As I write this I am sat in Cognac with 15 bartenders whose heads appear to have been replaced by books, such is the level of last minute revision that is taking place before the written test at the G’Vine GCP Finals.
The final of this worldwide competition is set over 5 days with 6 challenges testing every facet of the modern bartenders skill. As your fearless reporter I’ll be bringing you all the news from each of the final elements.
The 15 finalists have come from across the world to compete for the honour of G’Vine GCP winner 2012 and representatives are here from England, Scotland, France, Spain, Germany, Canada, America and Australia. They have been joined by the dream team of gaz regan, Phil Duff and Shawn Soole who with the help of the G’Vine crew are hosting, educating, judging, entertaining and, later at night back at the hotel, knocking out Negroni’s.
The week kicked off gently with a guest lecture followed by quick exam on what the finalists had just learnt. This year’s guest lecture was on Barrel’s, surely one of the geekest topics in the industry. In fact after it had finished myself and gaz discussed how 5-10 years ago we wouldn’t have believed that 15 bartenders would happily sit and listen to someone talk for an hour and a half about barrel’s let alone ask in-depth questions and even ‘woo’ at certain facts.
The lecture was given by barrel expert Alban Petiteaux from Oenowood who, in not a long list admittedly, is by far the most knowledgeable barrel expert I have ever met.
A renowned whisky expert once told me that ‘anyone who likes aged spirits likes the taste of oak’ and its importance in our industry was outlined brilliantly in what turned out to be a fascinating talk.
Alban explained to the group the differences between the various types of wood and the reason that French Oak is the most sought after and highly priced wood in the industry (not least because each tree takes 200 years to grow to the point it can be harvested). A good quality French Oak barrel goes for around 650 Euros and with only 2 barrels coming from each 200 year old tree (as opposed to 4 or 5 from an American Oak tree) it is certainly a very specialist product.
I haven’t the time to go into too much detail here but hopefully BarLifeUK will be bringing you a more in-depth article soon. One of the most interesting points for me was the fact that the top and bottom of each barrel results in around a 1/3rd of the surface area of any barrel and can be toasted (or in the US charred) to a different level, if at all, from the rest of the barrel to help give each spirit producer a very distinct flavour profile for their product.
After a night that ended in the hotel bar where we tried out best to drink them out of everything they had, day two started with a trip to the G’Vine distillery about an hour drive outside of Cognac.
The distillery itself is quite small but the column and pot stills used for G’Vine were things of beauty, highlighted by the plague on each one emblazoned with tattooists dream picture of a busty lady.
Unfortunately the weather was against us so we were unable to get into the fields to see the vine flowers, which give G’Vine its unique flavours, being picked. We did however get a great tasting led by Audrey Fort of G’Vine in which we tried not only the base Neutral Grape Spirit (tasted alongside the traditional Neutral Grain Spirit) but also the distillate of the 9 ‘traditional’ botanicals and the distillate of the vine flowers themselves.
Phil pointed out that the vine flower distillate is probably the most expensive thing any of us would drink this year and the taste it gave was exceptional as well as really helping us to understand where the G’Vine flavour profile comes from.
The tasting and explanation of the botanical balance was particularly useful for the final 15 as the afternoon saw the second of the 6 challenges – Make Your Own Gin. In groups of 5 the finalists were taken into the room and each given a table covered with equipment that would have got my school science teacher Mr Bednall very excited along with the all important botanical distillates they were allowed to add to their Grape Neutral Spirit – Cubeb Pepper, Cinnamon, Juniper, White Pepper, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Lime, Ginger of course Vine Flower.
After an hour they not only had to present 100ml of gin to the judging panel but also have the ABV worked out and have given it a name that would appeal. Some had come prepared with pre made labels and branding but all left with a new found respect for the art of the master blender.
For those that haven’t tried blending your own gin before and, like many, are thinking ‘it’s easy, you start with lots of Juniper then chuck in a few botanicals and bosh done’, I and 15 other gin savvy bartenders are here to tell you it isn’t anywhere near that easy. Don’t believe me? Then win next years heats of the G’Vine GCP or head down to the Ginstitute at the Portobello Star and then we’ll chat.
So we are 2 days and 2 challenges down and today see’s the dreaded written exam followed by a speed and accuracy test and tomorrow the personality test. Don’t feel too sorry for them though as in between that we get dinner at a Michelin star restaurant, a boat cruise down the river and a pool party!
More news on Friday before the big final bash, now where did I put that G’Vine and tonic?