It is the most intense 4 days of competing in the global competition calendar, it is the G’Vine GCP Finals in Cognac and it is happening right now.
15 bartenders from across the globe descended on the sleepy town of Cognac, France on Sunday to take on one of the toughest weeks of their lives. Over the next four days they were to battle it out to become the 4th winner of the biggest gin competition in the world.
Over the 4 days they will take on 7 separate challenges devised by the evil Philip Duff to tackle every aspect of their bartending skill sets. On offer for the winner, alongside the bragging rights, is a cash prize and the chance to be trained by Philip in a specifically designed programme to help them learn all the tools they will need to become one of the best Brand Ambassadors in the world and visit Tales and BCB to show off their skills.
BarLifeUK was lucky enough to be invited to the GCP finals last year, and we must not of offended anyone important, as we were invited back this year. Last year we quickly learnt that to if you win the GCP you have earned it, this comp is designed to test bartenders to their limits, this year was no different.
Arriving on Sunday saw a relaxing evening with a few drinks and some lovely food. The bartenders relaxed, they mingled, they enjoyed themselves and just as they were beginning to think this wasn’t as hard as they had been led to believe Phil stood up and broke down the week ahead. Silence fell over the room, they were back in the real world, they were worried.
Worried for very good reason. There was no gentle start to the week, day one saw three of the seven challenges laid out before them and, in a marked change from last year’s bunch of degenerate finalists, they prepared for it with an early night.
As we arrived at the tranquil setting of Villevert, the home of G’Vine, on Monday morning you could have cut the air with a Foie Gras knife.
The theme of this year’s competition is Brand Ambassadorship and to kick off the week G’Vine had arranged a talk by an award winning International Brand Ambassador to lay out a guide to being a good ambassador. For an hour everyone in the room was transfixed with stories of life on the road, the importance of your travelling kit (especially bags) and a series of massively embarrassing photos.
The finalists were treated to the inside track with titbits of information ‘You never learn less’, ‘Japanese bartending works well in Japan because your serving Japanese people. It doesn’t work so well in Butt Fuck Idaho’ and ‘Confidence without experience is Arrogance’.
Like sex for a male Black Widow after the fun comes the inevitable pain, in this instance that pain came in the form of the first challenge, a written test on the talk they had just seen. No sooner than the ink on their answer sheets was dry they were whisked into another room for the dreaded nosing and tasting challenge.
Laid out in front of each of them were 9 glasses of grape spirit, in an ode to the grape base of G’Vine Gin. The challenge was simple, in theory, 15 minutes to nose the spirits and identify the grape spirit. Following that another 15 minutes with a new answer sheet to taste the spirits and they were done.
Blind tastings at the best of times are tough, blind tastings of 9 grape spirits is crazy hard, just for fun try and name 9 categories of grape spirits now.
Over lunch in a the middle of a vine yard washed down with red wine it occurred to me just how much the GCP is like a form of torture. You are beaten around one minute with exceptionally hard challenges only to be given a glimpse of the paradise that awaits the winner with…. well a lunch in vine yard!
The afternoon was spent touring the distillery with our gracious host, and the man behind G’Vine, Jean Sebastien Robicquet. A tasting of the various stages of G’Vine including the distinctive grape base spirit and vine flower distillate gave all of the competitors a great understanding of the flavour profiles and unique characteristics of G’Vine.
This knowledge was immediately tested with the next challenge, a ‘Make Your Own Gin’ session. Everyone was dressed up in a lab coat and given base spirit, a selection of distillates and an hour to create their own unique gin. Whilst we didn’t try the finished products (which were judged by Jean Sebastian and two of the greatest judges the world Dale DeGroff and gaz regan) the concentration on the faces of everyone in the room suggested some pretty good products were being made.
With the days hardships finished the evening saw the group relaxing in a fancy hotel with stunning views of the Cognac countryside followed by a great meal. The competitors all relaxed and mingled and shoulders relaxed all around the room.
Following the stress of three sessions in one, day two on paper looked like a dream. All the competitors had to deal with was a Technical Test. The GCP technical test is a combination of a speed and accuracy test using the superb Barmetrixs software to calculate the pour accuracy combined with the sharp eyes of Philip and last year’s finalist (and this year’s Bar Back) Mischa Bonova.
Everyone had 4:25 minutes to make 5 drinks using the G’Vine range. All of them had practiced and had it down. No problem. That was until the cameras and judges had their beady eyes on them, suddenly the time limit was tight. Suddenly day two didn’t look like such a dream.
Watching the Technical Test is surprisingly interesting, seeing each finalists takes on the drinks in different ways to beat the clock becomes fascinating.
With the stress of that challenge out of the way it was time for the afternoon/evening’s festivities. The GCP boat trip is becoming a tradition, drifting down the river on a boat, sipping Gin and Tonics, mingling in the sunshine is a great way to spend an afternoon. The dodgy weather tried to scupper us but after a quick shower the sun came out, with the sun came the microphone and it was time for some singing.
If the boat trip is a tradition then gaz’s signature song is an institution. I won’t spoil it for future finalists lucky enough to experience this great week but needless to say he once again nailed it and had the crowd in stiches. He had to get it right as he was following Dale who proved he has more skills than banging out great drinks as he threw a guitar over his shoulder and belted out a couple of classic renditions.
One of the competitors from Australia, Gorge, had promised me earlier in the day that he had something up his sleeve. What he provided was one of the highlights of any trip I have had the fortune to be on. A song based around the main players of GCP which had everyone on the boat blown away and by the end joining in. We will be bringing you a video of the performance in a few days, trust me you want to see it.
Just as I was wondering how G’Vine were going to top this at dinner we rounded the corner to see a G’Vine hot air balloon on the banks (with a signature number of F-HGIN). The group split into teams with some heading straight for a trip in the balloon.
The others had a couple of treats to look forward to. First up was a tasting of the new Vermouths by EWG (the makers and owners of G’Vine) along with some Negroni’s. We can report they are not only superb but coming to the UK very soon, more details in the next couple of weeks.
The other activity was a cookery class with the restaurants chef, he just happens to have one of those Michelin Stars people love. A lesson in cooking snails and razor clams all mixed with some G’Vine was a real treat.
The evening moved on to a Michelin Star meal, a few glasses of very nice wine and a gin based desert which managed to even shut a room of bartenders up. The final treat of the day was a signed bottle of a once in a lifetime gin.
Whilst the competitors were making their own gin a little group consisting of gaz, Dale and the international guest joined force to create their own liquid. As it turned out they couldn’t agree and ended up making two versions. Luckily Jean Sebastian was on hand to combine the flavours and distil a fantastic one run only gin.
There are two days left at which point a winner will be announced. We will be reporting on that and bringing you a full breakdown of the finalists and all their stories in a couple of days. Before that I have to give you an insight into the two people representing the UK.
Hannah Lanfear of Boisdale and Jamie ‘The Hobbit’ Jones of The Liquorists are out here representing what they quickly dubbed ‘Team GB’. I can tell you right now they have been doing a stirling job of showing the world just how good the UK is.
Not only that they have been supporting and encouraging each other to a degree that makes me very proud to know them both. BarLifeUK have not been involved in the judging so I can’t tell you with any accuracy how they are doing but I have high hopes that one of them will be bringing the trophy back to Blighty, which one I can’t tell you.
Sorry I have to head off now as there are G’Vine and Tonics to be drunk but we will bring you news of the final two days and the winner soon.