Dozens of bartenders had been whittled down to a final five, now only one could win the trip to Mexico.
Competition finals are nerve-racking experiences at the best of times but when the location is the main stage at the UK’s biggest tequila and mezcal show, TequilaFest, then the pressure is ramped up to 11.
TequilaFest took place in Spitalfields Market this year with dozens of agave spirit brands handing out samples and cocktails to thousands of consumers and industry folk. It was packed by the time the competition kicked off at 1pm and the crowds were keen to see what our five intrepid finalists had in store.
To make it even worse they were going to be ‘Madonna mic’d up’ to ensure everyone could hear their every word, luckily Herradura Brand Ambassador Nicci Stringfellow was on hand to show them how it was done and work the crowd into a frenzy…
BarLifeUK and Nicci were joined by Sasha Filimonov from Imbibe/Square Meal for the tough job of picking a winner from the strong field about to step behind the bar. The brief was simple, make us a great Herradura cocktail celebrating the heritage of the brand and tell us a story behind your inspiration for the drink. As we all know the simple competitions are more often than not the hardest to excel in.
With the crowd gathering and growing and a nerve steadying Herradura inside the finalists it was Andrea Benvegna from the Connaught Bar who kicked things off. His story focused on his Italian heritage and no self respecting Italian could do that without coffee. The coffee element of the drink was superbly balanced against the Herradura and didn’t overpower the ingredients (always a tough skill). The serve backed up the elegance of Andrea’s presentation and the competition was off to a great start.
Following Andrea came Isaac Windsor from The Milk Thistle in Bristol. Isaac’s presentation was all based around the little things in both life and in work. It was a great idea and he managed to tie it all in with Milk Thistle which worked superbly. His drink was certainly a BarLifeUK pleaser, tequila heavy and (unsurprisingly from a Bristol boy) stirred down. The light colour and elegance of the serve belied the booze forward taste and the gold coin garnish was a great touch.
Bon Vivant’s Morgan Flanagan was third up and he had a completely different take on things. He was inspired by his upbringing on a horse farm and his mothers lesson to him about the carrot & stick approach to horse training and life. Unsurprisingly with this as the base of his story the base of his drink came in the form of carrot juice. Added to that were lime juice, absinthe, ginger beer and of course Herradura, on paper it may not have been the easiest to envisage from the ingredients in reality it was a very tasty and unusual in a good way. To top it off the brave drink got the award for garnish of the day, the kind of garnish that would make a Tiki drink step back.
Up next was another London bartender in the guise of Alastair Fraser. Whilst he may live in London now Alastair’s roots are in Yorkshire, and he is very proud of them. In true Yorkshire fashion his main ingredients were rhubarb and tea, the story progressed through his career in Leeds where he first had Herradura, to his Chemistry degree and finally to London. It was a fantastic presentation and the drink was a real crowd pleaser (even garnished with a rather photoshopped selfie).
Last up was Selina Raggett who despite coming down from Manchester had plenty of support from her London Hawksmoor family. We had seen some great presentations from the other competitors but Selina took it to the next level with her story about the importance of women in the history of Mexico & Tequila as well as those women that have inspired her personally. Her drink tied into the women in her story with the floral and delicate flavours of honeysuckle and Cocchi Rosa backed up by the strength of the tequila.
The judging wasn’t a simple affair with everyone producing drinks we could have happily drunk any day (or night and in Morgan’s case morning as one of our 5 a day) but in the end it was Selina’s story that lifted her above the group and got her the prize of a trip to Casa Herradura next year along with a rather fancy bottle of Herradura Seleccion Suprema.
All five finalists put on a great show and kept the crowd thoroughly entertained so congratulations to them all. A special thanks to Eduardo Gomez and the TequilaFest team for putting on a great show and letting us make some noise on their main stage for a couple of hours. Finally thanks to Herradura for a great comp and a great day, roll on Mexico….