It’s a daunting thing to take a product back to a country that invented and adores it, and say we can do this better. Rather like challenging the French to the prowess of their croissants, or, in this case, the Italians and their love of amaro.
But that’s just what four fearless UK-based bartenders did, boarding a plane to Rome in the early hours of the morning, ready to take on four staunchly proud Italians at their ability to craft cocktails with amaro.
Amaro di Angostura Versus Competition is unlike any I’ve judged before, pitting four teams of two bartenders, each representing their bar and their country, against each other in rounds of classic execution, speed and innovation.
Held on the coast of Italy, the nations gathered for sunset over the water – preparing for the three rounds that would see the wining duo jetting off to next year’s Carnival in the Caribbean and the runners up off to host a pop-up at BCB.
Having proved himself the perfect host and commentator at the first London-based heat, the evening was presided over by Mr Jim Wrigley on the megaphone and his Italian-counterpart, a slightly shorter but just as vocal Mediterranean version. While we may not have understood his jokes, the home crowd loved him. And as Jim had an Italian co-conspirator so did I, in the form of fellow judge Giampiero Francesca from Blue Blazer. Giampiero and I were also joined on the judge’s panel by Angostura Global Brand Ambassador Daniyel Jones.
Up first was London bar Blind Pig vs Milan bar Pitch. In a fast-paced race to finish with one bartender from each team having to make five sours and five Old Fashioneds using Amaro di Angostura. The Pitch team managed to finish first but it was Blind Pig who came out on top with taste and consistency edging them the win.
Next to take the stage were the boys from Cocktail Trading Co against Rome bar Porto Fluviale, shaking five Daiquiris and stirring five Manhattans. With the home crowd going crazy for the Porto guys, it was neck and neck for consistency, taste and presentation but the CTC team managed to just scrape ahead. Once the bonus crowd points were allocated Blind Pig came out on top, leading the teams.
By the time we hit round two, the crowd was absolutely pumped for the battle, and while most of the banter was in Italian, the comradery between teams was fantastic to see.
The scoring for the speed round placed a heavy emphasis on finishing first, obviously, allocating an extra ten points to the team that managed to smash through ten of Giuseppe Gonzalez’s Trinidad Sours before the other. What resulted was a somewhat interesting round to judge with speed occasionally producing drinks that might not exactly merit the term cocktail.
In both heats it was the speedy Italians that beat the Brits with seconds to spare but the CTC and Blind Pigs teams managed to claw back points on the taste and execution of their cocktails. Overall deserving winners were the duo from Porto Fluviale who knocked out some incredibly fast and still balanced sours all the while having a great time behind the bar and getting the crowd enthused. They even managed to finish with time for a cheeky layback from Blind Pig’s Olivier as he finished off his drinks.
As round two finished the sun had sunk beneath the ocean and the tunes on the dance floor had the crowd up and celebrating. Jim had only mentioned the two b-words once (Brexit and Berlusconi) and we couldn’t understand the comebacks anyway so all was well for international diplomacy.
Round three saw the introduction of the mystery box where the teams had to create a punch. With loads of fresh ingredients, plenty of Amaro di Angostura and some questionable ‘punch bowls’ the teams set to work, juicing, prepping and trying to create a serve good enough to get them partying in Carnival.
After we were presented with some delicious punches to share with the crowd the judges has some tough decisions to make. Over intense deliberations, and some late night pasta to keep the party going, Kevin and Olivier from The Blind Pig emerged as the victors, with two plane tickets the party of 2018. Runners up Porto Fluviale will be at BCB tending bar and representing Angostura Di Amaro to the trade.
Once the winners were announced the true dancing began, but on a floor filled with Caribbeans and Italians, the famous British rhythm stood little chance. At least we know no one is ever going to try and challenge us on that account.