The 2023 Meister Hunter heats kick off next month, and who better to provide some tips for this year’s competitors than last year’s winner…
Over the past few years, Jägermeister’s Meister Hunter comp has grown to become one of the biggest on the circuit regardless of the metric you use to judge it – scale, scope, or prize fund.
As a result, Meister Hunter attracts a huge number of entrants (this year it pulled in more entries than any comp we have been involved with for some time), and those entrants hail from all parts of the UK and every sort of bar. In other words, the competition is stiff and it’s a real achievement for any bartender to progresses through the regional heats and go on to win the epic, multi-stage final.
Winning Meister Hunter would be a feather in the cap of even the most experienced competitor, but last year’s winner, Carrie Smith of Hoot The Redeemer in Edinburgh, took the title and cash prize as a cocktail competition debutante, which is remarkable. With the 2023 regional beginning this month, it seemed like a good time to speak to Carrie and see what wisdom she has to pass on to this years competitors.
BLUK: Hello Carrie! Before we get onto the subject of Meister Hunter and how you won it, describe your bartending backstory for us…
CS: I started out when I was 19, in an old man’s pool hall, then after lockdown I went on to working in a fast-paced bar that was knocking out ‘Karen drinks’ like Porn Star Martinis, then I went and worked in a hotel and was doing a lot of room service. And then Hoot The Redeemer were lovely, they pretty much hired me on personality and I got to learn so much, I’ve been there about 2 years now and they have taught me so much about cocktails. It made me realise I love making my own cocktails, rather than classics and stuff like that. I love making my own little twists on things.
BLUK: What made you choose Meister Hunter as your first comp to enter?
CS: It seemed like more like partying environment, a bit more fun, more exciting than some of the others. And my manager Ellie Raeside won 2 years before, and she told me it was like being part of a big family.
BLUK: Tell us about the drink you entered…
CS: I tried to keep it Scottish, so it was Jägermeister with Buckfast that was infused with ancho chilli, so a spicy Buckfast, with a cherry orgeat shrub, some strawberry bitters, and a little bit of raspberry beer from Belgium just to give it a bit of fizz. Stirred down, it was a really nice sipping drink. I’ve done acting my whole life and I realised I can probably get away with telling stories in these competitions, so I talked about the last witches burned in Scotland and how that influenced my drink.
BLUK: As this was your first competition, did you turn to anyone for advice and if so, what did they tell you?
CS: I went to Ellie as she’s done quite a lot of competitions. She helped me quite a lot, with the best way to talk and the best way to put a drink together. When I started thinking about the drink I had lots of little ideas, and she helped me refine them.
BLUK: Was there anyone at your heat in Glasgow that had you worried?
CS: Yeah absolutely, the guy who came second made a really great drink, it was a sort of Jägermeister Mojito that also used cherries, and he told a really good story about his family’s history with hunting. I really enjoyed watching him.
BLUK: Did you feel as though you had nailed the heat, or was there anything you think you could have improved upon?
CS: Oh yeah, for sure. I spilled my drink a bit when I poured it into the glass, but I made light of it and the judges only deducted a small amount of points because they said I dealt with it in a lighthearted way. I was very nervous, but then most people are nervous at comps.
BLUK: Can you describe the Meister Hunter final and its different stages?
CS: It was like Masterchef. The first day we went into this kitchen and they made us make food. I’ve never cooked anything other than chicken nuggets in my life. That’s literally all I cook! So we had to make a meal inspired by Jager, with fish and meats and fruit. They paired each of us up with a chef, who very much helped me. I ended up making salmon with a Jager Manifest sauce, steamed in banana leaf, which sounds so weird to me because I never would have thought I could make that. And then we got taken to the next part at The Gibson, and they wanted us to pair the food with a Jägermeister drink… which we made and presented to the guests. So that was the first challenge. That’s when you started seeing the competition and realising they were really good, the guy from Canada was insane. I remember watching him and thinking he had so much personality, and the guy from London, Tristan, was really good. They came second and third.
BLUK: Which of the final challenges did you find most difficult?
CS: We came back the next day and in the morning we did a seminar about smells and aroma, and then we had to make a drink based on aroma. This is the bit I struggle with so it was really good to learn about it, but I struggled with that one because we had an hour and a half to get the drink together and then go to Oriole and present it to lots of people. I’d never made that drink until I delivered it on stage. It was stressful but everyone was helping each other. I had one guy who really struggled with how to be funny and get the story out, so I helped him with that and he helped me with my measurements. So we were all helping each other, which was really lovely.
BLUK: So looking back at the process, from performing in the heats to getting through the final, are there any tips you would give to this year’s competitors?
CS: Find a way to make the drink relate to you, because that’s a comfortable topic to talk about. It also helps with your nerves, because it’s a subject you know well and you won’t just black out and not know what you are talking about. And cover all the big points about your drink, don’t focus on one more that the others – taste, appearance, aroma, storytelling – all need to be equally thought out.
BLUK: One of the things that sets Meister Hunter apart from other comps is that it offers a big cash prize. You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but… what did you do with your prize money?
CS: It was literally a couple of weeks before my birthday, so I spent it on a big holiday in Tenerife!