As with all things this is the most important step in making sure the rest of the competition goes well, you wouldn’t dream of opening your bar of a night without prepping the place first so why would you go into a competition equally unprepared.
Firstly find out about the competition. Contact the rep of the drinks company or organisation running the event and find out the following simple facts:
What is the format? Is it going to be a blind judging or are the judges going to be there watching you. Is it going to be in front of a crowd of people? Is it behind a full working cocktail bar with ice wells and equipment or an event bar which may need you to bring some basics? How many judges will there be and do they each need a drink? You don’t want to spend hours practicing a speech you don’t need and turn up with nothing to find a bench and 200 hundred drunk screaming punters wanting to sample your concoctions.
What is the criteria for the judging? Some competitions are more helpful than others on this front. Some will give you the judging sheets so you can see the split of points others won’t, however they should at the very least be able to give you the broad categories you will be judged on. These are usually taken from taste, aroma, appearance, name, commerciality, use of sponsors ingredients, knowledge, cleanliness, interaction, entertainment, speed and originality although there can always be something very specific to each comp (can anyone guess where use of a Cucumber was one of the criteria?). Find out these and you will be able to tailor your preparations accordingly.
Now comes the research and practice side (I will leave the drink making up to you – just please, please, please, please make sure it fits the criteria!). Dependent on the type of competition you’re in depends on how important the knowledge side of it is compared to picking a good tune and comedy outfit. Get on the internet, get out your cocktail books and annoy everyone you know to get as much info on your style of drink, the spirit category you are in and the products you are using. Try to find out some historical facts, some comedy facts and add in some of your personal experiences or thoughts. The chances are if it is a Gin competition everyone will bang on about the same Juniper based facts but if you fell into a juniper bush when you were a kid and ended up with it up your ass I assure you the judges will be pleased to hear something different and fun.
Most importantly of all if the competition is sponsored by a particular brand find out EVERYTHING about this product and get that info across as I can promise you one of the judges will be directly associated with it.
So you’ve got your drink, you’ve got your knowledge, you’ve got your criteria – now practice. Get the guys after work to sit there whilst you go through it in full comp conditions. Do it against the clock, find out how long the time limit you’ll have is and aim for well under it as things can and will go wrong on the day. Something as simple as a missing hawthorn strainer has cost more than one competitor their chance of glory when they run over time as a result.
Your boss should be behind you on this as a win will not only bring you glory but their bar as well so don’t be worried about asking to use some bar stock for practice. If they say no then well I don’t want to tell you to find another job but…….
So you’ve got the right comp and your fully prepped – only The Event to go then? See you next time….