Finally the UK have done it. After years of trying we can hold our heads up high, all thanks to The Atherton Company’s Robyn Wilkie.
If you have been following BarLifeUK for a few years you will know that we love the Gin Mare Mediterranean Inspirations Competition. It always provides superb and original drinks throughout the UK heats and the trip to Ibiza, for the final, is like no other we attend.
However, in the 5 years worth of Global Finals we have attended there has always been something missing. The fun and games of the activities, parties and villa based japery, organised so wonderfully by the Vantguard team, have never quite been complete. We have never before been able to bask in the warm glow given by an oversized check for €4,500.
The previous UK finalists have been far from shabby, Dee Ann Quinones, Ali Reynolds, Russell Downie and Dan Warren have all represented the UK in the Global Finals but never quite made it to the number one spot. It’s fair to say the pressure has been mounting on the UK, led by Stuart Ekins, Richard Herbert and the CASK Liquid Marketing team, to prove just how good our little island is.
So when, as usual, a cab picked us up before dawn had even considered her crack, the excitement was tempered somewhat by the expectation of a win. Had we picked the right winner in the UK final? Was she prepped enough? Could we have done more? Should we have a Guinness or a Bloody Mary at the airport?
We needn’t have worried. At that time of night/day it was always going to be a pint of lager.
We Are Judging You
From the plane we arrived at Villa Mare. It has to be one of the most spectacular venues for a cocktail competition anywhere in the world. The Spanish sun beating down on the infinity pool and crystal blue ocean that provide the backdrop for the competitors grand stage.
We quickly checked in with Robyn who seemed relaxed and ready for action, she had even donned a Gin Mare inspired outfit for proceedings. We were so impressed we had a Gin Mare & tonic.
A look around the villa at the other contestants and their wide array of ingredients soon put the doubts back in our head. The standard was going to be exceedingly high and Robyn was going to have to be on her game to emerge victorious.
Gin Mare have always had close links to food in their competitions and this year that was increased even more so with a partnership with foodpairing.com that resulted in two judging panels across the competition, a liquid panel and a foodie panel.
Add to that pretty scary bunch of people in the front two rows, a bunch of journalists, varying supporters, photographers and videographers and it wouldn’t just be the 35 degree heat that would be making them sweat.
The format of the competition saw each competitor making three cocktails. A twist on the classic G&T, a Mare Nostrum serve based on the Mediterranean and finally an egg inspired drink which had been matched with a dish after consultation with a foodpairing.com chef. The first two would be made and served together before a break, then the gastronomy section and final drink.
As the bartenders received their briefing and drew lots for the order the tension was mounting. Thankfully Stu passed out some beers.
As we mentioned, Robyn’s competition was going to be tough to crack. Previously in the Global Final a lot of people have focused on elaborate and extravagant serves/garnishes with just about every type of prop being used at some point. It didn’t take long to see that this year the effort and thought had firmly been put into the drinks.
Those trying to stop our celebratory party were:
Andrea Zapis, Italy
Fabio Brusco, Spain
Marius Kohne, Germany
Carlos Ruiz, USA
Tainah Carvalho, USA
Daniel Zamith, Portugal
Andeas Portz, Austria
We managed to position ourselves right behind the judges so we could try as many of the serves as possible. After the first five competitors had been up we had been particularly impressed by Fabio who’s G&T with tomato foam was great and he had a blow-up doll garnish for his second drink (not all elaborate garnishes had gone!).
Also both Carlos and Tainah from the US had stood out with both their drinks (Carlos just edging that) and their presentations (with Tainah taking that honour). Marius won the award for most unusual serve with a Gin Mare, goats cheese cordial and local hierbas liqueur with a dehydrated chorizo rim, surely one for the foodie judges to enjoy.
Up number six was Robyn, she set up her station, we took a deep breath, she took a deep breath and we took a large slurp of gin & tonic.
Worried? We were never worried. She nailed it. Her presentation was light, funny and full of facts and information. She won the fact of the day battle with her locomotive museum knowledge bomb and to top it all off we thought her drinks tasted even better than in the UK final (full specs below). Her G&T twist in particular was, in our opinion, the winner of the day, not that we are biased.
The final two finished off the morning session with Daniel recovering from a stressful 24 hours having to remake all of his ingredients after a lost bag incident on route, to produce a couple of great drinks.
