Hayman’s True Taste Final

A big prize needs a big final and Hayman’s Gin didn’t hold back in anyway at the final of their True Taste competition at their distillery.

As you approach the Hayman’s new distillery in Balham, South London, the outside betrays what lies within. As you walk through the main entrance your eyes are immediately drawn to the three stills on the long wall opposite.

The competitors arrive
The competitors arrive

Marjorie, Karin and Miranda look over the rest of the distillery, ensuring no one gets out of hand (particularly useful when a group of bartenders descend). The rest of the building holds a large relaxed seating area full of gin books from around the world, a dining/meeting table, botanical lab and, on the mezzanine level, a full cocktail bar set-up.

For the Hayman’s True Taste Competition the stills sat silent, a rare day off for the ladies, in deference to the extreme heat outside and the importance of keeping a cool head inside. There wasn’t however a lack of activity as the finalists busied themselves unpacking their tools, running over their notes and checking out the bar upstairs.

Their last minute preparations were understandable. They had won their regional heats and were now one step away from winning a distilling apprenticeship and producing their own limited edition Hayman’s variation. Just three challenges stood in their way.

Much like the Hayman’s Distillery the Hayman’s Brand Ambassador Tim Homewood is not what he seems on the outside. For those that have met Tim you will know him as a smiling, jovial, cheerful chap but behind this exterior lies an evil and mean mind.

We had first seen this during the heats with mystery boxes containing ingredients that most people could barely pronounce let alone balance in a drink. At the final his evil ways had reached a new level. This wasn’t going to be an easy day for any of the competitors involved.

Quintessentially English

After a briefing and quick photo shoot in the baking sun it was time for round one to get underway. Our players for the day were:

  • Mattia Lufrano – Chiltern Firehouse, London
  • Dan Smithson – Below Stairs, Leeds
  • Ryan Mackie – Orchid, Aberdeen
  • Jordan Sweeney – The Wigmore, London
  • Massimiliano Terrile – Duck & Waffle, London

After winning their heats the bartenders were sent a list of quintessentially English ingredients, think rhubarb, tea, beetroot, hops, strawberries etc. Each competitor had to pick one of these ingredients and hero it through a Hayman’s cocktail, using different techniques to bring the most out of their chosen product.

With the UK heatwave in full swing and Wimbledon (just down the road) having recently finished it was perhaps no surprise that 4 of the 5 finalists picked the strawberry to focus on. What was more of a surprise was the amount of different techniques and flavours they managed to produce.

The judging panel consisting of 5th generation family distiller Miranda Hayman, Tim and BarLifeUK, were treated to a series of fascinating and delicious drinks. The humble strawberry was turned into shrubs, bitters, wine, cordials, syrups, tea and more with both the flesh and green leaves being used. Massimiliano went one step further using strawberry’s from his own garden with a staggering array of techniques to make the most out of every aspect of the fruit. It quickly became apparent why his wife likes his homemade strawberry wine so much.

Ryan’s clarified milk punch was not only one of the best milk punch’s BarLifeUK has ever tried but the amount of fresh strawberry flavour he managed to extract was fantastic, if you ever find yourself at Orchid and see Margaret’s Morning Punch on the menu order it immediately.

One person stepped away from the strawberry. Jordan focused on the hop, finding five different variants for his drink and presentation. The presentation revolved around the royal family his hops represented and had both judges and crowd laughing and learning. He used these hops to make both a distillate and tincture for spritzing, creating a unique and exceptionally tasty gin cocktail.

Dan getting technical
Dan getting technical

After a quick lunch break it was time for the final 5 to enter the botanical lab for an even more fiendish challenge. First up they were each confronted with 10 single botanical distillates, each had to be identified. BarLifeUK had a quick go before the competitors got started and it was exceptionally hard, as soon as you convinced yourself you had got one right you moved on only to be convinced that it was actually the next one that held said botanical. We gave up.

