The finals of Diageo World Class were one step away for the 26 competitors from Western Europe who went head to head in Madrid.
The first time I visited Las Vegas I was dragged onto the worlds tiniest plane piloted by an infant to visit the Grand Canyon. Whilst I knew the Grand Canyon was impressive I had no concept of enormity of it, I mean a hole in the ground is a hole in the ground. That was until I stood on the edge and suddenly understood what all the fuss was about.
Arriving at the venue for the Western European final of World Class in Madrid had a similar effect on me. As the dozens of organisers milled round the five bars and the competitors from the various countries arrived I finally understood just how huge World Class really is. The size and intensity of this comp is really something to behold.
Madrid saw the top two bartenders from 13 countries go head to head to decide who was going to be representing their country folk at the global finals in July, aboard a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.
Following a series of heats across the country and a final aboard a plane to New York the two UK pugilists were Gareth Evans of Social Eating House in London and Kevin Griffin from Tigerlilly in Edinburgh.
With 7 challenges already behind them to make it to Madrid the slate was wiped clean and 3 more challenges over a two day period would decide the victor.
Los Desafíos (The Challenges)
The 26 bartenders were divided into three groups with their countryman competitor in a different group so they never really knew how each other were doing.
The venue for the two days of intense competition was an old retro cinema, which meant that two of the three competition bars were in the theatres themselves with banked seating for the various media and supporters. This combined with a giant video screen behind the bars showing the action gave the crowd a superb view and the competitors a whole new level of intimidation to deal with.
The challenges were all judged using the same basic criteria (albeit in different amounts dependent on the format).
Technique – skill, efficiency, professionalism, tool-use etc
Presentation – communication, story-telling and judges interaction
Creativity – combining interesting flavours and ingredients, plus clever names
Expression of the Spirit(s) – choice of spirit and characteristics highlighted
Aroma, Taste & Flavour – crucially the final judgement on what is in the glass
Challenge 1 was a speed round, although don’t conjure up images of Rematch or Speed Rack this was a speed round World Class style. Each competitor having 8 minutes to make 6 drinks of their choice from a supplied list, much like Olympic diving more points were given for a harder combination.
Although keeping within the time limit was worth a few marks it was the quality of the drinks that really got the big scores. Due to this a lot of the competitors went over time however Gareth kept within the limit and Kevin was only a few seconds over whilst telling a superb story.
Challenge 2 was based around the red carpet at Cannes (one of the stops on the finals cruise). Each competitor was asked to produce two drinks one original cocktail and one bottle serve inspired by an actor or director who has graced the Cannes Film Festival.
Gareth particularly shone in this round and, as we found out later in proceedings, got the highest score for any competitor. His first serve was based around French beauty Audrey Tautou who is host of this year’s festival.
After discovering she only drinks champagne Gareth decided to make her a Negroni style drink with Tanqueray 10, carbonated and then served in a mini champagne bottle with strobe lighting to give it that paparazzi feel.
Next up was his bottle serve based around Don Julio and the first Mexican director to win the Grand Prix – Emilio Fernandez. I will leave Gareth to explain the full details of it at the bottom of the story but needless to say the judges liked it.
The final challenge saw cocktails being matched with food, one of drinks had been conceived prior to the competition and the other had to be matched with a dish revealed on the day.
Although we weren’t privy to the score sheets BarLifeUK has a feeling Kevin edged this one. He particularly impressed a celebrity Spanish chef on the judging panel by the name of Inaki Oyarbide who was responsible for Spain’s first 3 Michelin starred restaurant.
On Kevin and Gareth’s journey to the finals, including the trip to New York, it was obvious that a great respect and friendship had built up between them. When they weren’t competing they could always be found in one of the other theatres cheering their mate on.
In the downtime they were constantly swapping ideas and advice with the other, tips on how to deal with the challenge one had just completed were readily handed over as were encouraging words when someone felt they had messed up.
The first evening saw the competitors and guests tour 3 of Madrid’s best bars, which were being tended by 10 of last years winning competitors including Andy Mill of Match. A sign of just how much this competition meant to Team UK came when they left early to go and get some good sleep (although it must be said they had spent a couple of hours in Cock the night before).
Once the final challenge had been completed on the second day BarLifeUK joined them both for a couple of beers and a deep breath in the hotel bar. From watching their performances I couldn’t even begin to guess who had won and it soon became obvious they were equally in the dark.
What was clear was that not only had they done the UK very proud but they would honestly be very happy for the other, were they to get pipped to the post.
El Ganador Es….. (The Winner Is….)
The evening saw the winners from each country being unveiled. This took place in the main theatre after the assembled crowd had been introduced to the Show Your Spirit winner Dee Davis and her new product Jinzu.
In a great show of respect the previous years winners had all been invited over to announce their successor and hand over the trophies. Gareth had already been given the prize for best overall score in the Red Carpet challenge and as Andy Mill announced the winner it seemed that it was that performance that just tipped the result in Gareth’s favour.
As the night unfolded there was plenty of congratulationary toasts to Gareth as well as to Kevin as we partied long into the night.
So it is good luck to Gareth at the Global Finals who I am sure will do the UK very proud and has an excellent shot at taking out the title. Also a massive congratulations to Kevin for pushing him so hard, showing once again the quality of bartenders from Scotland and being such a gent in defeat.
The two days in Madrid ran without a hitch, in magnificent surroundings and to organise an event on that scale with that precision is one hell of a challenge. There was no doubt a huge team behind it but a special mention must go to Spike Marchant and Max La Rocca. They never seemed to be flustered, stressed or tired even though I am sure those emotions all rose to the surface at various points.
Also a huge thanks to Diageo for putting on this superb event and allowing BarLifeUK the opportunity to see it first hand, especially Lauren and Catherine for looking after us UK bunch.
Gareth Evans – Social Eating House, London
2013 World Class UK Winner
Red Carpet Round
Tribute to Audrey Tatou, the host of the Cannes film festival this year. She only drinks champagne apparently, so I wanted to make her a Negroni style drink to introduce her to cocktails as I reckon it’s the most popular drink at the moment.
- 40ml Tanqueray 10
- 10ml botanical syrup (Tanqueray 10 botanicals, cooked with citric acid then clarified)
- 10ml Kamm & Sons
- 10ml St Germain
- 10ml Aperol
- 50ml chardonnay, vacuum infused with lemon peel.
Carbonate, decant into mini champagne bottle, serve in mini champagne bucket with chilled coupette, serve with ‘paperazzi flash photography’ (2 small strobe lights).
Mi Nedia Naranja
This was a bottle serve inspired by Emilio Fernandez – the first Mexican director to win the Grand Prix (now called the Palm D’Or) at Cannes. He directed his film in 1942, the same year Don Julio started distilling, and the film is about Mexico, family and love, which seemed appropriate.
I served the bottle on a Tahona wheel, served with shots of Tierra Roja sangrita (the red clay earth of Arandas), made from carrot, cumin, honey, coriander and lemon, served on edible clay made from sable crumb with smoked salt and cayenne.
The name translates literally as ‘My Half Orange’ but is better translated as ‘my other half’, and it was supposed to be a reference to how simple things can come together to make something better than the sum of their parts – with tequila, cocktails, and the film.
Food and Cocktail Matching Round
Salt of the Earth
- 40ml Talisker 10
- 10ml Cassis
- 10ml Fernet Branca
- 15ml lemon juice
- 15ml honey syrup
Garnished it with a spray of Fernet Branca on the top through a ‘T’ stencil.