Harveys Competition Final in the Heart of Jerez

Harvey’s recently ran a competition that saw the top three head out to Jerez, compete in the final and drink all the sherry…. we helped.

Those lucky three were London’s Georgia Billing & Robyn Wilkie from Looking Glass Cocktail Club and MASH respectively, and Joe Macbeth from Rub Smokehouse in Nottingham. Their cocktails, using Harvey’s sherry as the star, had been picked by BarLifeUK and Mixxit’s Amanda Humphrey as the best of the dozens of entries we received.

Thirsty Robyn?
Thirsty Robyn?

Jerez is a beautiful small town in the south of Spain and the heart of Sherry production. It’s the home of the major sherry producers including our hosts for the next couple of days Harvey’s. It is somewhere that receives rave reviews from everyone who visits, we were keen to get involved.

After touching down in Malaga airport we were already one man down in the form of Joe’s bottle of infused Campari which had the added effect of giving all his clothes a certain aroma. To cheer him up Amanda bought a comedy sombrero, in retrospect that may have been to entertain the rest of us.

It is a few hours drive from Malaga to Jerez so we stocked up on some supplies (beer, wine and sherry) tracked down our driver and released our secret weapon – Georgia. Georgia it turns out is rather handy with the Spanish, she also caught the eye of our driver much to everyone else’s amusement. It turned out to be a blessing when the booze and our spare bladder space ran out and we needed a rest stop.

By the time we arrived in Jerez we were in fine form and ready for an evening on the town.

You Dance The Dance

One of our favourite things about brand trips is the opportunity to discover the different cultures and areas specialities across the world. When it comes to the south of Spain along with the sherry and amazing food there is a long and passionate love affair with Flamenco.

You probably won’t be shocked to hear that the art of dance is not one which is close to the hearts of BarLifeUK, about 15 years ago I invented the ‘sleepy bourbon’ dance (you can ask me for more details next time you see me) but that is about as far as it goes. As a result we would probably not have made the effort to hunt out a flamenco show on a Spanish holiday, and we would have missed out.

It quickly became apparent, as we entered the venue, that being with the Harvey’s team opens a fair few doors in Jerez and in this case saw us sitting front and centre with a special menu matched with various expressions of the Harvey’s range to warm us up before the main event.

It wasn’t long before the lights were dimmed and a guitarist, two singers and two dancers took to the stage. What followed mainly went over our heads, apparently there was a story of love and longing played out through the songs and dance…. we kind of missed that.

What was amazing however was the noise and passion that came simply from a guitar, some enthusiastic clapping and aggressive foot stomping. It was an amazing spectacle to watch and listen too and no matter how dance grumpy you are, please trust us and hunt some flamenco out if you ever find yourself in that part of the world.

With the loose excuse of trying to get Joe some more Campari we headed to a bar and got to experience the joy of the European spirit measure (or the ‘forgetful pour’ as it’s otherwise known).

Bodega Battle

The next morning saw sunglasses donned to counteract the effects of the sunshine as opposed to the effects of the night before and our first look at the Harveys Bodega which would be the scene of the competition that evening.

We will bring you a proper geeky look at the Bodega and the production of sherry next week but needless to say it was a stunning series of buildings with the catacombs having an almost otherworldly feel to them. In one of these buildings we came across a series of sherry barrels which had been signed by a very select chosen few.Harveys-Barrel

These select few included everyone important in the world of sherry plus some stars who had visited the bodega such as Bo Derrick, Charlton Heston, Alexander Fleming and a whole inbreed of royalty. It was here that the final 3 were honoured with the opportunity to sign their very own barrel which will sit there for others to ogle for decades to come.

Before the pressure of the evenings competition there was time to enjoy another of the areas most treasured traditions, horses. There seems to be an inextricable link between horses and booze, be it the Kentucky Derby and bourbon or tahona’s being turned by bovines in Mexico. In Jerez it is very majestic horses dancing.

