Diageo World Class UK Final Results

Last week the World Class UK Final took place. Over several days, thousands of feet in elevation and two continents, 8 finalists became one winner.

Over the past months World Class has been travelling the country trying hundreds of cocktails and picking the best from each heat to arrive at the UK’s final 8. These 8 started their journey bright and early in London last Monday, only 4 of them would be on a plane to Hong Kong the following day for the next part of their challenge

The day started bright and early with a grooming and wet shave session, luckily the barbers weren’t as nervous as the finalists otherwise the cutthroat razors may have started the whittling down process a little early.

They appeared fresh in the face (if not in the eyes) at Hixter to start a day that would see 4 leave without experiencing the Hong Kong leg of the journey and no matter how many times they told themselves getting to the top 8 was a hell of an achievement, that was still going to smart.

Just to make sure their nerves and shakes were at full wobble the contestants were invited to attend a couple of talks from experts in presentation skills before the comp started, to ensure they were fully equipped for the challenges which were to come their way.

First Round

At 3pm they were finally let loose on the judges, who consisted of last years winner Gareth ‘Gaz’ Evans from Blind Pig, Diageo representative James Hill and jammy journalist of the year (not that we’re bitter he got to go on the trip not us) Tom Sandham from the Thinking Drinkers.

Ordinarily with competition write-ups we pick out the top few performers and focus on them, however it soon became apparent that these 8 each deserved some loving for the amount of effort they had put in. Their brief had been to create a ‘Best of British’ cocktail and presentation, a couple of hours later it was obvious why these guys were the top 8.

James Fowler from Larder House in Bournemouth kicked off proceedings and immediately helped to dispel any tension in the room. His presentation focused on what he felt Britain had given the world through music.

Playing snippets of songs to explain his processes and drink (for example ‘Under Pressure’ was played to explain one of his infusions) he had the crowd and judges in hysterics. He served his Cardhu based cocktail in a giant ceramic Big Ben sharing vessel alongside some specially made ‘World Class 2014’ Rock.

Manchesters Matthew Soares, from Cloud 23 had to follow that and the suitcase of props he had pointed out during the morning had us convinced he wouldn’t struggle. He kicked off handing out Welsh, English and Scottish cushions to easy the judges derrieres (Gaz sulked till he got the Welsh one!).

The rest of his presentation was peppered with a seemingly unending supply of props denoting all that is great about Britain – Thomas the Tank Engine, Bacon, Nessie and a lemon with Keith written on to name just a few. He also picked Cardhu as his base spirit serving his drinks up on an edible grass field complete with edible sheep (Gaz seemed very happy).

Iain McPherson of Edinburgh’s Panda & Sons had excelled in his heat presentation and didn’t drop a beat in the final. His Biggles time traveller character complete with authentic outfit immediately had everyone smiling and when he explained that his Best of Britain focus was Custard (‘all British puddings are better with custard’) we just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

If Tanqueray No TEN has ever been mixed with custard we have never seen it, well we HAD never seen it. When Iain served it up in a treasure chest complete with a map of Britain showing the ‘Custard Hotspots’ we couldn’t wait for the judges to be done with them so we could have a try.

Robin Honholt had qualified at the end of last year when working at Lucky Liquor Co in Edinburgh, since then he has moved down to London to look after White Lyan. Robin’s tongue in cheek presentation focused on Scotlands greatest exports which, according to him, include Whisky, water and bartenders.

His drink was designed to bring together the best of England & Scotland with Tanqueray No. TEN and Talisker 10 being combined with a Vimto syrup reduction. In a nod to his new bar home he even bottled it before serving to each judge.

Milk & Honey’s Nathan O’Neil set about focusing on ingredients from all 4 corners of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (pipe down at the back, yes NI isn’t in GB but it’s a cocktail comp not a Cambridge debating assignment!).

His Tanqueray No TEN cocktail was served in one of the most iconic of English summer accessories, a picnic basket, complete with mountains of fresh herbs to mirror the refreshing drink he handed to the judges.

Red Light in Bristol’s Richard Tring was the 4th contestant to have competed at this stage of World Class before (Iain, Matthew and James being the others) and he used all of his significant comp experience in his presentation. Focusing on the bastion of Britain that is the good old pub, Rich donned a flatcap to become Landlord of the Tring’s Arms.

He noted the importance of Gin & Tonics (especially to his mum) and of course a good old packet of Salt & Vinegar crisps, a mention of UKIP reminded us it isn’t a perfect country just yet. His serve was designed to look like a pint of ale even coming in a dimpled half pint glass.

In the second London heat Luca Corradini from The Savoy had shown a real talent in telling a story and dragging everyone into his, sometimes crazy, world. Once again he had the room silent (when they weren’t laughing) as he told us all about his early days in the UK and the kindness of the people he’d encountered.

His story ended up with him living with no power or water but the juxtaposition to the Johnnie Walker Gold Label drink he served up with a suitably elegant garnish was superb.

Massimo Zitti from the soon to be open Cane & Grain in Manchester seems to always go 1st or 2nd in comps and so it was uncharted territory for him to close the show. His presentation was all about elegance and from start to finish that is what he conveyed.

