eye letting their mask slip, showing the nerves and dread that sat just under the surface.
These 6 were the global finalists. The ones that the whole night was about, but the ones who couldn’t truly enjoy it, not yet at least. In a few hours time they would be dancing carefree in the sweaty throng of heaving bodies at Pacha, winner announced, congratulations given. At this moment however they all knew it could be them, they had given it there all and they could only sit, wait and try their best to keep those masks on.
24 hours earlier there had been a much more relaxed evening for the finalists as they got to know each other at Villa Gin Mare. What with the BBQ food coming from one side of the huge terrace and plentiful Gin Mare & Tonics coming from the other it was easy to forget that the following day they were going to be going up against each other to be crowned 2015 champion.
Suncream and Gin Mare
By the time we returned back to the Villa late the next morning it had been transformed from party central to one of the most beautiful competition venues around. Infinity pool and sun loungers looked out over the glistening sea and striking Ibiza mountains. The sun had even kicked out the overnight rain storm to ensure we were all reaching for the suncream.
This was the 5th time Gin Mare had held the Global Final of their Mediterranean Inspirations Competition and the 4th time BarLifeUK had been lucky enough to join them. In that time we have seen it grow to one of the biggest and most respected gin competitions in the world.
There are many reasons for the growth of the competition and its popularity amongst bartenders. Not least the fact that the final is held on the party island of Ibiza every year, this is backed up by the amazing hospitality always shown by the Gin Mare team who give everyone who attends one of the best trips of their lives.
For us however it is the affiliation with food that Gin Mare has that really makes the brand and competition stand out from the crowd. The savoury notes from the olive and herb botanicals have always made it a firm friend of the culinary fraternity and every year the final builds on this with talks and food from world renowned chefs. In the past we have been treated to a variety of tasty Gin Mare twists from salty plankton G&T serves to sweet Gin Mare nougat. This year though they really upped their food game.
The contestants were joined by Ramón Freixa a Michelin starred chef from Madrid. He had created a recipe for each contestant designed to work with Gin Mare. Prior to the competition each bartender had been told their dish and had been tasked with creating a cocktail to pair with it. At the Villa they each had an opportunity to try the dish and spend some one on one time with Ramón to fine tune their recipes. An experience everyone of them was blown away by.
This drink was one of three each competitor would have to serve to the judges, the other two being the drinks that helped get them there, a twist on a Gin & Tonic and their Mare Nostrum serve (a cocktail inspired by the Mediterranean).
As we got close to kicking the competition off droves of supporters, spectators and journalists filled the balcony of the villa, some diving for the shade whilst others (mainly the brits) ensuring they made the most of the Ibiza sun.
Views and Booze
The order of battle was drawn, the judges (in the form of Stu Bale from Strange Hill, Gareth Evans from Social Group, Jorge Balbontin from Gin Mare and all the way from Old Soul in Australia Lochlan Miller) set themselves up and the impressive photography set-up led by old BarLifeUK friend Gegam Kazariam was in place. This first round saw each competitor creating their G&T and Mare Nostrum serves.
First up was Heitor Marin from Brazil who got the crowd involved right from the get go and certainly showed no signs of jet lag after his long journey. His G&T serve saw a normal G&T being served with a shell on top of the glass, the shell was filled with more Gin Mare and saffron which the customer adds themselves, a nice interactive serve. The Mare Nostrum was a nod to the islands of the mediterranean with fig syrup representing Minorca and grapefruit juice representing Formentera
Portugal’s Nunu Figueredo had less distance to travel than Heitor but seemed no less enthusiastic to be there, even designing his G&T serve around a sunset at Villa Gin Mare with a rosemary, black & pink peppercorn infusion joining the Gin Mare and tonic with an orange and spice rim, all very nice indeed. The fig theme continued in his Mare Nostrum with fig jam and fig cordial combining with the other ingredients, served up to look like a bottle of wine with tapas.
Then it was time for the UK’s Dan Warren, confidence in the UK supporters camp was high and finger were crossed.We had been big fans of his G&T serve at the London Final and he upped his presentation after adding his Gin Mare and homemade Mediterranean tonic reduction by getting all Spanish and pouring his tonic down a bar spoon to keep the bubbles (apparently). With a few drops of olive oil and the unusual but very tasty marinated mango garnish Dan was off to a strong start.
