Careful of the beard Alex

Final Of El Dorado Swizzle Competition

After heats around the country, it was time to crown the 2022 El Dorado Swizzle Competition winner.

The finalists would be battling it out over two rounds for the chance to win a once in a lifetime trip to, the home of El Dorado Rum and a mecca for rum lovers from around the world, Guyana. ‘Once in a lifetime’ is a phrase that gets bandied about too much these days but having had the chance to go on this trip a few years ago we can guarantee in this case it is used perfectly accurately.

The date of the final had been pushed back a week due to the death of the Queen which unfortunately meant that Connie Cain from Milk in Reading was unable to make it, the fact she was sunning herself in Barbados, we’re sure, help lessen the blow. This left us with five bartenders who would be charged with making their swizzle from the heat as well as a new drink based on El Dorado 12 yo and ingredients from a mystery box of Guyanese inspired goodies.

That mystery box had been put together by El Dorado Brand Ambassador, Oren Coleman (with help from his Nan and her extensive pantry) and contained all sorts including pimento, mango pulp, sweet lime pickle, vanilla Nurishment, plantain syrup and much more. As he and Jennie Rae Chuter from Cask Liquid Marketing laid out the ingredients on the bar the competitors craned their necks for a look, the number of raised eyebrows confirmed my thoughts, this was going to be a challenge.

Oren joined BarLifeUK on the judging panel along with Wet & Dry MD and average table tennis player Russell Burgess. David Brady, the boss at our home for the day Black Parrot Bar, not only provided drinks, DJ skills and support for the competitors but also his expert thoughts on the drinks to the judging panel as well.

Alex Holmes – Hedonist, Leeds

Careful of the beard Alex

Alex kicked the day off with his celebration of El Dorado and banana in his delicious, light and refreshing White Wing Swizzle. At the El Dorado distillery they are serious about sustainability and by using banana (whilst telling us abouts its rich history of sustainability) in very clever ways he linked it together perfectly. However, the standout was his homemade swizzle stick, made from palo santo wood it not only looked good and did the swizzling job it also added some bitter flavour and was lit to provide aroma to the drink.

His mystery box serve was based on a traditional Guyanese soft drink called Swank and gave the drink one of the names of the day, El Swanky Swank. Mystery box style rounds are always difficult as inevitably it’s the first time the bartender is trying these flavours together whilst the clock is running and everyone’s staring at them. In a clever move I encourage everyone to remember, at the start of the presentation Alex poured a shot of El Dorado 12 and put to one side. Then he combined the non-alcoholic ingredients together tasting them and then the rum, this allowed him much more scope to alter his drink a bit at a time. The result was a long drink with a good kick of El Dorado 12.

Marcus Gordon – Orchid Bar, Aberdeen

Sorry Marcus, Jennie was in charge of photography

The banana swizzle theme continued with Marcus’ serve Scorched Gold based around Guyanese indigenous ingredients. His caramelised banana juice brought a sweeter banana style out in the drink that the El Dorado 5 worked very well with it, the other ingredients (including cacao, lime juice and Brazilian bitters) combined to help create a superbly well rounded cocktail.

His mystery box drink was inspired by Guyana’s national dish Pepperpot. To help gain some of these traditional deep favours Marcus raided the mystery box for sweet lime pickle, plantation syrup, pimento and limes. Each competitor was also allowed a modifier and ‘lengthener’ to help create their serve and he plumped for Kings Ginger and egg white. Anyone who has ever competed in a mystery box round will probably know exactly where Marcus was coming from when he announced halfway through “That looks bloody horrible at the moment, I hope it doesn’t when I’ve finished’. In the end it looked good but almost a week later I still couldn’t tell you if I liked the drink or not, what I can tell you is I definitely want to try it again!

Zack Sapato – The Absent Ear, Glasgow

How’d you like them strawberries?

All year Zach has been wowing competitions with his presentation style and imagination and the El Dorado competition was no exception. The Art of Swizzduction was the name of his drink and the bases of his presentation (complete with rose petals, sexy music, ambient lighting and an outstanding instructional pamphlet), as he rightly pointed out ‘Before we swizzduce others, we must swizzduce ourselves’. The drink and glassware had been improved since the heat, the El Dorado 5 really coming through the strawberry and chocolate flavours. The big question was did the Swizzduction work? Well I can tell you what Russell wrote on his judging sheet ‘Cocktail looked great, Zach looked better’…. I’d say it did on at least one judge.

