A very competitive London heat sees three bartenders through to the El Recuerdo & Zignum Mezcal Competition final
The El Recuerdo and Zignum Mezcal competition rolled into London this week, with another group of agave-loving bartenders seeking a place in the grand final, and from there, a trip to either Oaxaca or Barcelona.
The Love Drinks team, who are hosting the comp, chose a wonderful and entirely fitting venue in Hacha Brixton for this heat. For the uninitiated, Hacha is London’s only Agaveria and winner of UK Specialist Bar of the Year in 2022. We were very lucky to have the bar’s co-founder and agave expert, Deano Moncrieffe, join the judging panel alongside myself and Love Drinks MD, Samantha Burke.
This being a double-header competition, bartenders were able to submit entries for either or both of the mezcals. The El Recuerdo competitors went first, followed by a very welcome pizza break, and then the Zignum entrants took their turn. As the last bartender of the day was cleaning the station and the judges were gathering up their sheets for a spot of mental points arithmetic, it occurred to us that the day had passed without anyone shaking a cocktail. Thinking back over 15-odd years of judging, I can’t recall another heat where every drink was either thrown or stirred. Is this a new London trend, or just a one-off quirk? I’ll be interested to see what happens in the next London competition I judge…
Before we introduce the winners and their drinks, a few honourable mentions are in order. James Tuckey of Sparrow Italia made a beautiful drink called Flying Knee, which paired Le Recuerdo with a clarified milk punch, maraschino, and peach liqueur. It was a delicious cocktail and had nerves not got the better of James during his presentation, he would have been in with a good shot of winning.
Abiatar Aurelian Cosma of Humo Bar also made a cracking drink, called Besides de Libertad. This combined Zignum Mezcal with Manzanilla Sherry, Cocci Teatro Amaro, and a special blend of bitters to create a really nicely balanced and flavoursome drink that also looked the business.
Normally at this point I would say something along the lines of ‘there can only be one winner’, but in this instance I would be lying. While there was a clear winner among the El Recuerdo drinks, two bartenders delivered Zignum drinks and presentations that were so good and so closely scored that Love Drinks’ boss Samantha Burke made a command decision and put them both through to the final.
So congratulations then to Giorgia Di Stefano of Demon & Wise, whose Harmonia cocktail, which combined El Recuerdo with milk punch and ‘Mexican tea plant’ in beautiful stone cups, wins her a place in the UK final. Courtney Francis of Couch in Stirchley continues a great competition streak by jointly-winning the Zignum heat with Angelo Lo Greco of Stables Bar. Courtney’s drink Xayakatl employed banana liqueur and a special Oaxacan coffee saccharum, which combined with Zignum to create one of the best competition drinks I’ve tasted in some time. Angelo delivered a wonderful, story-driven presentation as he made his cocktail, The Shaman. Both cocktail and the chat were top notch, and it was a pleasure to experience them. I look forward to seeing all three competitors at the final.
Before signing off, I must offer huge thanks to everyone who took the time to enter the competition, your efforts are greatly appreciated. And thanks also to to the Deano and the team at Hacha for hosting us.
The winners and their drinks
Giorgia Di Stefano, Demon & Wise
35 ml El Recuerdo Abocado con gusano
35 ml Tamarind-Epazote Tea punch (Homemade)
25 ml Prickly Pear liqueur
Served on the rocks with a chunk of ice. Garnished with a mix of spices Chilli & Paprika, Epazote, Sea salt
Courtney Francis, Couch
Xayakatl (meaning mask in Nahuatl)
50ml Zignum Reposado
20ml Banana liqueur
10ml Oaxacan Coffee Saccharum*
3 dashes of a 20% Saline Solution
Build ingredients in stirring tin, stir to dilute. Strain into an absinthe sprayed coupe
*50g Oaxacan coffee (espresso grind)
50g caster sugar
100g leftover coffee
50g Zignum Reposado
Run hot water through the espresso in a V60 like a usual coffee. Then add the caster sugar to the coffee grinds, mix to make a paste then add the leftover coffee from the brew and the Zignum Reposado. Coffee filter and bottle. Shelf Life 14 days.
Angelo Lo Greco, Stables Bar
40 ml Zignum Reposado
15 ml Shamanic Sour Potion
5 ml Cacao Liqueur
10ml Eucalyptus syrup
Garnish: Sal de Gusano stuck with Orange and El Recuerdo Joven