There are few better nights in the BarLifeUK calendar each year than the Final of Jägermeister’s Meister Hunter Competition.
It combines so many of our favourite things – a big arse party, a free bar, a cocktail comp with guaranteed delicious drinks, superb company and a comfy bar stool. It also, to our mind at least, marks the end of the annual cocktail competition season, and what a way to go out. We had 7 bartenders from across the UK, Ireland and Switzerland competing for victory and the now famous over-sized Meister Hunter checks.
For those unaware of the Meister Hunter competition format, here’s a quick overview. Bartenders create delicious cocktails using either classic Jager, Cold Brew or Manifest. They enter a regional comp, they win, they come to the final in London, they do not make that heat drink again. A series of challenges and activities take place over two days resulting in a drink they present at the final in front of hundreds of people. They win, we cheer, everyone drinks.
In other words (and a lot less words) this is not like other cocktail competitions.
As the doors opened at The Amano Hotel’s superb downstairs bar/club the tension and adrenaline levels in our finalists began to increase. An hour later the room was packed with hundreds of supporters all being served by the always superb Hubertus Circle gang.
Before we knew it the judges were squeezing past the crowds onto our judging thrones and our compere for the evening, the born entertainer that is Sam Boevey, was introducing us and the finalists (along with some interesting facts about them). So I’ll do the same thing:
The finalists were:
Adam Taylor – Project Halcyon, Manchester
Eve Morley – The Raven, Bristol
Julia Atrak – Hucks, Dublin
Laurie Howells – Alma Bar, London
Lina Otremba – Milk, Reading
Nikita Mazzoni – La Muse Gueule, Geneva
Sascha Montague – Bar&Tender, Glasgow
The judging panel consisted of:
Florian ‘Flo’ Beuren – Global Jagermiester Manifest Brand Ambassador
Stu Bale – Owner of Crucible and king of flavour
Nina Eggeling – Global Marketing guru at Jagermeister
Josefina Isaza – Ceramic Artist
Brian d’Souza – DJ Auntie Flo and founder of Swell Studio
BarLifeUK – scruffy person with a pen
As you probably know (cuz we bang on about it a lot) we judge a lot of cocktail competitions and the judging sheets tend to largely cover the same things – look of the drink, taste of the drink and performance of the competitor – there are some other bits that can be added but these are the backbone. Flo, who is the mastermind of Meister Hunter, had looked at this backbone and given it a whole lot of steroids, to explain how we have to go back to the start of the day before:
Look Of The Drink
Usually this judging criteria comes down to colour, garnish, choice of glassware perhaps. Not at Meister Hunter 2023. The finalists were contacted several weeks before the competition and told to design a vessel, a vessel that would be ceramic. They then spoke to the very talented Josefina who took their concepts and turned them into a reality. So there they found themselves, on a Monday morning 36 hours before the final at a pottery studio with their imagined vessels in front of them in need of decoration. When BarLife arrived the concentration in the room as the last touches were made to their creations was intense but the results were looking phenomenal.
As the competition started the results of all that hard work was clear for any of the hundreds of people in the room to see. Nikita’s (who likes to eat the crusts of pies before eating the filling – Boevey Fact) cups were striking, a simple design but painted beautifully and suited the serve perfectly. It wasn’t just about the cup though, the Manifest sang in her ginger shrub based cocktail and her presentation was very funny and highly entertaining, and she did it all in a language that isn’t hers!
Lina (who use to professionally yodel – Boevey Fact) produced what were probably the most intricate vessels of the night with both the old and new Jägermeister logo on show along with the poem that adorns every bottle. It was another fantastic presentation harking back to her time growing up in Bavaria and a drink that called back to her winning drink from the heats but was completely original and delicious.
Taste Of The Drink
This one is pretty self-explanatory on a judging sheet but the competitors usually have months to create and tinker with the recipe. For the Meister Hunter final they weren’t given the brief until 36 hours before the final started, to make this happen in such a short time span help was on offer. The help came in the form of Stu and his team at Crucible.
As the painted creations went into the kiln for a final blast we headed our way to the greatest bartenders geek spot in the UK, Crucible, where the finalists got to play with all the machines on hand and an array of ingredients to make your head spin. It was time to create the drink that would bring them victory.
Eve (who has assisted on the autopsy of over 400 Victorian skeletons – Boevey Fact) certainly made the most of her Crucible time using Manifest as the base, she used Lapsang Souchong Tea, rose and orange juice to great affect. The drink was perfectly matched to her sharing cups which were inspired by her story of Goddess Diana which again was linked to her soundscape.