The drink, containing Tanqueray No TEN, was served in an oversized champagne flute style glass with a rose, perfume and an aroma water poured over dry ice to engulf the judges and crowd in a lovely fragrance. A very fitting way to end proceedings.

The Result

Whoever designed the World Class programme this year is, it seems, rather a cruel soul. After making them wait to get going the competitors were also forced to wait to find who was going to get a new stamp in their passport and who had to put theirs back in their pants draw.

The top four in their snazzy suits

During dinner that evening the top four were announced. This top four were Massimo Zitti, Rich Tring, Nathan O’Niel and James Fowler.

As a spectator it was too close to call and I can only imagine the arguments that went on in the judging room. Don’t feel to sorry for the judges though as they were joining the final four on a First Class British Airways flight to Hong Kong.

Before we get onto that leg of the competition it is worth mentioning just how well the four that didn’t make it did and how unlucky they all were to miss out. The standard throughout the heats BarLifeUK judged was exceptional and the final at Hixter was a whole new level.

There are very few comps in the world that would have seen any one of those four presentations and drinks not emerge victorious, unfortunately for them World Class is one of those competitions. Hopefully now a bit of time has passed they can reflect on how well they did and how proud they should be of their achievements.

Hong Kong

As we may have touched on earlier BarLifeUK didn’t make it onto the plane to Hong Kong either (sleep with one eye open Sandham) so we can’t give you a blow by blow account of exactly what happened but we will try our best to fill you in on what went down.

After a suit fitting in London in the morning the final four were joined by the three judges in the First Class Lounge at Heathrow. I’m sure collective heads were spinning after the rollercoaster couple of days they’d had but there was no time to relax for the final four as they boarded the plane.

The next challenge was to take place on route to HK in the Business Class Galley of a new BA A380. The theme of this section was ‘East meets West’ with bartenders asked to take influence from both cultures and involve that in their drink. Just to make it a little harder they also had to consider that flavours change at altitude and adapt their drink accordingly.

Oh and not to forget there was a special guest aboard the flight for them to serve. Anna Friel, who BLUK have been a big fan of since her work on Brookside, was on hand to sample the finalists creations also.

Once they landed the 4 guys were given a couple of days to explore the city and pick up inspiration. We aren’t entirely sure what transpired during those days but I don’t think it would be a huge gamble to suggest drinking, eating and laughing at bad translations would have been on the agenda.

Before they could entirely relax however there was one last challenge ahead of them. This time a new judge joined the panel in the form of Chef Jason Atherton, who was instrumental in the final push towards victory.

Each bartender was given a dish by Jason and tasked with creating a cocktail to match with it. To give it a real local flavour each finalists was also given a budget of $US50 to visit the Hong Kong Wet Market and source their ingredients.

Then back to Jason’s venue, Ham and Sherry, where they were to present their drink to the 4 judges, matched with the dish and taking inspiration from their time in Hong Kong. These guys had really earnt a rest by the time they had finished that challenge.

No doubt the judges had a tough job picking a winner but a winner needed to be picked. A winner who would go on to represent the UK in the global final later this year. A winner who would have the weight of the nation on their shoulders.

Our UK World Class representative James Fowler

That person is James Fowler of the Larder House in Bournemouth. A very worthy champion and a fantastic representative for the UK to take on (and hopefully beat) the world.

James’ winning drinks can be found below and a huge congratulations to him and all of the finalists. World Class keeps getting tougher and tougher and everyone involved deserves credit for such a superb competition (except Sandham).

Good luck James and we’ll be there to support you in the Globals.

Winner: James Fowler, The Larder House, Bournemouth

Challenge One – Best of British

Be-cumming Queen

  • 50ml CARDHU 12yo
  • 10ml Lapsang Souchang Tea
  • 25ml Earl Grey & Honey Flash Infusion
  • 15ml Sarsons, Tarragon and Strawberry Reductions

Stir on ice to dilute before chilling in fridge to bind flavours. Serve with a dehydrated pear and strawberry and Rock candy.

Challenge Two – East meets West 

Bloody Mary XO

  • 60ml Tanqueray No. TEN
  • 3 dsh Tabasco
  • 5ml Fino sherry
  • 25ml Tomato juice
  • 10ml XO and lemongrass infusion*

Thrown and served in wine glass with a chilli and shrimp oil float and Sky Flake crackers.

Challenge Three – Bartender/Barchef

Hong Kon-fusion

  • 60ml Ron Zacapa XO
  • 2 dsh Angostura bitters
  • 15ml Pink grapefruit juice
  • 40ml Squash, date, 5 spice, Cascara puree
  • 10ml Palo Contado

Swizzle all ingredients in a chinese mug before adding crushed ice and swizzling again. Garnish with dehydrated pineapple, rice paper and a back scratcher.

*XO is a Hong Kong sauce made from spices and finely chopped seafood, prawns, scallops and is rich in Unami. The XO sauce was thinned with Tanqueray and James added tomato puree and lemongrass.