Zack continued the theme in his mystery drink with Lovesick, based around the traditional indigenous Guyana folk story of two people falling in love. I’ll be honest a lot went on whilst Zach was telling the story including fighting to muddle juice out of a pomelo that didn’t want to play. I can tell you this was used in a pomelo and pineapple infused Tio Pepe which was added to El Dorado 12 yo, plantain syrup and nourishment. I can also confirm the story involved a boa constrictor which was also the garnish. It was fun filled and the drink, with a little bit of work, could be fantastic.

Theo Gordon-Boyd – Ava Wine Bar & Bistro, Bangor, Northern Ireland

They call him ‘Theo Two Bottles’

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few drinks with Theo over the past couple of years and he certainly makes a full night out with him sound like a whole lot of fun. That was the basis of his drink with each ingredient coinciding with an element or a person on the journey, think orange bitters as the fragrance you put on before heading out or the swizzle as the crazy dance moves near the end of the evening. The highlight though was that random person that joins your group halfway through the evening and fits in great even though they probably shouldn’t, in this case that person was matched with Fanta. It was a great fun presentation and resulted in a very tasty drink with almost mulled flavours at its heart (and not too much Fanta!).

His entertaining presentation style continued into the mystery box round with chats about flags and local ingredients. Theo was the only person who shunned any of the bonus allowed ingredients and used only ingredients from the mystery box. El Dorado 12 yo was joined by falernum, pineapple, pimento, mango pulp and lime juice in what turned out to be a great rum punch style serve full of Guyanese flavours.

Tom Soden – Nine Lives Bar, London

Two drinks? Check

There are few in our industry who combine art and science as well as Tom, and he brought in the best of both those elements in his presentation. Playing an Eddy Grant vinyl whilst waving around a white sage aroma before letting an electronic swizzler do the hard work. He’d also made a coconut oil washed El Dorado 3 which was truly wonderful. This was combined with guava juice, a sugar blend, lemon juice, Amer Picon, Angostura and foamer then topped with San Pelegrino after the swizzle had taken place. Each and every ingredient had been thought out and explained to us resulting in a drink which looked fantastic and tasted great.

That science and art mind continued with the mystery box round. He borrowed a blowtorch to toast some pimento seeds before infusing them into the El Dorado 12 whilst talking about native ingredients and Wai Wai people. He ended up going for a flip style of drink as ship building is such big business in Guyana, which saw the infused El Dorado being mixed with falernum, nourishment, plantain and mango syrups and of course an egg yolk. The final touch was a foam made of the egg whites, coconut milk and Angostura. Once again a superb looking drink with a beautiful drink under the foam.

Judgement Time

So there we were, all the judges in the pub round the corner with a big table covered in our judging sheets and a slightly shell shocked look on our faces. Round 1 had seen some of the consistently best level of presentations you could ask for and Round 2 had seen five very talented bartenders come up with remarkably good drinks against the clock from some odd ingredients. The problem was they were so different, they had taken the same briefs and all gone in different directions, which made comparing them very difficult.

We went back and forth for some-time but couldn’t come up with a consensus, we had managed to narrow it down to two but from there we were stuck. So the rare blind voting system was employed with Jennie Rae acting as adjudicator and there it was, we had a winner.

Congratulations to Zach Sapato who emerged victorious. His shocked response at his name being announced showed the quality of the final, I don’t think a single one of the competitors was confident they had one and yet anyone of them could.

It has been an absolutely superb competition from heat one onwards, great fun and fantastic drinks, just like a rum competition should be. So a big thanks to all the competitors, finalists, supporters and bars that have hosted us throughout. Also to fellow judges Oren, Jennie and Russell for making it such a laugh and to Cask Liquid Marketing and El Dorado for putting it on.

Zach will have a ball in Guyana early next year and no doubt if you bump into him, he’ll be more than happy to tell you all about it. Hopefully we’ll be back with the Swizzle Comp next year as this much forgotten drink should be celebrated.

For now here are the specs for Zach’s winning Swizzle drink:

Your Winner – Zach Sapato

Zach Sapato – The Absent Ear, Glasgow

The Art of Swizzduction

In a Shakers & Makers strawberry cocktail mug, add;
50 ml El Dorado 5
60 ml of (an unfermented & Greek-inspired version of the Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau vermouth method of Spruce Beer):
30 ml strawberry puree
10 ml Axia Mastiha
12.5 ml Dolin Chamberyzette Wild Strawberry Aperitif
7.5 ml white balsamic vinegar

In a small cantarito cup: 
Mexican Hot Chocol-oat RumFashioned
20 ml El Dorado 3
10 ml black-cocoa-oatmilk muscovado 1:2 syrup
3 d ceylon cinnamon tincture
Using a traditional Mexican Molinillo swizzle, mix and pour into strawberry cocktail mug.

Top all with ice and Swizzduce!