As if that wasn’t enough the competitors then had to taste a blend, identify the botanicals in the glass and then try to recreate it. We told you Tim was an evil git.

True Taste

The final challenge at least had the finalists back on familiar ground, seeing them making the drink that had got them to the final. They were allowed to tweak the recipe and presentation, however they also knew that the quality was going to be of the highest level so everyone had to be on their A-game.

Dan’s drink in Leeds had been one of our favourites of the heats, the use of foraged Douglas Fir was both clever and worked amazingly well with Hayman’s. In a little tweak the balance had been slightly adjusted to ensure the gin shone through even more and made the drink even more impressive.

By the time Mattia stood up for the penultimate presentation of the day fatigue was beginning to kick in for everyone involved. However his slick presentation and excellent use of working flair soon had everyone’s attention and was just the boost we needed. He certainly didn’t hold back in his use of ingredients either managing to combine lovage, squid ink, liquorice, lemongrass and ginger in a fascinating twist on a gin Penicillin.

As the crowd, consisting of competitors, supporters and members of the Hayman’s team including Miranda’s brother James and their father Christopher, dispersed with a gin and tonic in hand the judges looked at each other with the same expression etched on our faces – ‘Bugger, we have to pick a winner now’.

The scores across the three rounds were exceptionally close, the top two were split by less than 1%. It was a tough decision but the three judges were all in agreement.

Before the announcement was made everyone was treated to a three course meal with the Hayman’s family in the distillery itself, the first time they had hosted such a dinner there. The food and wine were fantastic but there was no doubt that at least 5 people around the table were a little distracted by the trophy which stood pride of place to one side.

As desert was cleared it was time to crown the first ever Hayman’s True Taste champion, Jordan Sweeney.

Jordan’s two drinks were exceptional and his presentations both entertaining, he barely put a foot wrong behind the bar and impressed all the judges. A special mention should go to Dan whose performance in the botanical lab exceeded the expectations anyone had and shows just what an amazing pallet he posses.

Jordan will begin his apprenticeship at the distillery soon and we will be bringing you news of his exploits in the coming weeks.

It was a fantastic day in a beautiful distillery and we encourage you to go visit if you can. A huge thanks to Tim and the rest of the Hayman’s team for such a slick and enjoyable competition and to the Hayman family for being so involved and giving with their time to everyone involved.

Jordan’s winning drinks:

Jordan and his winning drink
Jordan and his winning drink

Keep Off The Grass

  • 35ml Haymans London Dry
  • 25ml pea-pod juice
  • 15ml grass distillate*
  • 10ml mint stem syrup
  • 10ml lemon juice

Shake and strain into a champagne glass and top with English sparkling wine (25ml). Garnish with edible gold glitter on the outside of glass.

*grass distillate – grass is steeped for 48 hours in spirit and distilled at very low temperature.   

The Royal Family

  • 35ml Haymans London Dry
  • 20ml ‘Hop Heritage’ Distillate
  • 15ml honey/mead syrup
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • 3ml (skinny bar spoon) ginger syrup

Shake and strain into a Nick and Nora. Garnish with a grapefruit twist (discarded) and a spray of ‘Palace Party’ distillate for a fruity/hoppy aroma.

‘Hop Heritage’ distillate – a 40% distillate of 5 different hops. They were infused sous vide, distilled individually with a rotovap and then blended.

Fuggle (King of the hops) 30%
Goldings (Queen of Hop Kingdom) 30%
Willemette (Fuggle’s floral American daughter) 10%
Bramling Cross (Goldings fruity English son) 10%
Centennial (the citrus dual-purpose prince – bred from both Fuggle and Goldings) 20%

‘Palace Party’ distillate – A big aroma forward 55% distillate made only from the new wave hop children of the kingdom. Reminiscent of the big modern IPAs. Equal measures Willemette, Bramling Cross and Centennial. All distilled together.