The sun was shining on the 4th July as 12 bartenders arrived at London’s TT Liquor to battle it out in the first ever WhistlePig ‘No History, No Rules’ final.
These 12 fearless souls were limbering up for a big day with a suitably big prize, the top three would all be heading to the WhistlePig Distillery in Vermont for a few days later in the year and the overall winner also had the bonus prize of a bottle of WhistlePig Boss Hog. Steward of the Brand for WhistlePig, Dan Priseman, had just come back from a trip over there with a few lucky Moet Hennessy folk to finalise the details of their experience. From the snippets he revealed it is going to be a very special few days.
For anyone unaware of the concept of the competition, well the name kinda sums it up. WhistlePig look at Rye Whiskey production differently to those established brands and they wanted bartenders to look at rye cocktails in the same way. Take established rules and parameters and bend, twist and break them. As a concept, in the heats, it led to some of the most imaginative, interesting and more often than not delicious drinks we have seen in a cocktail competition for a long time.
12 bartenders and 3 spots, it didn’t take anyone long to figure out there was a 25% chance of getting on that flight. As Dan briefed everyone on TT Liquor’s lovely roof terrace you could see people trying to suss out the opposition’s strength, who were the weak links? We could have saved them some time having judged all the heats across the UK. There wasn’t a weak spot anywhere amongst them.
To emerge victorious the bartenders would have to replicate the drink they had made in the heats, they were allowed to make tweaks based on feedback and that is where the intrigue lay. This final was going to depend on who stepped up on the day and who had managed to get their drink and presentation to the perfect point.
The people who were going to have to pick the best from this glorious bunch were the obligatory judging panel, consisting of marketing specialist, writer and just damn talented at everything she does person Rebekkah Dooley, Moet Hennessy’s Spirits Brand Ambassador Joe Gunner and BarLifeUK.
Over the next few hours we were treated to such a vastly different array of drinks, flavours and presentations it was almost head spinning. Just some of the flavour ingredients used that come to mind are – avocado, strawberry, ice cream, blue cheese, coconut, chocolate, breakfast cereal, beef and pork fat, caramelised butternut squash, garlic, passionfruit, watermelon, pancakes and pistachio all washed down with a Jell-O shot. Those are just the ones that come to mind (and don’t include garnishes by the way).
I don’t have the time or space here to go into the depth that the finalists deserve but I strongly encourage you, if you haven’t already, to go back to the regional heat write-ups from London, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow. You can read about the wonderful stuff that Josh, Blaise, Katie, Robyn, Lele, Alex, Liam, Joel and Welly put together.
Three Fine Swine
However there had to be 3 winners, 3 bartenders who will be heading to Vermont to stay in the farmhouse at the distillery, sit around the fire pit drinking amazing rye, blending some whiskey and of course feeding the pigs.
Lee Jones from Leeds shone in his heat not only with his drink but also his superb presentation skills, honed over many years. In the baking sun of the finals day, and with the added touch of a ‘lace’ parasol for each judge, his story based around a Second Line at Tales in New Orleans for WhistlePig founder Dave Pickerell knocked it out of the park. His drink, also inspired from that experience, had been tweaked and improved from the heat, ensuring the heady mix of passionfruit and wine complimented the WhistlePig and let it shine. He also summed up WhistlePig fantastically ‘What they lack in history they make up for in legacy’.
After the blazing sunshine of the Glasgow heat I suggested that Dan Docherty from Porter & Rye must have bribed the weather gods, I take that back after the final’s weather, I reckon he’d slept with one of them. Any stirred down and brown preconceptions about rye are destroyed by this most refreshing and summery of drinks. Plum soju, watermelon cordial and coconut water combine with the WhistlePig 10 year old in a cross between Japanese traditions and Tiki style drinks (celebrating the clove and cinnamon Dan gets from the rye). We said No History, No Rules and I think we can agree a summery rye cocktail drawing from Japan and Tiki is hitting the brief there.
Hitting the brief takes us nicely onto our winner, Mia Kumari from Homeboy in London. Many people found the losing of rules tricky, not Mia. This is someone whose latest post-shift snack of choice is chocolate Weetos and mature cheddar, I guess some peoples brains are just wired differently! Here’s the thing though, this was the inspiration for the drink and as a result the garnish (changed from the heats) contained Weetos and cheddar, they work together, they genuinely work.
This late night revelation led Mia to infuse Blue Cheese into Cacao Blanc, as you do, and combine with the WhistlePig 10yo, maple, maraschino and saline. The drink fits perfectly into the ‘shouldn’t work but really, really does’ camp. What took Mia across the line a hair in front of the other two was her ability to throw the drink flawlessly whilst chatting away and linking ingredients and facts altogether.
Mia gets a bottle of WhistlePig Boss Hog V, The Spirit of Mauve (calvados cask finished as Mauve, one of the brands founding pigs, loved apples) but they all get that prize we all dream of, an oversized plane ticket with their name on.
The evening continued with the Piggyback launch party (more on that soon) and bar crawl which saw the finalists getting to know each other even better, I get the feeling there were some firm friendships formed that day.
It has been a fantastic competition and I’ll pass over to Dan to thank the competitors:
‘The love, care and attention to details shown by our final 12 competitors was staggering, and made it an exceptionally hard job for the judges to select our three winners. While only three will be going to Vermont to the distillery, I feel like all 12 of our finalists are now part of the WhistlePig family and will be along for the ride as we expand our presence in the UK.’
From us a big thank you to TT Liquor for looking after us so well all day. Huge thanks also to WhistlePig and Moet Hennessy for putting on such a superb competition and letting us come along for the ride.
Keep an eye on BarLifeUK as we will be bringing you all the adventures from the winner’s trip to Vermont in a couple of months’ time.
Mia Kumari – Homeboy, London
Scraping the Barrel
40ml WhistlePig 10yo
20ml blue cheese infused cacao blanc
1 Bsp maraschino liqueur
1 Bsp maple syrup
1 dash salt
Thrown and fine strain before garnishing with a maple cluster cereal.
Dan Docherty – Porter & Rye, Glasgow
45ml WhistlePig 10 Year Old
5ml Jinjo Plum Soju
35ml watermelon cordial
2 drops saline
Coconut Soda to top
Shake rye, soju and cordial together with saline, double strain into a highball, top with soda.
Lee Jones – Leeds
40ml WhistlePig 10 Year Old
25ml passionfruit & tarragon cordial
20ml La Pente de Chavigny
3 drops Bob’s Vanilla Bitters
Shake & fine strain. Garnish with a WhistlePig Jell-O shot.