Dan kicked off his Mare Nostrum serve with a ‘pallet opener’ using damsons from his mum’s garden (top tip: always mention your mum when presenting to Spanish or Italian judges…). The Mare Nostrum drink itself was a martini twist so Gin Mare was matched with sherry, cacao liqueur, crystal bitters and an apple tincture. The drinks tasted great and his presentation was bang on, at this stage we had him topping the pile.
Thorsten Veth will be a familiar face to those who follow international cocktail competitions and the German bartender is always entertaining when presenting his drinks. Inspired by lovely ladies his G&T twist contained violet, giving it a great colour, and a lemon twist. We’re not normally fans of violet in drinks over at BarLife as it can overpower but Thorsten did a great job balancing it. Orange Sunset was his Mare Nostrum serve and another simple and very nice serve – muddled peppers, Gin Mare, lemon juice, homemade vanilla simple syrup with a vanilla salt rim. Funny, entertaining presentation with great drinks, good work.
Local boy Manel Vehi was next up to big cheers from the Spanish contingent. We mentioned the plankton earlier and Manel obviously liked it as much as we did as he used that alongside Gin Mare, lemon peel, sea fennel and tonic in his G&T serve, it may have been a bit of a Marmite taste but we certainly enjoyed it. His Mare Nostrum serve gained originality points with coconut cream, carrot juice, lime juice and Ras el Hanout teaming up with the Gin Mare and, continuing the days big trend, a raspberry powder crusted glass.
Last up in the fist round was Italy’s Mirko Turconi. He went a bit British with his G&T twist adding an Earl Grey tea infusion to the classic ingredients for a very refreshing drink. His Mare Nostrum drink was a great Sangria-esque style drink with a homemade sangria mix (featuring figs of course) along with lemon, lavender honey, cardamon bitters and Gin Mare. Great looking drinks which the judges seemed to enjoy.
The second round was all about the food matching with a new judging panel including the chef that created the dishes, Ramón heading it up.
This was definitely the trickiest round as although they had been told what the dishes were going to be to help them prepare their matched cocktails they only got to try them the day before. These weren’t your average dishes either with Dan’s Gazpacho dish for example coming deconstructed on a washing line!
Due to the nature of this round we didn’t get to taste the drinks or the dishes so it is very hard to comment on how the contestants all did, we did hear on the grapevine however that Dan had done exceptionally well.
And The Ginner Is…
Back to the restaurant by the sea and it was time to put the contestants out of their misery by announcing the winner. It was going to be tight with everyone we spoke to mentioning different names when asked who they though had nailed it. Although Dan’s name did come up repeatedly especially amongst the other contestants.
However when all the scores were tallied Dan came in 3rd, it was a great effort and earned him a thousand euros and a lot of hugs from the UK team. 2nd place went to Italy and the winner was Spain’s very own Manel who seemed stunned and exceptionally happy to be presented with the giant check.
Whilst there may have been twinges of disappointment from those who didn’t take out top spot it must have been a very tight call as from where we sat they all did exceptionally well. There was certainly some strong contenders from the day that didn’t manage to place in our humble opinion.
There was no time to wallow though as we were off to party the night away in one of Ibiza’s most famous clubs Pacha. There we had our very own VIP area full of Gin Mare and we certainly made the most of it. We are pretty sure there was dancing and merriment but…. well what happens in Pacha stays in Pacha.
The following day was spent licking our wounds in Hidden Bar with Amanda Blanch & Chris Edwards looking after us splendidly. Unfortunately that is the last time we will be able to enjoy that particular Ibiza pleasure as they are moving onto new adventures in Croatia.
Once again we had an amazing time in Ibiza with the Gin Mare family looking after us all superbly and this competition proving it deserves its place amongst the very best comps running. Special thanks to Stu & Herb from CASK Liquid Marketing, Stu Bale & BarChick’s Louise Corbin for making it such a laugh.
Huge congratulations to Manel for taking out top prize and all the contestants for making it such fun to watch. Dan in particular deserves a mention for representing the UK so well and giving the others such a run for their money. Next year for the win UK….