This week the first ever Amaro Di Angostura competition took place and it definitely wasn’t your standard cocktail comp.
When you walk into a bar to be greeted by Jim Wrigley via the medium of a megaphone you begin to get the feeling of what your night has in store for you. By the time BarLifeUK arrived for our judging duties Reverend JW Simpsons was already packed and the crowd were anticipating a big battle.
Lined up for them that evening were four of London’s best bars – Hawksmoor, Cocktail Trading Company, Blind Pig & Opium – battling it out in a series of head to head rounds. Each team consisted of two competitors both of whom would head up one round.
The competition was designed to test their bartending skills, teamwork and speed.
Up for grabs for the top two teams was a trip to Italy to compete in the final against the best two bars from there. The overall winners will then get themselves a trip to Trinidad for the carnival and if that isn’t on your bucket list, it really should be.
We joined our fellow judges, Angostura Global Brand Ambassador Daniyel Jones and his UK counterpart Sean Duprey, as the teams prepped themselves for the first of three rounds, the classics round. Two stations were set and the first two classics, a sling and a sour, were drawn. Each team would have to make 5 of each, with a Amaro Di Angostura twist, in under 5 minutes.
As well as being against the clock they were also being judged on consistency, presentation, taste and authenticity. Round 1 saw Hawksmoor edge out the Blind Pig by just 2 points across the three judges. In another close battle Cocktail Trading Co edged out Opium and that set the tone for what was a tight competition throughout.
The advantage of having 4 bars make 10 drinks each in the space of 20 minutes is the crowd get to help make sure all that lovely booze isn’t wasted. That has the knock on effect of them getting even more involved in Round 2, the highly anticipated Speed Round.
This time each team had 5 minutes set-up time before one member had to leave the bar, the clock started and the remaining bartender had to knock out 10 of Giuseppe Gonzalez’s Trinidad Sours (or twist on) as quickly as possible. As well as being quick, the drinks had to be consistent and taste pretty special.
Jim’s megaphone got a hell of a work out this round, keeping the crowd updated on where they were and also letting the two competing bars know how close they were to each other (they may have only been a couple of feet away from each other but there was no line of sight). The first head-to-head was an epic battle with pre-round favourites Cocktail Trading Co just edging out Blind Pig by 5 seconds.
The second heat was even closer with Hawksmoor pipping Opium to the post. So heading into the final round we had Cocktail Trading Co & Hawksmoor on 40 points and Opium & Blind Pig on 20, however Angostura had something else up their sleeve.
The crowd participation clap-o-meter was introduced and the crowd got to cheer for their favourite bar based on the performance in each round. Both Opium & Blind Pig won 5 points each in the first two rounds so going into the final round every single bar had the chance to make it into the top two and therefore on a plane to Italy for the final.
Putting Jim in charge of a Mystery Box is always going to be a dangerous game and the look on the contestants faces when the ingredients were exposed confirmed everyones worries. A particular favourite was Chubby, a Trinidadian soft drink, we have no idea why…..
The first head-to-head saw the two undefeated teams square off for a guaranteed spot in the final. Hawksmoor vs Cocktail Trading Co did not disappoint with both their sharing drinks being enjoyed by the judges and the crowd. However it was Cocktail Trading Co who emerged victorious.
The second battle was a little bit more….. extravagant. Our host bar for the evening Reverend JW Simpson had kindly supplied a variety of sharing vessels for the contestants to use in this round. However Opium decided that they weren’t quite what they were after.
Instead they unveiled a giant inflatable green paddling pool in which to present and indeed mix their drink. It was a bold move and whilst they were front and centre, posing for pictures and working the crowd the Blind Pig team were behind them putting together a very tasty punch.
As it turned out the flavours told through in the end and Blind Pig joined Cocktail Trading Co to represent the UK in the final in Italy in a couple of weeks time.
BarLifeUK will be there to report back on all the madness that ensues. Rumour has it that this comp will be back again for next year with even more bars being able to get involved, so keep and eye out for it you really won’t be disappointed.
A huge thanks to Reverend JW Simpson and the superb staff for putting up with/looking after us all. To all the competitors and crowd for really getting into the spirt of one of the most fun comps we’ve been involved with. Finally to Paddy and the Lightbox Brands team for putting it all together.