Last week the Ultimate Bartender Championship kicked off in the UK with bartenders across the country battling to top the local and global leaderboards.
The Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Bartender Championship (UBC) is unlike any other cocktail competition, which is hardly surprising with Dean Callan & Grant Neave the brains behind it. Rather than the traditional ‘make a cocktail’ central format UBC looks to test every aspect of a bartenders skill levels over a series of rounds.
These scores are tallied up over the day and added to UK and Global Leaderboards on the UBC website.
15 heats are taking place across 14 cities in England, Scotland and Wales so there is no reason you can’t get involved. We sent along a couple of intrepid BarLifeUK correspondents to report back on two of the first few rounds in Edinburgh and Leeds.
Edinburgh – Iain McPherson, Owner Panda & Sons & Hoot the Redeemer
The Ultimate Bartenders Challenge (UBC) is not for the faint hearted and isn’t about making one drink and presenting it to a panel of judges, you have to compete in 7 challenges over the whole day. The Edinburgh heat was held in the stunning Voodoo Rooms, this competition was set to be a fierce, fun and stressful day for the competitors and a fun spectacle and day out for curious punters like me. Obviously having Grant Neave on the mic was always going to add an extra dimension of humour.
Challenge 1 – Knowledge
This consisted of 100 questions, all multiple choice. Let me tell you it was more like a crazy pub quiz on speed. Each question was fired out every 5 seconds, so time to think of an answer was minimal. If you spent too long on a question you would become lost and left behind. It was ruthless!
Challenge 2 – Mixiodic Table
Here the bartenders had to look at a cocktail periodic table. They were given 20 recipes with the elements from the table representing the ingredients which you then had to work out. I got shivers when I saw a revamped periodic table, I haven’t seen a table like that since I was 16… Chemistry wasn’t my strongest subject. All the competitors did well in this round, they obviously did better in their Chemistry class then I ever did.
Challenge 3 – Pouring Round
As it sounds, they had to get all their pour measures correct ranging from 5ml, 10ml right up to 50ml. I always like to see a pour round as it’s a great test for a bartender. The results were varying in this round but you could see which competitors had put in the practice.
Challenge 4 – Nosing
10 black tasting glasses with 10 different types of alcohol. They got points for naming the category of spirit and more points for getting it bang on. I always find a nosing round super tough. You over think your decision, you over smell and by the end of the round you can’t smell jack. This is one of those rounds where you have to stick with your guns and go with your instincts a little bit. A lot of frowning was going on. Gordon Purnell looked extremely confused, did all the tasting glasses contain Monkey Shoulder??
Challenge 5 – Stock take
Yes you read that properly, there is a stock take round. Working out gross profits, margins etc, the true test of any bartender and more so for the managers out there. I’m glad calculators were allowed as if they weren’t that would’ve been very cruel. I thought it would be funny if a bar brought their stock taker in as a ringer for this round but that never happened.
Challenge 6 – Tray skills
This one was good to watch. The bartender had a tray full of drinks and on the table had coasters with a man or woman on them and on the other side of the coaster was the drink of their choice. You had to serve ladies first etc. I love tray skills as a lot of bartenders have never actually picked one up and refuse to do anything but holding fort behind their bar and slinging drinks.
So one more round to go and only the top 3 got to go through to the mighty speed round! It was fairly close between all the competitors but Faye Woodcock from Bar Soba, Steven Nicholson from Monteiths and Gordon Purnell from Hoot The Redeemer made it through for one final battle. 5 minutes, 8 drinks that have to be done just right and yes that includes napkins. Speed rounds are just the best for people watching, its like a colosseum for bartenders you either get flustered, overwhelmed and succumb to defeat or you rise to the challenge and become Champion.
This years UBC Edinburgh Champion was Gordon Purnell who was solid in all the rounds, a close second was Steven Nicholson and third place went to Faye Woodcock.
Newcastle – Luke Riley, Pololo & 2015 BarLifeUK Rookie
Weather was scorching hot (for Geordie standards – still bring a coat) and nervous bartenders huddled around reading their printouts ready for an afternoon of booze, trash talking and bartending debauchery.
Painting a brief picture, the setting was Tiger Hornsby – home of the Newcastle team from the UBC finals 2015. The atmosphere was pretty tense but nothing a few Monkey Shoulder cocktails couldn’t sort out! Ten minutes later and the bartenders were looking a bit more lubricated and rearing to go.
Challenge 1 – The Quiz
A high intensity round of rapid fire general knowledge questions (with a few curveballs for good measure). Not even a chance to slip in a quick beverage. The questions ranged from easy to medium difficulty, but most of them were things that most well read bartenders should know.
Challenge 2 – The Mixiodic Table
This round was a real challenge, bartenders were expected to deduce classic cocktails from a very creative adaptation of the periodic table in which elements symbolised ingredients, garnishes and glassware!
This round was tense and many of the bartenders appeared to crumble a bit under the pressure, I heard one of the cities ‘smoking guns’ repeat to himself ‘Rum, lime, sugar…Rum, lime, sugar…that must be a kind of rum sour”!
I guess even the best of us sometimes brain fart when placed in an unusual setting.
Although the round appeared to be incredibly challenging, I imagine with a solid classic cocktail knowledge, a good measure of preparation and a sound methodology, you could find this round a bit more approachable than it first seems.
The Main Challenges
The nosing challenge was the devil. That is all that can be said about that.
Most of these challenges are things that any well seasoned veteran should perform reasonably well in. However the marking schemes were set with this in mind as there was a very small allowance for error.
William Campbell-Rowntree from Jalou performed particularly well in the pouring test, setting the current highest score in the UK and second best globally.
The top 3 highest scores before the speed rounds ended up as follows.
1st: Dan Madden – Gusto Newcastle
2nd: Ben Escobar – Aveika
3rd: William Campbell-Rowntree – Jalou
As intense as you can imagine, the bartenders by this point were very much wet on the inside, but still managed to pull off some pretty decent attempts.
We saw bartenders go from prim and proper, making their drinks with finesse and slick methodology until the timer began to tick down and the descent into madness began. At one point I saw someone strain with their bare hands!
The final scores were:
1st: Ben Escobar – Aveika
2nd: Dan Madden – Gusto Newcastle
3rd: William Campbell-Rowntree – Jalou
We will be bringing you more news on the other heats as they go but there is still time to get yourself involved as either a competitor or spectator. Either way a great fun day is bound to land on your lap.
Details of all the heats and how to enter can be found on the Monkey Shoulder UBC website here.