Six bartenders from across the UK arrived at the Punch Room to fight for the honour of representing the UK at the Global Final of the Courvoisier Toast of Paris Competition.
There was more than honour up for grabs of course. In this case a trip to Paris as well as a jaunt to Jarnac and for the overall winner a bottle of bespoke blended Cognac dating back to the 1800’s which will never be available to buy, a truly unique prize.
Punch Room is a fantastic canvas for events and Rebecca Asseline and the Courvoisier team had done a superb job of decking it out to inspire thoughts of Paris, helped by the handing out of Courvoisier Champagne Cocktails. As the band wound down their last song Rebecca stood to announce the judging panel of herself, David Miles from Mixxit and special guest (not that David isn’t special…. no wait, because David isn’t special) Brian Silva.
The first bartender set up his equipment and we complimented that face we have spent more time with Rebekkah Dooley and Davide Segat at Punch Rooms this year than we have with our entire family. To be fair they do serve better drinks so no complaints.
There was to be two rounds, the first seeing them presenting the drink they entered to get this far, a twist on the classic champagne cocktail and the second… well more of that shortly.
Dario Guaglione from The Worship Street Whistling Shop kicked off basing his drink around the Moulin Rouge, both the venue and the film. The garnish was inspired by one of the original dancers Louise Weber and the drink was served in diamond shaped sharing server in a nod to the first Nicole Kidman song in the film ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’. Just for added decadence it also included truffle bitters.
Mikey Cook of Rules based his serve on a female pioneer of dance and lighting in France during the period called Loie Fuller. He picked Courvoisier VSOP as the base for his drink which also included a homemade champagne syrup. He also kept the crowd entertained including the line ‘It’s like working in someone else’s kitchen, you know everything is there you just don’t know where.’ when get his head around the foreign bar set-up.
The Lanesborough is famous for it’s collection of vintage cognacs with the oldest dating back to 1770 and Luca Rapetti from the Library Bar drew on this. However his drinks main inspiration came, much to Dooley’s excitement, from his black cat and therefore Le Chat Noir as well as the now closed Criterion Restaurant, whose bartender published the first known French cocktail book, which included a Courvoisier advert.
Birmingham was represented next by Jason Ballantyne from The Bureau whose drink and presentation was all about passion, the key to the Golden Age in Paris. VSOP was once again the base however the twist came in the form of spherification in the form of raindrops, rather than caviar, flavoured with vanilla and pecan. Showing all the wow factor and sophistication of the Golden Age.
Witek Wojaczek from the Beaufort Bar took us on a journey through time to1900’s Paris. Inspired by wealthy (not financially) Bohemians “Haute Bohemians’ in french and name of cocktail. Absinthe also key to the story and the bohemians. Homemade French Rose Liqueur (St Germain, Absinthe, Chambord and dried rose petals) formed the base of the drink along with red wine.
The furthest journeyer of the day was Kyle Hamilton, Panda & Sons in Edinburgh. His story about links between the Courvoisier and Napoleon families tied nicely into his own experiences. In particular the infamous Josephine, Napoleon Bonepharte’s first true love and the inspiration behind the famous Courvoisier bottle holding her name. Kyle’s own first love was a dancer called Saskia Wedding who is his muse and his link to Paris as she is now a dancer at Moulin Rouge.
When Six Become Three
From the six competitors the judges picked three who would go on to compete in the second and final round.
This round was based on scents. Courvoisier have been working with Ericka Duffy to create two candles fragranced with distinct aromas based on the Golden Age in Paris.
The first candle was designed around the night time smells from the era, as people started to go out at night and venues such as the Moulin Rouge and cinemas popped up across the city.
The second was a look at the morning time when bohemians would sit and discuss the issues of the day whilst knocking back imported coffees and teas.
Each of the three competitors would have to pick a candle with which to inspire their drink and then create a cocktail using Courvoisier VSOP and ingredients from the dreaded mystery box.
Mikey picked the night time scented candle and from the mystery box focused on a drink that gave a nod to the food, in particular the rich chocolate desert, and the smokey atmosphere, paring Laphroaig Quarter Cask with Creme de Cacao and Chocolate Bitters and of course the Courvoisier VSOP.
Witek plumped for the daytime candle, creating a twist on the Courvoisier Sour, a refreshing drink for the daytime embibers. Fig liqueur, OJ bitters, lemon juice, VSOP and egg white were his weapons of choice and produced a very elegant looking serve.
Luca went back to night time and took with him Charles Dickens, in particular the fact that when Dickens died they found a large cognac selection, mainly Courvoisier. The drink is a twist on the French 75; VSOP, orange sherbet, lemon juice and egg white were plucked from the mystery box and shaken up.
So it was over to the judges to argue and discuss one last time before picking the winner who would be winning his way to Paris on May 17th to compete against Germany, Canada, Austria and France.
Once the crowd had a drink in hand it was over to Rebecca again and our winner was announced, congratulations to Witek Wojaczek. Good luck in Paris, Witek, and we will, of course, be bringing you all the news of how he gets on.
Big thanks to the Punch Room and Courvoisier for a great day and well done to all the competitors. We hope there are many more years of this competition to come.