Sascha (who has really long arms, like weirdly long – Boevey Fact) has entered Meister Hunter a few times over the years and his flavours were based on ingredients from his previous entries. Hibiscus, plum, bitters and blackberry were the base flavours shaken with Manifest, being a true Scot he finished the drink with a spritz of Islay whisky all served up in a colourful goblet and presented with a performance of a superb Rabbie Burns inspired poem.
Performance Of The Competitor
Usually for this category the judges sit back and let the bartender do their thing but this time there was, unsurprisingly, another twist. The morning of the final the competitors had been back at Crucible to meet Brian. They each had time with him to create their very own soundtrack for their performance.
This wasn’t as simple as picking a few songs however as Brian specialises in using nature sounds in is creations. They had a huge variety of sounds to draw from, the sound of mushrooms growing, of forests at night, leaves, nuts, everything seemed to be possible. The soundtrack had to relate to their drink and their presentation.
Julia (who knows five languages at toddler level – Boevey Fact) used her soundtrack to highlight the nostalgia of her story and drink. Based on memories of her Grandma who would make a rhubarb and pear tart back in her home in Germany before relaxing with a glass of Jägermeister. Her presentation was superb and had the crowd hanging on her every word, the music adding to the moment resulting in a drink inspired by the tart and a pottery coaster designed to hold the shot her Grandma enjoyed.
It was over to Laurie (who has an alter ego called Patricia when she’s drunk – Boevey Fact) to finish up the competition and her music embraced the sound of mushrooms ‘singing’ as she spoke about the idea of foraging for the original Jägermeister ingredients (she did want the mushrooms to ‘sing Cardi B’ but apparently that wasn’t doable). The drink and vessel looked fantastic with dry ice keeping all the photographers very happy, the flavours of blackberry, chestnuts, meadowsweet and mushrooms worked perfectly with the Manifest.
It was a superb way to end the competition and it was time for the judges to deliberate and the audience to use tokens to also vote for their favourites which would also influence the scoring.
The X Factor
Here’s the thing. No matter how detailed the judging sheet is there are always elements it can’t cater for. There is emotion, history, a personal journey which always influence a judge. On their own they are not enough but combined with the other judging elements they sometimes produce something very special.
It quickly became apparent in the judging room that Adam (who spent two years travelling around competitively playing tabletop games – Boevey Fact) had put it all together. 2 years previously Adam had reached the final of Meister Hunter and had performed superbly well, as I hope you can now appreciate every finalist puts a lot of themselves into the final and Adam was certainly no different. It was all going swimmingly for him, he was going to be in the running for the win. As the clock ticked down he put his drink down on the bar and as he took his hand away knocked it over. The drink was all over the bar, his time was up, we judges had nothing to taste. I have rarely heard a bar as quiet as in the seconds after that happened, everyone understood it was over for him. For two years this memory had haunted him.
This was his redemption. Literally, his drink was called The Redemption Arc. He created a vessel with a lid that was impossible to knock over. His drink was inspired by Tiki, a style he has not made in his 6 years of cocktail competitions with clarified banana, burnt pineapple and naga chilli. His presentation was emotional and heartfelt, his music was tiki inspired. He put all the ingredients in the shaker put it on the bar and then the unthinkable happened, he knocked it over again…. Fear not fearless reader, it was all part of the act, he had prebatched his drink and had plenty of time left to serve us the finished cocktail.
It was a wonderful performance, an amazing drink, a wonderful vessel and the music was fantastic. All that was left was to announce the winner to the crowd.
The room was silenced as Flo took the microphone and gave the crowd the news. In third place and receiving a check for £500 was Lina. Second place and £1000 better off was Laurie. The winner (with the most emotional reaction we have ever seen to an announcement) was Adam. The check for £3,000 was undoubtably very gratefully received but this was about more than the money, more than the win, this was about redemption.
It was a truly great evening and a huge amount of thanks need to go to Flo and the wider Jägermeister team for putting on yet another phenomenal night. Also to the Hubertus Circle team to keeping the drinks flowing, to Sam for his superb hosting skills, the Amano team and our fellow judges (especially Josefina and Brian for their expertise in area we are not familiar with). Finally thank you to Nina and her cohorts for making and old man very happy and embarrassed on his birthday.
Finally a huge thank you to all the finalists from the heats through to the winners announcement they had put everything into the competition and the were a great bunch to hang about with. We cannot wait to see what they have in store for next year’s Meister Hunter and we will of course let you know in the new year how you can involved in this unbelievable competition.