With heats in London and Edinburgh taking place over the last few weeks, the final 6 have been picked for the UK final.
When the Merlet Sidecar competition launched we knew there would be a flood of entries as the prize on offer was the holy grail of competition prizes – a trip to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. We weren’t disappointed and we were prepared from some great quality drinks from some great quality bartenders.
The competitors at each heat had to make the same two drinks. Firstly their Sidecar twist which had to contain Merlet Brothers Blended Cognac and Merlet Trois Citrus followed by a mystery box round.
The mystery box round had its own twist with competitors picking out a bottle of Merlet Fraise, Framboisse or Peche as well as a bottle of Fords Gin, Cabeza Tequila or Cana Brava Rum from the 86 Company range. Each competitor then got free range of the back bar at our host venues – Hixter in London and Devil’s Advocate in Edinburgh.
London kicked us off in great style with flames and foam, maps and motorbikes, scents and swimming goggles. The thought that went into the presentations of the finished drinks was matched by the ability to balance their Sidecar twists.
The judging panel of BarLifeUK, Stuart Ekins from CASK Liquid Marketing and Dan Warner of the 86 Co, were charged with picking three to go through to the final. The three that got the nod were Mike Foster from 69 Colebrook Row, Julien Pascal from Shochu Lounge and Johnny Florea from One Canada Square.
Mike produced, as he always does, a very polished performance and fantastic twist on the Sidecar including his own Eau De Toilette Pour Sidecar to spray on the finished drink. Julien went straight after Mike but wasn’t about to get upstaged with his twist including lapsang souchong syrup and Kamm & Sons alongside the Merlet products.
Johnny was last up but made sure no-one forgot his cocktail with it being poured into a glass garnished with swimming goggles and a toy motorbike. It was great quality all round and all the contestants did themselves and their bars proud
As we jumped on the train to Edinburgh we knew we were going to have another tough day of judging ahead of us, however on route it appeared that some sort of bartender plague had swept through the city as competitor after competitor dropped out of the heat. This left us with 4 bartenders fighting it out for 3 spots.
Needless to say we were slightly disappointed by the drop outs but little did we know what we were in for. Sam McGarry and Sam Baxenda from Bramble, Cameron Mack from Tonic and Chris Bowker from Gaucho in Leeds had us speechless.
In the first round they produced 4 of the best drinks any of the judges had ever seen in a competition. Every single one was balanced, tasty, a true Sidecar twist and presented superbly, thank god there was a mystery box round otherwise it would have been impossible to divide them.
Sam M kicked off with the revelation that his Great Grandpappy actually invented the Sidecar (along with the hashtag), his twist on his family recipe used clarified lemon juice which worked superbly. Chris’ presentation was full of knowledge and the drink contained some Johnny Walker Platinum to play with the cognac, he also added egg white and topped the foamy drink with Champagne, a trick that had Dan in particular purring.
Sam B was not to be upstaged by his colleague and dedicated his drink to the Private who drove the Sidecar to the bar and twisted the recipe with Campari and saline solution resulting in a great twist that still allowed the cognac to shine. Cameron finished off with an impressive blazer twisted Sidecar with a lemon, tangerine and physalis shrub, producing one of the best blazed drinks we have ever tried.
The ‘deciding’ mystery round saw yet again a superb level of skills which resulted in a horribly tough judging process. Unfortunately one person had to miss out on the UK final and by the narrowest of narrow margins it was Chris who finished 4th.
However the quality he showed on the day means if you find yourself coming up against him in any future competitions be very afraid as he is a serious contender at any level. As for the winning three, well the London boys better bring their best game if the want to have a chance against their Northern competition.
If you want to see who prevails then get yourself down to 69 Colebrook Row on Tuesday 30th September at 1pm, you never know there might even be some drinks knocking around.