Diageo World Class UK Finals at 35,000ft

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope it’s the final 4 in the 2013 UK World Class competition.

Over the years we’ve seen bartenders making drinks at some pretty unusual places – on a beach, on a train, on the end of a bungee rope, on a speed boat, at the top of a snow capped mountain, even in a bar!? But Diageo took this all to a new level this year when they announced that the UK World Class finalists would be competing at 35,000ft on route to New York.

Gareth Evans cramping it up

A series of heats over the last few months had seen 10 bartenders triumph (details on those here and here) and make their way to Heathrow for the first part of a 3 day cocktail making extravaganza. Only 4 would make it onto the plane to New York and the First Class Lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was the venue for the knockout round.

The 10 competitors were:
Mark Scott – Hyde & Co, Bristol
Gareth Evans – Social Eating House, London
Kevin Griffin – Tigerlily, Edinburgh
Aaron Jones – The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, London
James Fowler – The Library, Bournemouth
Matt Soares – Hilton Manchester, Deansgate
Ben ‘Benji’ Purslow – Ziloufs, London
Yan ‘Iain’ McPherson – The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Lucy Horncastle – The Victoria, Birmingham
Michael Braun – Bibis Italianissimo, Leeds

Their first mission was to create the Perfect Pre-Flight Cocktail, designed for First and Business Class passengers to sip away on before they get to board the plane ahead of us mere mortals. The judging panel tasked with deciding what First Class passengers would like to drink were two previous UK World Class champions – 2012’s Andy Mil and 2010’s (and eventual World Class winner) Erik Lorenz alongside World Class Brand Ambassador James Hill and Thinking Drinkers Tom Sandham.

The victorious 4 consisted of James, Kevin, Aaron and Gareth who made it onto the plane and the first of three altitude inspired rounds. The challenges were not just confined to the usual worry of creating a great drink with a good name whilst ensuring plenty of brand knowledge and controlling those shakes, the plane brought its own set of issues.

Kevin Griffin praying for no turbulence

The first reared its head before they even took off with Gareth having all of his homemade ingredients confiscated by the friendly security folk (to make matters worse his glassware all broke in the hold). However everyone had to compete against the lack of space, equipment, turbulence and every bartenders bug bear rubbish ice.

Despite this the guys produced some great drinks in the first round which saw them making their twist on a classic Aviation (of course) using Tanqueray No TEN. This was followed by a Cocktail Above the Clouds using Ron Zacapa XO. Zacapa is made for a competition like this with its tagline being the fact it is aged at 23,000ft.

The judges had an extra issue to contend with as, according to Gareth, you lose about 30% of your taste when at altitude. James had obviously also heard about this as he gave the judges a steam re-hydrator to refresh them before serving his drink.

Next came a few hours in New York which I’m sure was spent sleeping, resting, relaxing and preparing for the return leg and not drinking and any of the Big Apples superb bars….

The return flight took place on the very swanky business class only overnight BA route. With it all to play for the guys had come up with the Ultimate Nightcap using either Ron Zacapa XO or Johnnie Walker Blue Label combined with ingredients they had sourced in New York (when they weren’t sleeping of course).

This particular flight really saw the turbulence kick in which may have helped with any tiredness by shaking the drinks for them. Despite that some suitably world class drinks were produced and it was left to the judges to do some totting up and no doubt a bit of arguing.

There were to be two winners who will be heading over to Madrid this week to go head to head in the World Class Western European Finals. As the plane reached UK airspace it was left to the captain to announce the winners over the tannoy and those winners were Gareth Evans and Kevin Griffiths.

BarLifeUK will be in Madrid to see who triumphs to represent the UK at the Global Finals on July 4th – 9th, which to keep with the travel theme will be taking place on a cruise ship. We’ll bring you all the news from the Western European Finals later this week but one thing is sure, whoever takes out the title will have well and truly earned it after the journey they have been on.

Kevin Griffin – Tigerlily, Edinburgh

Round One – Speedbird #10

45ml Tanqueray No. TEN
20ml Rin Quin Quin Peach Vermouth
2 grapefruits
1 lime zest
Hopped chamomile bitters
Sugar Syrup
Homemade chamomile perfume – aromatised
Stir all ingredients and serve in a vintage sherry glass with lime and coriander marshmallows.

