Manadarine Napoleon Finalists in Belgium

Five of the UK’s finest bartenders, a Eurostar to Brussels and three days of great food and drink – the Mandarine Napoleon UK final was going to be a blast.

After winning a series of competitions the five bartenders – Beka Khmaladze, Chelsea Brassiere; Dan Bovey, Sahara Bar; Andre Cavalheiro, The Ritz Hotel; Sebastien Guesdon, Roast and Dan Heyworth, Fat Cat Group – were ready to battle it out. But before that happened there was a fair bit of fun to be had.

As the Eurostar pulled out of St Pancras the group (the finalists joined on the trip by Zoran Peric, Peter Thornton and Patrick O’Rielly from Cellar Trends plus yours truly) quickly got to know each other and before we had dipped below the water the Mandarine Napoleon was flowing.

The full gang complete with silly hats

Once at our hotel in the centre of Brussels the obligatory 5 minute check-in before heading to the bar was observed by most. A couple of Belgium beers were consumed and it didn’t take long to realise the ABV was a bit pokier than in UK brews.

As the evening unfolded the Mandarine Napoleon flowed as did the conversation and some great classic Belgium food. During the evening one drink kept appearing in my hand over and over again. It was simply a Belgium beer with a shot of Mandarine Napoleon in it but boy oh boy did it have a kick.

As it was Zoran that seemed inevitably to be the pusher of this concoction it was quickly named the ‘Z’ by the group. Seeing as we were in the home of Tintin I couldn’t help thinking it should be called ‘Blistering Barnacles’ but to be honest ‘Z’ was a lot easier to pronounce after a couple.

The next day was the big day of the trip. An early morning wakeup call, which was easier for some to make than others, saw us on a coach (brilliantly called the Party Bus) to the Distillerie De Biercee.

The distillery itself is an amazing place and we were very privileged to witness an actual run of Mandarine Napoleon (put on for one day only just for us). There will be a bigger story on the distillery and the Mandarine Napoleon production process in the next couple of weeks. Now though onto the competition…

UK Final

The five bartenders weren’t just here on a jolly, there was serious (well serious-ish work to be done). The competitors all agreed that they were all winners to be on such a great trip, but with £1,400 worth of Jim Meehan bar kit up for grabs for the overall winner, their eyes betrayed them slightly.

Andre with his The Hat Is Back

The competition itself was split into three sections – a written test, a mystery table signature serve round and a mystery table themed punch round. All rounds took place in the distillery on one of the most beautiful bars BarLifeUK has ever seen.

Once the written test, which included an aroma section based on the ‘botanicals’ of Mandarine Napoleon plus a few swerve balls, was completed eyes moved to a table in the corner of the room covered in a big sheet.

The rules were – one minute to pick your ingredients (including all spirits as the bar only stocked Mandarine Napoleon), 5 minutes to think and taste, 1 minute to swap or add, 5 minutes to fine tune then behind the bar to make your signature serve.

The rush for the table once the sheet was raised was the most hard fought since the ‘Punch Jeffery Archer in the Face Stall’ at my Gran’s local fete. Bottles, herbs, fruit, bitters and each other’s hair were all being grabbed.

The four person judging panel sat in anticipation as the first competitor started to set up. We had seen the ingredients, we had seen what had been grabbed, we were excited, we were a little scared but mainly excited.

The first round saw drinks containing Smith & Cross Rum, Wild Turkey Honey, Glenrothes Scotch, Velvet Flarenum and Willet Rye combined with all sorts of bitters and lots of jams. The drinks were all great and the scoring was very tight however Andre took it out with his thrown The Hat Is Back creation.

Round two was a themed punch round. Again the mystery table was used but this time they had to combine the ingredients with a theme and fancy dress was on hand to enhance the Christmas, Disco and Summer themes.

The originality and quality of the punches produced with so little preparation time was fantastic to see. In fact both rounds proved that with limited ingredients and a little knowledge great bartenders can produce great drinks.

They call him Mellow Yellow…. quiet rightly

Once again a huge variety of products and styles were used and special mention has to go out to Dan Bovey for using a whole bottle of Advocat in his Christmas inspired creation Healthy Sicilian’s Christmas in Belgium. Not only did he use the whole bottle but it tasted like a big Christmas hug in a glass.

And the Winner Is…..

We knew the judging was going to be tight but little did we realise that after 3 rounds and 4 judges to contend with we would end up with a dead heat for first place. There was a big discussion (we’d had enough cocktails to ensure it was a discussion not an argument) amongst the judges and finally a winner was picked.

Just to eek out the pain a little more for the finalists the winner was not announced until after dinner but one of the best steaks I have ever eaten helped to take people’s minds off the results a little. Even with the prizes lined up for all to see.

Finally the waiting was over and the top three were announced. In third place was Sebastien , Second Dan Bovey and the winner in only his third ever competition was Dan Heyworth.

Both of Dan’s drinks scored very highly, his first a sour style drink came with a mandarin sugar rim which was a great twist and his punch was full of summery flavours and served in a Mandarine Napoleon bottle to great effect. Full drink specs below.

Everyone was a winner in more ways than one though as all the contestants received goodies from gold shakers to bottles of Mandarine Napoleon XO plus some Jim Meehan wraps complete with cocktail equipment.

The night was still young however. The ‘Party Bus’ ride home saw some of the worst jokes ever told courtesy of Sebastien, although we were saved from anymore of Beka’s speeches which had become as synonymous with the trip as the ‘Z’ (Zzzzzzzzzz!!).

Sowady one of our fantastic local hosts had soon directed us to a local hotspot and we drank, danced and toasted the night away in fine style. In fact such a good bond had formed within the group that even a Belgium Rail strike that saw us having to get a coach to Lille the next morning couldn’t break our spirits.

A big thank you to all of the people at Mandarine Napoleon and Distillerie De Biercee for their amazing hospitality, and to all the contestants for a great laugh.

Distillery write up is on its way and in the meantime keep an eye on BarLifeUK for some fantastic Mandarine Napoleon giveaways.

Dan Heyworth’s Winning Drinks

Le Solie De Mandarine (Mandarine Sunshine)

And the winner is…..
  • 35ml Mandarine Napoleon
  • 35ml Wild Turkey Honey
  • 1 inch cube fresh mango
  • 1 dash chocolate bitters
  • 25ml lemon juice
  • Dash sugar syrup
  • 1 egg white

Muddle mango, add rest of ingredients, shake. Strain into rocks glass filled with ice and with mandarin sugar rim.

Corsican Cooler (punch drink but specs are per serve)

  • 35ml Mandarine Napoleon
  • 15ml Lillet Rouge
  • 15ml Peach Tree
  • 1 dash Aztec Chocolate Bitters
  • 1 blackberry
  • 1 raspberry
  • 30ml Orange Juice
  • 30ml Grapefruit Juice

Give it all a good shake and then decanter into an empty Mandarine Napoleon bottle for serve.