For the last week the UK has felt a lot like the mediterranean than usual, so it seemed only right to kick off the judging for this years Gin Mare Mediterranean Inspirations competition.
The Laundrette in Manchester’s latest hospitality development, First Street, was our home for the afternoon. With the sun streaming in through the big glass windows the competitors began to take up every available flat surface to lay out their kit in preparation.
Of all the competitions BarLifeUK get involved with Med Inspirations always results in the biggest bags and largest amount of bar kit being unpacked during set-up. This is partly as they are making two different cocktails but mainly due to the strong link the competition has with food matching.
This year was no exception with everyone being asked to make their Mare Nostrum cocktail which was to be inspired by the Mediterranean and their Gastronomic cocktail which this year was based around the artichoke. The artichoke could either be used as an ingredient, or as the inspiration for the drink, which unsurprisingly led to some innovative cocktails.
The job of picking a top three, who would be going to the UK final in London, from the 14 competitors gathered fell to BarLifeUK, Stuart Ekins from CASK Liquid Marketing, Laundrette’s Boss Lady Rebecca Bevvy and special guest judge Yannick Rochez from Chartreuse.
When you judge competitions up north you can guarantee plenty of personality packed presentations. When Andy Pope walked behind the bar we knew we were in for a hell of a ride, it was his first comp in 10 years and he was certainly going to make up for lost time.
Before we knew what had happened bad jokes were being cracked, the crowd were joining in and somewhere in the middle of it all drinks were being made. Each competitor had 8 minutes to make 2 serves of each of their 2 cocktails, Andy officially made it under that time however he was still chatting to the judges and offering bribes 3 hours later. In actual fact I think the clock is still going on his presentation!
Another shy and retiring character came in the form of Chris Melville from Laundrette sister bar Washhouse. As well as pointing out that the main reason people living in the mediterranean focus so heavily on local produce is that it’s too hot to go too far, he nailed the salsa tin open. For those unaware of the salsa open, after double shaking hold the two shakers at hip height and salsa your hips onto the tins. Viola, open (sometimes).
We also had cocktail name of the day from Nottingham’s Charley Carrington with her ‘Artichoke Me Daddy’ (she also gets huge props for competing shortly after having a hip replaced). Paul Minea produced a great presentation drawing both drinks back to his previous life as a professional footballer playing for clubs around the mediterranean. He also served a olive in white chocolate which is, somehow, an absolute flavour sensation.
However there could only be three representing the north at the UK final. In no particular order these are they.
Dan Warren is a familiar face for the Med Inspirations competition, and one with unfinished business to address. He made it out to Ibiza a couple of years ago but just failed to come back with the crown, he was back for more and didn’t let the added pressure get to him.
His Mare Nostrum drink in particular stood out for BarLifeUK, teaching us, for starters, that mangoes are widely grown in the Mediterranean. His drink took Gin Mare and mangoes, and combined them with citrus, honey, sesame seeds, sauterne and citric acid to produce a hugely enjoyable cocktail, perfect for a day with the sun shining so brightly.
Jo Last from Leeds produced one of the most polished presentations BarLifeUK have witnessed in many a year. She was calm, confident and engaging with every element and ingredient totally thought through. On top of all of that she made two excellent drinks, which were taken to another level when consumed alongside the garnishes.
As with last year, Leeds have produced two finalists, second up this time was Lee Jones. His personality driven presentation included the gag of the day (ask him his thoughts on hummus next time you see him), however it was his Mare Nostrum drink that really stands out in the memory. Gin Mare combined with nettle cordial, Absentroux, champagne acid and chickpea water, created a drink that the judges were fighting over.
So there you have it, the three from the north fighting it out in London next month to get a seat on the plane to Ibiza.
As always judging a cocktail competition in Manchester was an absolute joy and every single competitor kept the panel entertained and intrigued (Andy’s probably still at it). A huge thank you to all 14 for coming down and putting so much into it, as well as their supporters. Also big thanks to The Laundrette and their team, Olly Foster for comparing duties and CASK for inviting us along.