Twist on a classic gin martini, the botanicals in Tanqueray No.TEN with fresh citrus fruits inspired my ingredients to deliver a clean, crisp pre-flight cocktail.  The lime and coriander marshmallow had a journey of their own, being put on a train to London from Edinburgh!

Round Two – The Clouds Above the Kingdom

30ml Tanqueray No. TEN
15ml King’s Ginger
15ml Camomile Liqueur
10ml lemon juice
1 bar spoon lemon sherbet
1 bar spoon caster sugar
Add all the ingredients to the shaker, add ice and shake for thirty seconds until its ice cold. Shake, double strained and serve in a vintage stemmed glass.

History of the aviation built around redemption. Inspired by cultures of NYC and a cocktail called the Penicillin created at Milk & Honey. Hands around some tea and botanicals to smell and bring out the flavours of Tanqueray No. TEN.

Round Three – Chocolate Night Cap

50ml Zacapa XO
25ml Noix Saint Jean
7.5ml Mozart Chocolate Spirit
½ bar spoon pimento dram
2 orange zests
Harrod’s Coffee and Chocolate Disk
Stir all the ingredients over ice with two orange zests and serve on a glass tea cup with a Harrod’s Coffee and Chocolate Disk.

Zacapa has one of the only female master distillers in the world, Lorena Vasquez who told Kevin that she relaxes by catching up with her daughter over lunch and a chat. This drink is perfect for relaxing and catching up and the peated whisky brings a new dimension, reminiscent of the peat and smoke above the clouds.

Round Four – Mr. Walkers’ Nightcap

40ml Johnnie Walker Blue Label
20ml condensed milk
50ml Half & Half (half milk, half cream)
10ml Popcorn Tea Syrup
1 pinch nutmeg
4 dashes Chuncho Bitters
Shake at 35,000 feet and serve in a 1/3 vintage milk bottle with a green straw. Add a Scottish shortbread and salted chocolate charboned and walker truffles on the side.

Milk is calming and great just before bed, which is why I have chosen to play on this for my drink. It is a great end of night treat and the perfect nightcap.

Gareth Evans – Social Eating House

Round One – Club Class, Seat k1

40ml Ketel One Vodka
10ml Aperol
12.5ml rhubarb syrup
25ml lemon juice
15ml egg white
1ml Amaro Blend
Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and dry shake, then wet shake and strain. Serve and spray bitters over the top of the glass.

The Clover Club, the drink of the ‘captains of the industry’ who were members of the famous club. Served on a first class ticket to NYC.

Round Two – Security Measures

35ml Tanqueray No. TEN
12.5ml apricot brandy
10ml Fino Cherry infused with whole lemons
10ml pickle brine
20ml lemon juice
Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake and strain. Serve in a champagne glass with a customs 100ml liquid rule sheet, ‘approved’ stickers, bribe money and a lemon twist.

After all his liquids were taken from him, Gareth had to source replacements from Departures in limited time. He said that this experience gave him inspiration for a story and name for his drink. Approved sticker was to show that all his new liquids were approved and bride money was to bribe Erica next time, the security lady that took all his liquids.

Round Three – High Spirits

40ml Zacapa XO
20ml Dry Vermouth
10ml Apricot Brandy
10ml Jagermeister
Stir all the ingredients and strain over ice. Serve in a tumbler garnished with orange zest and dark chocolate.

Fasten your seatbelts and stow away your tray tables for High Spirits. Zacapa XO changed Gareth’s life to a heightened level of bartending, opening a world up to him of finer ingredients. Uses Jagermeister bring out the toffee flavour and apricot brandy to bring out the fruitiness of the European sherry casks Zacapa is aged in.

Round Four – Living The Dream

40ml Johnnie Walker Blue Label
20ml De Kyper XO Cherry Brandy
10ml VIP Yellow Chartreuse
Fernet Branca
Stir all the ingredients and strain and serve with orange zest.

Sourced all ingredients from NYC, Johnnie Walker Blue Label is the very finest whisky, so his ingredients reflect this with only the finest ingredients being used. The discerning business class traveller will expect only the best. Name of the drink is Living The Dream, just as I am living the dream in this competition.