Bartenders from Chester and Leeds win Hayman’s True Taste 2019 Northern heats and progress to the final.
BarLifeUK spent a large part of May on the road judging Hayman’s 2019 True Taste regional heats, along with Hayman’s ambassador Chris Bryant-Mansell and 2018 True Taste winner Jordan Sweeney. The first stint saw two heats in London and one in Bristol send three bartenders through to the final, at which they will compete for the grand prize: A five day distilling apprenticeship and the opportunity to create a special, ‘Bartender Edition’ gin.
The second phase of heats took us North, to Manchester and Sheffield. Historically, Manchester has produced some of the best competition heats we have judged, but Sheffield was an unknown quantity to BarLifeUK, having never visited before, and so we began this phase of our travels with both high expectation and curiosity.
Hayman’s True Taste 2019 Manchester Heat
After an eye-wateringly early start in order to catch a Northbound train, we arrived in a city that felt a bit odd. There was a distinct energy or atmosphere of anticipation in the air, but we were too sleepy to put two-and-two together. It was only when we paused for coffee outside Arcane Bar, our host for the day, and saw a legion of hi-vis workers lining the main drag with barrier fencing that we realised what was going on – today was the day of Manchester City’s ‘We’ve Won Everything’ parade.
As the carnival atmosphere grew outside, bartenders began to arrive for the competition. Once everyone was suitably settled and furnished with a medicinal gin and tonic, Chris Bryant-Mansell briefed the competitors. As with the previous heats, the day would be split into two parts. In the first session, each bartender would have ten minutes to make their submitted signature drink and explain how it was linked to the theme of this year’s True Taste comp – hidden English heroes. After lunch, the second session would see each bartender pull a random classic gin cocktail from a hat, and make it from memory. Once the classic was served, they would use the remainder of their allocated ten minutes to make their twist on that classic – a challenge that mirrors the task awaiting the ultimate winner of the competition, in which they will make their own personal version of Hayman’s Gin.
It’s difficult to know whether customer demand and genuine drinking trends are influencing a competition heat, or if bartenders are tweaking their entries to fit with the industry’s current cause célèbre. In either case, a focus on mindful drinking was very much in evidence during the Manchester heat, with all of the drinks containing a nod towards sustainability, by way of either zero-waste or vegan ingredients. It is wonderful to see bartenders make an effort to be sustainable, although BarLifeUK remain sceptical about vegan foams, they feel, for want of a better word, weird.
In keeping with the previous heats, the scores after the first round were very close and it was the classic cocktail round that split the field. Once again, the specs for Army and Navy, Hanky Panky, and Gimlet cocktails caused problems, and by virtue of combining a tasty signature drink, slick presentation, and a clean classics round, Calum Adams of Hypha in Chester was scored highest by all three judges.
Calum’s chosen hidden hero was David Attenborough, which may seem strange given that Dave is one of the most famous people on the planet, but Calum’s explanation was compelling. He argued that by being the gentle, grandfatherly chap talking about animals on the telly, David Attenborough has become a National Treasure who is welcomed unquestioningly into our homes. This ‘stealth’ approach has allowed Attenborough to begin talking to an audience of millions about the most pressing issue of our time – climate change. By Calum’s reasoning, David Attenborough has been a hero ‘hiding in plain sight’.
Winner: Calum Adams – Hypha, Chester Life
40ml Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
20ml Organic British sparkling wine cordial
5 Drops of homemade nettle bitters
Stirred, poured into a rocks glass with a block of ice. Garnish with a pressed nettle leaf.
Hayman’s True Taste 2019 Sheffield Heat
If Manchester could be described as ‘excited’ as we arrived, it was most definitely hungover when we left. As we walked to the station to catch an early train to Sheffield, the after-effects of the previous night’s celebrations were evident on many of the faces we passed, making BarLifeUK feel, for once, smugly functional. Tickets in hand and standing at the barriers, we eyed the train to Sheffield with some suspicion. It looked more like a bus than a train, with all forward-facing seats and, crucially, no toilet – always a worry on early morning journeys.
