The last heat of our week-long Hepple tour saw us pulling up our judging stool in London.
Already in the week we had judged at two very fancy Hawksmoor venues but their new Lowback Bar, seemingly floating on a waterway in Canary Wharf, was a fantastic way to finish.
The bartenders gathered as Joe Worthington and the Hawksmoor team helped settle any nerves with Hepple Gin & Tonics. They were given the traditional pre- comp briefing and introduced to the day’s judges, joining us were Ashley Hunka from Hepple Spirits and our old judging partner in crime Stuart Ekins of Cask Liquid Marketing.
The finalist’s task was to present us with their pre-batched Ultimate Hepple Martini with the scores being split between taste (50 points), aroma (10), name (10) and their presentation (30). Over the next couple of hours we were treated to some great martini’s and entertaining chat. Here are some of the highlights:
Going first in a competition is never an easy job but Lukas Bulika from Inn The Park kicked us off in style with his serve using birch sap water for dilution but it was the 1ml of QuiQuiRiQui mezcal that made it stand out from the crowd. His colleague Ross Forsythe also experimented with his dilution, infusing tap water with nettles which gave his drink lovely green notes.
It’s been a while since we have had the honour of judging Rose Brookman from Mixing Class but it was evident, as she set a huge fan up on the bar, that she has lost none of her flair and humour. As she recreated the wilds of Northumberland with wind and rain effects we were extremely happy we weren’t in Stu’s judging spot. It was also no surprise that someone whose freezer contains nothing but ‘gin, pre-batched martini’s and fish fingers’ that she delivered not only a great tasting martini but also one that had a proper mouth tingling punch to it (and thankfully no fish finger garnish).
Despite having judged 1000’s of drinks in cocktail competitions I am regularly still trying ingredients I never have before, Silverleaf’s Josh Black certainly delivered on that front with a hydrosol spritz for his drink made from dirt, grass and bark ‘foraged’ from Bethnal Green. This topped a martini featuring one of Hepple’s more unusual botanicals in the form of blackcurrant leaf infused vermouth.
In the Manchester heat the Dirty Martini was celebrated and it wasn’t ignored in London either with Jacob Lovell-Hewitt from Publiq. providing his own twist with olive oil fat washed Hepple being combined with Cocchi Americano, a salt and lactic acid solution and orange wine. It resulted in a drink which celebrated the orange wine beautifully and had an exceptional mouthfeel.
There were two competitors who stood out from the crowd, the first also bringing a twist on the Dirty Martini. Paul Minea from The Club House Marylebone reduced a rosemary and olive tonic to combine with the Hepple alongside olive bitters, the result was a crystal clear twist on the classically murky serve (the Mirror Margarita of Dirty Martini’s?) which tasted as good as it looked. In a clever extra touch the drink was garnished with three different olives to represent the triple distillation process used by Hepple.
It was another twist on a classic by Markus Basset from Fallow which also stood out, this time it was the Gibson which was the inspiration and oysters providing the twist. His Hepple Gin was paired with an oyster shell tincture, Pineau des Charentes Blanc and vermouth infused with lovage and anis. The drink was finished off with pickled shallots and an oyster leaf for what was one of the best Gibson’s I have ever had.
So congratulations to Markus and Paul who will join the winners from Scotland and The North in the final at the Hepple Distillery in July to battle it out for a trip to Athens Bar Show. Keep an eye on BarLifeUK as we will be bringing you all the news from the final which is sure to be a tight affair, and a whole lot of fun.
Thank you to all the competitors who put in so much effort and to the Hawksmoor team for looking after us so well. A huge thanks to the Hepple and Cask Liquid Marketing teams for putting on such a fantastic comp, roll on Northumberland.
Paul Minea, The Club House Marylebone, London
I Like It Dirty
60 ml Hepple Gin
30 ml olive &rosemary tonic reduction
30 ml dilution
2 dashes olive bitters
Garnished with three separate olives.
Markus Basset, Fallow, London
45ml Hepple Gin
25ml oyster shell tincture
25ml pineau des charentes blanc
15ml Lovage, anis seed Dry Vermouth
15ml cold water
1,5ml oyster water
Garnish with pickled shallot in base of glass and oyster leaf.