Two bartenders from London and one from Exeter progress to the 2019 Hayman’s True Taste Competition Final
When the Hayman’s Gin True Taste competition launched last year, it became apparent very quickly that it would attract a high calibre of entries. The prize – a five-day distilling apprenticeship under master distiller Christopher Hayman that leads to a signature gin release – is the sort of thing that appeals to bartenders interested in learning and developing their craft. And that sort of bartender invariably produces interesting drinks. As a result, the 2018 True Taste heats were a pleasure to judge, and produced some of the best competition cocktails we’ve tasted in years.
The 2018 True Taste final was ultimately won by Jordan Sweeney of London’s The Wigmore, and pleasingly, the signature hopped gin he produced was ready for release just as 2019’s iteration of the competition went live (you can read about Jordan’s True English Hopped Gin here). Once the 2019 entry period had ended, BarLifeUK and Hayman’s spent several days paper judging the enormous stack of entries, and whittled the field down to six regional heats, each with six competitors. The winner from each heat would go through to the grand final, to be held in July at Hayman’s Balham distillery, to face a series of challenges that will decide who gets to spend five days learning about distilling, and making their own gin.
For the past three weeks, BarLifeUK have been on the road with Hayman’s ambassador Chris Bryant-Mansell and 2018 True Taste winner Jordan Sweeney to judge the regional heats. Once again, the UK’s bartenders have delivered some incredible drinks, and inspirational stories about the competition’s theme – England’s Hidden Heroes. Here are the results for the Southern True Taste heats.
Hayman’s True Taste 2019 Bristol Heat
It’s always a pleasure to visit Bristol, BarLifeUK have been so often that the city feels like a second home. While Bristol has a reputation for ‘stirred down and brown’ drinks, in competitions its bartenders seem keen to demonstrate they can do everything else too, which generally leads to a nicely varied field. The heat took place in HMSS on a sunny Monday morning, and once everyone was present and correct, Chris Bryant-Mansell briefed the competitors on the day’s proceedings.
The morning session would see each bartender present their submitted drink, while describing its links to their chosen hidden hero. They would have ten minutes to do this, with points knocked off should they go over time. Following a spot of lunch, round two would kick off. This involved pulling a random classic gin cocktail out of hat, and making it from memory. Once the classic had been made, competitors were tasked with creating a twisted version on the fly. While the first round was designed to test competitors’ bar craft and presentation skills, round two would prove to be a test of gin knowledge, and creativity.
As is often the case with multi-element competitions, a couple of bartenders aced one round but struggled with another. In particular, knowledge of classic gin specs tripped up a few competitors – this happened in all the heats, not just Bristol – with recipes for Hanky Panky and Army and Navy cocktails proving the most troublesome.
There were no such problems for Jacob Drew, however. His signature drink ‘The Lady of Lyme Bay’ was delicious, and accompanied by an interesting and engaging presentation about Mary Anning, a pioneering palaeontologist who struggled against the sexism of 19th Century Britain’s science establishment, and whose achievements were only recognised long after she died.
Jacob pulled ‘Negroni’ from the classics hat, and made it perfectly. His improvised Negroni twist, using Hayman’s Old Tom, Martini Fiero, and Cynar, was so good it could have well have won the signature round of the comp. Overall, Jacob’s was a top-flight competition performance.
Winner: Jacob Drew – Doctor Inks Curiosities, Exeter The Lady of Lyme Bay
50ml Hayman’s London Dry Gin
25ml Lyme Bay Mead
20ml Lemon and Grapefruit Juice
20ml Apple and Cardamom Syrup
Ms. Betters Miracle Foamer
Hayman’s True Taste 2019 London Heat 1
The first London heat took place at The Bloomsbury Bar on Great Russell Street, and if you haven’t visited it yet, you should. The bar is beautiful and has a lovely covered veranda area, and most importantly, the club sandwiches are outstanding. As with Bristol, the standard of the drinks and presentations was very high, and at the end of the first round, the judges had three bartenders neck-and-neck. As with Bristol, round two and a few forgotten classic cocktail specs, saw one bartender pull ahead of the rest.
Tom Hughes’ signature serve was named ‘Hayman 873’ – the number referencing the tally of lives saved by Henry Blogg, the RNLI‘s most decorated lifeboatman. To have saved so many people is a staggering achievement and Blogg surely qualifies as a hero. Tom did a great job of relating Blogg’s exploits during the first round, and in the second he drew ‘Martini’ from the hat. The resulting classic Dry Martini was perfectly made, and the twisted version, which used Hayman’s Old Tom and rhubarb bitters, was equally tasty.
Winner: Tom Hughes – Hide Below, London Hayman 875
40ml Hayman’s London Dry Gin
10ml Dry vermouth
75ml Pea soda
15ml Apple syrup
10ml Lemon juice
Hayman’s True Taste 2019 London Heat 2
The following day we travelled to Hackney and set up camp at TT Liquor. Casual visitors to TT Liquor might walk through the front door into a prodigiously stocked bottle shop and think that is all there is to the place. However, way back in the day, the building used to be a police station and below decks it is a warren of brick-lined former cells, passageways, and storerooms. It’s an amazing venue and well worth a visit.
A horrendous cold bug seemed to have swept through London’s bartending community that week and a few of the competitors were obviously feeling less than great, so we must take this opportunity to thank them for making the effort to compete regardless. Strong work London…
Untroubled by cold viruses and the potential banana skin of pulling Army and Navy from the random classic hat was Gabriel Brown of Hawksmoor Air Street. Gabriel’s hidden hero was Lionel Bart, the musician and composer singularly responsible for the stage show Oliver!, and sometimes credited with reinvigorating London’s musical theatre industry. All three of Gabriel’s drinks were outstanding, and this combined with a slick presentation and great bar skills saw him through to win the heat.
Gabriel Brown: Hawksmoor Air Street, London Lionel’s Twist
50ml Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
20ml Earl Grey cordial (1:1 Cold Earl Grey Tea and sugar + citric acid)
Dash of soda
Congratulations to Jacob Drew, Tom Hughes, and Gabriel Brown, who have won places in the final. And huge thanks and appreciation must go to every bartender who expended time and effort on a True Taste entry. Reports from the Manchester, Sheffield, and Edinburgh heats will follow soon.