It wasn’t quite comp business as usual, but the Bobby’s Gin UK Final was still a cracking event.
I’ll admit to being a little nervous as well as excited as I headed to Shoreditch last week to judge the UK final of the Bobby’s Gin cocktail competition. It had been well over a year since I last sat in a bar judging a cocktail competition, there had been a couple of online affairs to keep my hand in but it’s not quite the same (I had to get my own judging beer for crying out loud). Perhaps I’d lost my judging mojo?
On entering Cocktail Trading Co. it was clear that it wasn’t going to be exactly a normal competition, but it soon became apparent that Bobby’s Gin and Spirit Cartel had got it as close as possible with the restrictions in place.
Whilst the judges, consisting of BarLifeUK, Julian DeFeral and Spirit Cartel’s Adam Peters-Ennis, were all together (socially distanced of course – actually just assume everything was done properly so I don’t have to keep sounding like a public service announcement), the contestants were all joining via the medium of video link. To ensure that their drinks were made to their exacting standards the talented bastard that is Elliot Ball was on hand to mix, shake, stir and throw their ingredients together for us to taste.
The only other missing element, besides the crowd of whooping supporters, were the Bobby’s Gin team themselves. Being based in the Netherlands it was unfortunately not possible for them to be with us but Jennifer de Jong and Bobby’s Grandson and Founder David Blom were also able to join us on video from Schiedam. As well as hosting David was going to be judging the presentations and getting very thirsty and jealous as he watched us drink the creations.
The great thing about Bobby’s, besides the frankly wonderful liquid that lives in the bottle, is that for such a ‘young’ brand it has a really interesting story behind it. This gave the bartenders a big pallet of flavours to dip into and different directions their inspiration could come from.
With the many cameras in focus, Elliot limbered up and the judge’s excitement levels at an all-time high we were off. Each finalist would present and make their drink online whilst Elliot made serves of the drinks (ingredients supplied by the competitors) for us to try.
Distanced But Delicious
First up was Andrey Bartlett from Aberdeen’s Tippling House who kicked off proceedings in grand style. Some people are natural presenters and Andrey is definitely from that family, his creation ‘Pause & Ponder’ was based around his lockdown loves of coffee and banana bread. As he said ‘Have you really survived lockdown without making banana bread?’.
Ashley Barnett from The Thirsty Bird in Dorset brought a welcome flash of the tropics to the day inspired by the beaches of Naku in Indonesia where Bobby was born. It contained all the classic tiki flavours in the form of pineapple, banana, cacao and lime but it was his homemade ‘Ambon Falernum’ that made it stand out from the crowd.
When you think of The Ritz you think of nattily dressed bartenders and Manuel Spolaore didn’t disappoint. His crisp white jacket was immaculate and the only disappointment in his fantastic presentation was, when he stood to throw his hybrid of a Painkiller and a Monkey Glad, he was wearing trousers.
Lorenzo Gavelli was in London bar Disrepute slacking off cleaning day to present his drink, an Indonesian flavoured milk punch. Whilst sipping on his serve he summed up the thoughts of thousands of bartenders gearing up for reopening when he stated ‘I haven’t made a drink in 6 months and have become socially awkward’.
Last up in the alphabetical(ish) order was another London based bartender, Panos Ntalianis from Dishoom. Another drink inspired by Bobby’s first home Panos focused on the flavours of a meal Bobby would have missed when he arrived in Holland. It certainly read like a curry recipe with cinnamon, clove, coconut, ginger and pink peppercorns all included but it sure as hell tasted like a delicious cocktail.
One thing I’ve missed about judging comps is the arguing between judges during deliberation, but Julian and Adam are so bloody nice it wasn’t happening. I tried to rile up Jennifer and David over in Schiedam, but they were even nicer. I took to arguing with myself but realised I’ve been doing that for a year so that wasn’t satisfactory.
Instead we discussed it all in a mature and sensible way and came to the conclusion that there really could only be one winner. Panos was the competitor who ticked the most boxes across his presentation and drink. The ingredients he used complimented the Bobby’s Gin allowing the it to shine which was the element that got him across that finish line in first place.
Panos will be heading over to Schiedam later in the year to compete in the global final (obviously dates not yet confirmed) and will undoubtably give the other competitors a good run for their money. In the brief chats I had with David and Jennifer on the day I have no doubt the trip will be a hell of a lot of fun as well.
A big thank you to Bobby’s Gin, Jane and the rest of the Spirit Cartel for putting on such a great comp and forcing me to put on matching socks for the first time this year. Elliot was, as always, the consummate host but a special mention needs to go to Robin who managed to take the lovely pictures you see whilst also filming on at least two cameras and managing all of the IT it takes to make an online competition work. Although I’m assuming that was a breeze compared to dealing with my wife for our wedding photos a few years ago!
We will of course be bringing you news from the Global Final when the world is back to some semblance of normal, until then here is Panos’ winning drink specs.