Love Drinks Mezcal Competition National Final Results

Ten bartenders from across the UK compete for trips to Oaxaca and Barcelona

I experienced some health issues in 2022, which meant that Simon Webster judged almost all of the competition heats BarLifeUK was involved with that year, making the 2023 Love Drinks / El Recuerdo / Zignum mezcal competition the first I have worked from regional heats through to national final since the end of the pandemic, and more than anything else, it has reminded me what a vibrant and creative place the UK’s cocktail bar industry is.

Miley Kendrick

The Love Drinks heats took place in Leeds, London, Bristol, and Edinburgh with bartenders also travelling to those cities from further afield, meaning this competition was able to provide a snapshot of bartender skill and creativity from all over the UK. I don’t remember ever judging a comp in which so many of the bartenders were competing for the first time, which perhaps speaks to a new generation of talent having joined the industry since the pandemic, but if anything this seemed to increase the standard of entries – every heat was full of excited and enthusiastic bartenders who had put enormous time and energy into their drinks and presentations.

The most satisfying thing about judging heats and then attending the final was witnessing the improvements each competitor had applied to their presentation. Some of this was probably down to feedback provided by the judges at the heats, as well as shaking off some of the nerves that are inherent when presenting something for the first time. But credit must also go to Sam Burke and the team at Love Drinks who made sure the competition was as stress-free, welcoming, and enjoyable as possible, which definitely helped bring the best out of the competitors by putting them at ease.

James Plant

A new judging panel was assembled for the final, which took place at the excellent Albert’s Schloss in Birmingham, providing a fresh set of eyes and palates to asses the competitors’ drinks. Kirsty Bosley (food and drink reporter, Birmingham Mail), Luke Neal (Thirsty Consultancy), and Luis van der Velde (Europe Commercial Manager, Zignum) settled onto the judging stools, with the final taking the same format as the heats – 5 minutes prep time, 10 minutes presentation time, with El Recuerdo competitors going first, followed by a pizza break, and then the Zignum competitors.

Having won their respective heats, I already knew each competitor had a great drink and an engaging presentation, so success at the final really came down to nailing it on the day, and impressing a new set of judges. Experiencing the final through my camera viewfinder rather than as a judge, I didn’t get to taste all of the drinks, but as far as the presentations were concerned, everyone either matched or exceeded their previous performances, and it was gratifying to see a few of the competitors put into practice feedback I had given them at the heats.

The Winners – L to R: Selina Otremba, Miley Kendrick, Giorgia Di Stefano, James Plant

When the performances were over, the competitors had to endure the inevitably tense waiting period as the judges tallied their scores and figured out who had placed first for El Recuerdo and Zignum, thus winning trips to Oaxaca, and who would bag the runner-up prizes of trips to Barcelona. Although I wasn’t involved in this process, I wholeheartedly agree with the panel’s decision, based on the drinks I tasted at the heats, and the performances I witnessed at the final.

Before revealing the winners, I would like to extend huge thanks to everyone who submitted an entry. It takes a great deal of time, energy, and dedication to create a drink, write a presentation, and then travel to perform at a comp, and your efforts are greatly appreciated. Thanks also go to the team with Albert’s Schloss, who treated us like royalty – I have a feeling every customer who visits the venue leaves feeling the same way.

The Love Drinks El Recuerdo / Zignum 2023 Winners

El Recuerdo Winner – Trip to Oaxaca
Miley Kendrick – Tiki Hideaway, Leeds

What’s Up Guac?
50ml El Recuerdo
25ml Lime Juice
25 Cilantro Syrup
2 Drops avocado oil
2 dash chilli salsa
1 egg white
Served with smoked tortilla chips

Zignum Winner – Trip to Oaxaca
James Plant – Albert’s Schloss, Manchester

Montezuma’s Mole
30ml Zignum Mezcal
25ml vanilla vodka Absolut
30ml Tempus fugit Cacao
3 Dash Angustora cacao bitters
Bar spoon agave
7.5ml Chills Pimento dram
5ml sous vide lime juice (recipe below)
Stir down, double strain into Nic & Nora Glass with Salted chocolate rim
(Sous Vide Lime Juice Recipe; add the zest of half a lime, juice of a full lime, 25ml water and a bar spoon of sugar into bag in hot water (50-70 degrees) for half an hour and then double strain to create sous vide lime juice)

El Recuerdo Runner Up – Trip to Barcelona
Giorgia Di Stefano, Demon & Wise

35 ml El Recuerdo Abocado con gusano
35 ml Tamarind-Epazote Tea punch (Homemade)
25 ml Prickly Pear liqueur
Served on the rocks with a chunk of ice. Garnished with a mix of spices Chilli & Paprika, Epazote, Sea salt

Zignum Runner Up – Trip to Barcelona
Selina Otremba, Milk Bar, Reading

Of Fruit and Clay
1.25oz Zignum Reposado
1oz Homemade Prickly Pear and Cactus Tea*
0.5oz Fig Leaf Liqueur
0.75oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 Barspoon/5ml Paranubes Oaxacan Cane Juice Rum
2 dashes Angosturra Bitters
Glassware: Traditional Oaxacan Drinking Bowl
Method: Stir and strain
Garnish: Flamed Orange Blossom Spritz