Was it a world first? Were we part of history in the making?
We’re not entirely sure, but the drinks were great at the Mandarine Napoleon Barrel Aged Cocktail Competition.
As far as we can tell this was the first time a competition has been run purely for barrel aged cocktails. Sure there have been barrel aged cocktails cropping up in comps for quite some time (last year Dub Dub even barrel aged a blue drink), but a competition with everyone using the same style and size of barrel?
We think it was a first, so until someone comments below telling me they competed in one 2 years ago in Portland or Jared & Anistatia get in touch to say that they have found a record of one in a newspaper from 1907 I will write this article on that assumption.
12 bartenders from across London as well as Reading and Leicester congregated in Trader Vic’s at the Hilton on Park Lane, prepared to make history.
A few months ago Mandarine Napoleon Brand Ambassador Zoran Peric had visited these 12 bars and given each of them a 5 litre oak barrel. Far from putting the bars over a barrel at this point, Zoran kept the instructions very open.
Each serve of the finished cocktail had to contain at least 35ml Mandarine Napoleon and the aging process had to last for at least 2 weeks. The only other caveat was that the bars had to keep a record of the processes to share at the final.
Roll Out The Barrel
Finding bars who wanted to get involved was like shooting fish in a barrel, so it was no surprise to see a room of bartenders representing some of the capitals best bars as the order of the draw was picked.
Kicking off proceedings and therefore becoming the first person to ever compete in a barrel aged cocktail comp was Dan Heyworth from Fat Cat Group who had taken out the previous Mandarine Napoleon competition in Belgium
Dan set the tone for what was be a hugely interesting and high level competition for the judging panel of BarLifeUK, Ms S from Cocktail Lovers and Igor Sortic head sommelier from China Tang.
Over the next couple of hours we tried a huge variety of barrel aged drinks with some being served straight from the barrel simply chilled down and garnished whilst others lengthened the spirit base before serving. Of course one of the advantages of this new style of competition is it really does barrel along at quite a pace.
There was a great variety of techniques and tricks used by the competitors to get the most from their creations. Some choosing to season their barrel’s by filling them with wine for a few weeks before putting in the spirits and others giving the barrel a spirit wash. The duration of aging varied wildly, with some stopping the aging process altogether and moving into bottles.
The final presentations and styles also varied with punches and even a blazer sitting alongside the more traditional prohibition style stirred drinks. With some of the bartenders ‘theatre’ taken away by mainly pouring from a barrel into a glass a lot of the competitors used the presentation to up the theatre level with some very well thought out garnishes.
The Top Three
The top three epitomised this variety with there winning drinks.
In third place came Dan Bovey of Sahara, Reading (or should that be B@1?) fame. His presentation was, as always, exemplarily, based around the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger and his up coming return to the big screen in The Last Stand.
The drink itself was a flip style with the barrel aged mixture of Mandarine Napoleon, Pussers, Pedro Ximenez Sherry and Jerry Thomas Bitters being decanted and shaken with lemon juice and egg white.
Claiming second place was Pawel Rolka from Coq D’Argent with his drink Explore Corsica. He took the barrel aging part of the challenge further than anyone else with a 3 fill process using a huge variety of products and aged in rooms at a different temperature dependent on the fill stage.
The drink was the more classic style with the barrel aged mixture stirred down with the simple addition of Angostura Bitters and lemon zest. With all the thought and effort that had gone into the combination in the barrel it didn’t need anything else adding.
Taking out top spot was Beka Khmaladze from Tonteria Tequila. His serve was proof that you don’t have to be serious with a barrel aged cocktail and the drink was a great way to stave off the winter blues.
The cocktail was a balance of well thought out flavours in the barrel, mixed with fresh ingredients before serving to bring the final drink to life. The serve? Well I think a picture tells a thousand words on that front but it certainly made a lasting impression.
The competition was over but my day wasn’t, as the lovely staff at Trader Vic’s had a little surprise in store for me with the opportunity to open and sample a bottle of the Trader Vic’s Mia Tai mix from when the bar was opened in 1963. We also got to try a Mai Tai made from said mix, which was a real treat.
So a huge thank you to Mandarine Napoleon, especially Zoran and Peter Thornton, for coming up with such a unique idea. Thanks also go to the staff at Trader Vic’s and all the competitors and supporters on the day. It was great to be a part of history in the making and it certainly was a barrel of laughs…. And that ladies and gents is my 6th and final barrel based pun.
Beka Khmaladze, Tonteria Tequila
- 225ml barrel aged Mandarine Napoleon and Patron Anejo*
- 75 ml freshly squeezed lime juice
- 25 ml Orgeat
- 3 bsp Bob’s Mandarine bitters
- 80 ml Schweppes Ginger Ale
Serves two to share. Add all ingredient’s into Bespoke Skull (or failing that sharing vessel) top with ginger ale and garnish with two orange wedges.
* First week aged barrel with some Yamazaki 12yr. Second week took Yamazaki 12yr out of the barrel and put 60% Mandarine Napoleon and 40% Almond infused Patron Anejo Tequila. For one week barrel was kept at room temperature and after one week in the cellar at temperature of 10 C.