As you can see horses are another of our knowledge gaps but it was certainly very popular and held in beautiful surroundings. If I was to be a horse I would want to be one of those horses – and there is a sentence I never thought I’d write….

But that was enough horsing around (boom ‘tish) it was time to get down to the business in hand and make some tasty sherry drinks.

A quick change into our fancy pants and we were back to the bodega, joining BarLifeUK and Amanda on the judging panel was Harveys Head Winemaker Manuel J. Valcárcel who had given us a tutored tasting earlier in the day. There was also a room full of some of the biggest names in sherry watching, including presidents of very important sounding federations, so no pressure then.

Joe kicked off proceedings with his Sunset Boulevardier, in true MacGyver fashion he had flash infused his Campari with cherry and thyme in a shower cap in his hotel room sink. This was combined with Knob Creek and both Fino & Amontillado Harveys before being poured over a smoked pineapple puree to give it the sunset effect.

Next up saw Robyn with her Pina Colada twist the Caballo Cartujano, it was a real crowd pleaser and got a contended couple of ‘mmmmmm’ noises from Manuel to our right. She focused on the VORS Amontillado mixed with coconut orgeat, lemon juice and absinthe.

Georgia and her drink
Georgia and her drink

Georgia produced the most impressive serve of the day with a traditional sharing jug containing her sangria twist with Pisco, pear and spice syrup punch all combined with Harveys Fino. It looked and tasted fantastic and there was plenty to go around the thirsty crowd.

There was a mystery box round next, however probably the less said about that the better (mainly to ensure Joe still has a career in this industry) before they moved onto a blind sherry tasting test. Tasting the whole range of Harveys blindfolded is one thing, doing it in a room full of sherry experts whispering and watching is a whole other.

Whilst we did some frantic maths the gang got to learn the art of fancy sherry pouring from a venenciador and did a great job of proving it isn’t as easy as it looks…

There was £500 up for grabs so it was time to put the competitors out of their misery and to a big round of applause and nods of approval from the gathered crowd it was Robyn who took out the win.

Getting The Band Back Together

There may have been some celebrating after the competition but that didn’t stop us all from rising bright and early to visit one of the Harveys vineries.

As with everything in Jerez it was a picturesque, old and impressive sight. Vines stretched as far as the eye could see, despite the fact we were rapidly heading into autumn it was damn hot and we couldn’t help but imagine how hellish it must have been when all the grapes were collected by hand in the height of summer.

After a tour of the streets of Jerez we settled down to some lunch. Now food is an area we do know something about and it doesn’t get much better than great Spanish tapas washed down with tasty sherry. During our trip we had some superb food, nearly died eating trumpets of death (not as scary as they sound unless you are allergic to mushrooms) and decided that Harveys Fino makes everything taste better.

We had one last stop off in Seville and what an amazing city it is. There are sites galore at every turn, the set of a Star Wars film (one of the rubbish ones unfortunately), stalls selling beer in plastic cups so you don’t go thirsty and some of the best trinket stores in existence.

Joe has the XFactor
Joe has the XFactor

It was at a series of these stores that we decided to form a band. Joe kicked things off with a a mini guitar, we decided on maracas to add some bass line and Amanda & Robyn picked up some fans to provide the necessary backing dancers routine. That just left Georgia as the singer and we were done.

Unfortunately for everyone involved (especially the driver) when we got back on the bus it seemed the only songs we could get playing on our phones were by Taylor Swift….. she has never sounded so good.

If you ever get the chance to head to Jerez do it. Don’t pause, hesitate or stutter. Say yes and get involved. There are few more stunning locations on the planet to further your drink related knowledge and the food and drink will have you smiling for weeks.

A big thank you to Harveys and Maxxium for looking after us all so well. The whole group for making it such a great trip and we will leave you with one of the finest photo’s ever taken on the streets of Seville.

Robyn Wilkie – Caballo Cartujano

  • 50ml Harveys Vors Amontillado
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • 15ml coconut orgeat
  • 2 dashes absinthe

Shake, serve straight up, garnish dehydrated lemon wheel & discarded lemon zest for aroma