Over the last three days 30 bartenders have been competing for the 6 spots in todays final and the chance to win a trip to Ibiza for the Global Final.
This year the Mediterranean Inspirations competition has had a new format seeing the 3 heats running back to back at the Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch in a Gin Mare pop-up bar. Bartenders from around the country were brought down to London to compete against those based here.
That hasn’t been the only new element in this years competition, the scoring has had a facelift to. In a system BarLifeUK hasn’t seen in a competition before there has been a live leaderboard on view to all the competitors.
With the same 4 judges each day – BarLifeUK, CASK Liquid Marketings Stuart Ekins, Shake, Rattle & Stir’s Leon Dalloway and Louise Corbin from BarChick – the running leaderboard has meant it hasn’t been the top two from each day heading through to final but the top six from the three heats as a whole.
This led to some great inter-competition battles not least when Kate Jackson from Call Me Mr Lucky stood up to present near the end of day two, sitting in 6th place was one of her bartenders India Blanch. As if competitions aren’t nerve-wracking enough already the prospect of the ongoing ribbing must have been doubling Kate’s anxiety. For the record she did it, taking India’s spot on the leaderboard all be it only for a while.
This is the 4th year BarLifeUK have judged the Gin Mare Mediterranean Inspirations competition, one of the reasons we always look forward to being involved is the presentations the bartenders put together. Often in competitions the inspiration comes from far-flung places such as Mexico or the Caribbean, not a huge amount of people have been lucky enough to head there before so the presentations are based on what has been read, seen on TV or heard about from others.
The beauty of Mediterranean Inspirations is that most bartenders in the UK have been there on holidays or were even born over there. This leads to a much more personal approach to the story telling and drink creation elements.
This week we have had presentations based on a family owned olive grove, drinking Pina Coladas in Barcelona, a friend who moved to Spain to start a family, a sister who lives in the mediterranean, experiences of family holidays in the South of France, memories of great tapas restaurants and much more.
As a judge hearing the passion and reliving the memories with the competitors makes it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Of course a personal and entertaining presentation is nothing without some banging drinks to back it up. Once again this is an area that is always exciting when it comes to this competition.
The style of Gin Mare with its unusual and powerful botanicals combined with the style of drinks each competitor has to make (Gin & Tonic twist, Red Snapper twist and a drink inspired by the mediterranean) allows competitors to get very creative with their serves.
It is also a great snapshot into the latest trends and styles of bartending across the country. In the last couple of years the drinks have tended to focus on the herb elements in the Gin Mare with plenty of basil, thyme and rosemary being heavily used.
This year it has been mediterranean ingredients that have dominated. Sherry has unsurprisingly been a popular ingredient and continues to be the biggest trend in cocktail competitions in 2015. We have also seen some much more unusual local spirits and liqueurs from across the region.
These were all combined with local ingredients including olive oil and olives (another of the Gin Mare key botanicals) with some really intriguing uses including olive oil replacing egg yolk in a flip style serve. We were also treated to several fig based cocktails as well as plenty of Rioja and more types of salt than a Gordon Ramsey wet dream.
Across the board the drinks were fantastic and the judging came down to the smallest of margins, in fact the top three after all the heats were done were separated by just 8 points out of a possible 1,200 each.
Today those six have to do it all again with the scores all returned to zero. A new look judging panel will be on hand to decide who will be coming out on top and representing the UK at the final in Ibiza at the amazing Gin Mare Villa in September.
The competition will be kicking off around 1pm at the Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch so if you fancy seeing what everyone is up to feel free to pop down to cheer them on and I’m sure we can find you a Gin Mare & Tonic or two to help whet the whistles.
Below are your final six but a special mention should go out to Oliver Blom from 46&Mercy who was in this 6 right up until the last moment and pushed back a flight home to see if he made it, strong work mate.