Having never visited Sheffield before, I had only two mental associations with it – snooker, and steel. I am ashamed to say that in my mind’s eye, this conjured images of a smokey industrial city, which could not be further from the truth.
To begin with, the train from Manchester to Sheffield passes through the Pennine Hope Valley, which is simply gorgeous. Staring out of the window at stunning hill, forest, and mountain scenery, the hour-or-so journey passed in the blink of an eye; without a doubt this trip is worth taking just to look at the view. Once in Sheffield, we left the station and walked through the plaza that makes up the local university campus, towards the competition venue. Rather than a smokey industrial town, it turns out that Sheffield is a beautiful city of clean, wide streets and sandstone buildings. Whereas Manchester had ‘fizzed’ with nervous energy, Sheffield felt calm and peaceful, and we all noticed our blood pressure drop a little.
We set up at Public, our host venue for the day, and once again competitors were briefed over a gin and tonic, before kicking off with the signature drink round. If sustainability was the theme of the Manchester heat, then Sheffield was notable for the effort competitors had put into their presentations. Although he didn’t go on to win the heat, an honourable mention must go to Sam Ellis of The Alchemist in Leeds. His drink ‘The Engima’ was themed for British mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing. Sam’s drink contained a number of ingredients from ‘Axis powers‘, and required the judges to open a combination lock in order to taste it. The concept behind Sam presentation was to examine what life might be like if Alan Turing had not cracked the Enigma code and helped the Allies win World War Two – a feat which makes his treatment at the hands of the British government for being gay all the more appalling. This was a clever presentation, and one of the best stories BarLifeUK has seen at a competition.
Ultimately the outcome in Sheffield was the same as at the preceding heats – a close first round with several bartenders in with a shout, followed by some brain-farts during the classics round. However Dan Smithson of Below Stairs in Leeds nailed both rounds, becoming the unanimous winning choices for all three judges. Dan will now make his second appearance in a Hayman’s True Taste final.
Dan chose pioneering female aviator Amy Johnson as his hidden hero, primarily for the way she ignored anyone who told her she couldn’t do something because she was a woman, and did it anyway. Dan’s drink, The Aviatrix, was both delicious, and served on a hovering magnetic coaster, which looked amazingly cool but proved difficult to photograph. It might not be immediately apparent in the picture on this page, but the drink is floating about 10 millimetres above the photo of Amy Johnson.
Before we move on from Sheffield, a note about the heat’s host venue, Public. Not only is Public a perfectly formed little basement bar, their chef makes the best cheese toasties BarLifeUK have ever tasted, and we don’t mean a Breville and a bit of posh Cheddar. If you have seen the movie Chef, you will have no doubt salivated during the scene in which Jon Favreau makes a grilled cheese sandwich. The cheese toasties at Public are that good.
Winner: Dan Smithson – Below Stairs, Leeds The Flight of the Aviatrix
40ml Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
20ml Yorkshire Creme Yvette (Sous Vide at 55 degrees for 3 hours – Cocchi Rosa, Elderflower, Blackcurrant Leaf, Pea Flower, Violet Flower, Meadowsweet, Vanilla Bean, Orange Blossom Honey/fortified with Hayman’s London Dry)
15ml Cherry Blossom Elixir (Hayman’s Sloe Gin, plum cherry blossom, yarrow – Infuse at room temperature for 12 hours – sugar, water, then reduce)
4 Dash Tarragon and Orange Bitters (tarragon, rosemary, orange peel, pepper, neutral alcohol – Infuse at room temperature for 12 hours)
10ml Australian Sauvignon Blanc
10ml Lemon juice
Add all ingredients to Boston tin with ice, shake, fine strain into Harmony Highball, levitate and serve. Garnish with aromatised edible paper aeroplane.
Congratulations to Calum Adams and Dan Smithson, who join Jacob Drew, Tom Hughes, and Gabriel Brown in the Hayman’s True Taste competition final. There is one heat result yet to come – Edinburgh – and we will bring you that report shortly.