Simply put Manchester delivered, and delivered in style.
The day had started well. I woke up in Edinburgh feeling only slightly dusty, my train to Manchester had free movies to watch, I got early check-in to my Manchester hotel and I made my way for my first visit to Junior Jacksons for the comp.
Then my day got really good.
For starters there was a Jägermeister pizza from Crazy Pedros, which I had missed dearly during lockdown. Then I discovered they had Pabst Blue Ribbon in cans. Followed by lots of friendly smiling faces I hadn’t seen for a long time arriving. By the time we started making the draw for the order of competitors I was having a grand old time.
Then the comp started, and my day got a whole lot better.
As with the Bristol and Edinburgh heats before, the format was simple but tough. Each competitor had 6 minutes to make two drinks. The first was the Jägermeister Cold Brew serve that had got them to the heats and the second a Manifest highball with no more than four ingredients including garnish. Plus they had to entertain the judges consisting of BarLifeUK, the smiling assassin that is Florian Beuren UK Brand Ambassador and Manchester’s Hubertus Circle bartender Cai Anderson (sorry again for throwing a drink over you mate!).
As it turned out they also gave themselves the extra task of entertaining the big and boisterous crowd that had gathered to support, eat pizza and drink Jägermeister (often with a Hooch chaser).
Starting The Hunt
Liverpool’s Joanne Ennis from Duke Street Market kicked off proceedings and set the tone for the afternoon with a fun and entertaining presentation backed up by some great drinks. Her Dirty Schnurrbart (German for moustache) was a grown up raspberry coke float complete with a homemade cake pop to make sure we didn’t feel too grown up.
There was more from Liverpool next in the form of Ma Boyle’s Alehouse’s Danny Morton. A fantastic weaving together of his two loves, Jägermeister and Everton Football Club (I forgave him) in his Cold Brew serve It’s The Hope That Kills You. Both were established in the same year and ‘One went on to let me down and the other didn’t’. The great presentation was backed up with a superb looking, tasting and balanced drink, which I’m not saying just because it had Mellow Corn in.
Then came Adam Keeligan from Clubhouse and what was one of the greatest cocktail competition presentations I have ever seen. I don’t have the time to go into it in the detail it deserves here but I’ll try and give you a flavour.
As his time began the music started playing, he stood on the back bar to announce himself and his presentation to the entire room and to tell them that 3 stuffed stags had been hidden around the bar, bring them to him and he’d give you a shot whilst he presented. From that point the energy and fun didn’t stop. There was dancing (with help from his trusty support), gags and shots, but amongst it all was an informative and technical presentation with two great drinks and somehow all within the six minute limit. It was a masterclass and if you get the chance to watch the video that is around somewhere I suggest you do.
Following that, even with a break in between, was going to be tough and the job fell to another Adam, Bar Mecanica’s Adam Bell. His was a very different style of presentation but once again superbly done. He took the role of storyteller. His first drink, based around the social ritual of a Turkish coffee ceremony loved by the many Turkish immigrants in Germany, was a fantastic Ramos twist. Then he had the cajones to throw a beetroot red drink with a crisp white shirt on. Another stellar six minutes.
Seb Groves was on his own turf and, with the help of another Junior Jackson’s bartender Jake, made one hell of an entrance. With the Rocky ring music blasting he entered dressed the part complete with blue roll gloves and Jake dressed as ‘ring girl’ was an image that will haunt me for the rest of my days. The presentation continued to make everyone laugh and his first drink, Diana Ross, was one of the best Cold Brew serves we had the entire comp tour.
There was no let up as Warrington’s Tom Sall from Bold St House stepped up, ‘So far everyone’s nailed it today, so thanks for that’. Whilst his first drink was inspired by his lockdown breakfasts and superbly named Wakey, wakey, eggs & baccy, it was his Manifest drink that really shone. Manifest, choc bitters, maraschino juice and ginger ale balanced superbly to let the Manifest shine in a great highball.
Last up in a comp like this is arguably the hardest spot, but chef turned bar owner Andy James from Notion in Stockport took it all in his stride in his first ever cocktail comp. He won my line of the day award for ‘Didn’t make a twat of that’ after shaking his first drink. However, the real star of his presentation lay in his second drinks garnish, Notion has recently crowned second in the British Pie Awards and his cherry pie garnish was fucking delicious.
There can be only one?
The judges deliberation took place in a pub next door and there was silence as we sat down and took a moment to recover from what we’d just witnessed. Finally broken by Florian’s quiet statement ‘How the hell do we pick only one from that?’. It was a genuine issue, there was only room in the London final for one of the competitors from Manchester. We each took a long swig of beer and started to thrash it out.
Simply put we couldn’t do it. The quality was so high in performances and drinks we found ourselves just going round in circles. So Florian made the call that, despite the fact it would mean a whole lot more planning and budget for the final, we had to put two through to celebrate just what an amazing effort the bartenders from across the North of England had put in.
The winners on the day were the two Adams, Keeligan and Bell but everyone who competed should be exceptionally proud of themselves. It was one of the strongest regional heats I have seen in a very long time and was exactly what I’d been dreaming of as lockdown started to lift.
A big thanks to all the supporters as well who help make the atmosphere it deserved. Also massive thanks to Pablo and the Junior Jackson’s team who had to deal with all of that before opening for a Jäger party that evening. Plus, as always Florian and the Jägermeister team for putting Meister Hunter on.