During the break we caught up with Robyn who seemed as happy as we had been at her performance, it was decided we would celebrate with a beer.
The afternoon session is harder to report on as the food matching element is such a big one and there is only enough food for the judges to sample. There were certainly some interesting drinks being produced and the egg element seemed to have knocked a couple out of their comfort zone.
Robyn’s egg inspired drink was the serve that needed a little work from the UK final but she had done it superbly. The resulting drink looked spectacular against the Ibiza backdrop and had some theatre for the judges to enjoy with the ‘cracking of the egg shell’ to access the drink.
After all 8 had been up we left the competitors to get ready for the evenings festivities and headed off to our own villa where we had to prepare. After a glass or two of white wine of course.
Big Checks & Big Smiles
As we made our way to dinner had our annual ‘what do you think our chances are?’ (yes ‘our’ chances, admittedly Robyn had done all the work but that doesn’t stop us) conversation. We have had our hopes and dreams dashed before but we knew Robyn had done a top job. Surely we were in with a chance this year…… surely.
There was dinner and there were drinks. BarLifeUK sat next to Robyn and tried our best to talk about anything except the competition. Before we knew it glasses were being tinked and much like the moment before your drunk mate gets up to do a best man speech, we began to worry about what was going to be said.
The Vantguard crew stood and announced that third place was going to Daniel. Second place was taken out by Carlos. Fingers were crossed, which made it much harder to down the rest of our gin & tonic, but there was more news before the winner was crowned.
As it turned out two bartenders had got exactly the same score across the 8 judges, to try and separate them each judge was asked to pick their favourite of the two. Another dead heat.
This is very unusual in a competition of this size, not unheard of but certainly unusual. However the decision made by the Vantguard team was, certainly in BarLifeUK’s experience, a first. After discussions about a final ‘mix off’, splitting the prize between the top two and many other options a decision was made.
Both of the joint winners deserved their prize. If the judges couldn’t split them how could Vantguard. So both the winners would receive the top prize of €4,500 and various travel opportunities over the coming year. It was a fantastic decision and Vantguard should be applauded for taking the not insignificant financial hit to celebrate two well deserving bartenders.
Then came the names. Fabio Brusco from San Rocco in Alicante and Robyn Wilkie from The Social Company in London.
The next 20 minutes or so were a blur of excitement. There were cameras, giant checks, high-fives and hugs, whooping and hollering and, you may not be surprised to hear, a drink or two. The CASK team hoisted Robyn in the air for a photo opportunity and the news began to slowly sink in.
We looked around at the other competitors. Who had fought so hard and done such a great job. We knew how they felt, we had been there before so often. All eight competitors were superb and they deserve to be celebrated, congratulated and rewarded by their friends, family and colleagues. Not winning is never easy.
However celebrating a win is, as it turns out, very easy.
Pacha & Beyond
Legendary nightclub Pacha was the scene for the first round of celebrating. You won’t be surprised to hear that BarLifeUK are not exactly at home in nightclubs, especially ones in Ibiza. However your own VIP area with Gin Mare and mixers supplied certainly makes it a lot easier to get into the swing of things (even if you don’t know where to look when a giant martini glass is occupied by a scantily clad, gyrating women of undefinable age and plastic percentage).
It also turned out to be Flower Power night so we actually knew and liked the music. This did lead to an unfortunate incident on the dance floor where for upwards of 20 seconds BarLifeUK attempted to dance. Luckily for all concerned it turns out dancing is thirsty work and soon the VIP area was calling again.
After a confusing conversation with one young reveller that Engelbert Humperdinck was the answer to her enquiry as to ‘who the hell sung this?’ and not ‘some sort of twisted sexual invitation’, we decided it was time to leave.
The celebrations continued late into the night at the villa but due to very complicated legal reasons (and in no way due to us not really remembering) we will have to leave the details out.
The next day saw the competitors hoisted into the air off the back of a boat with a parachute strapped to their back and a continuation of the fun and partying that had brought the group so close together.
As we said right at the start we always love the Gin Mare Mediterranean Inspiration final in Ibiza. We had always wondered if it could really be anymore fun if we won. It turns out yes, yes it could, and we would like to thank Robyn for giving us the opportunity to experience it.
As always a massive thank you to CASK Liquid Marketing and Vantguard for inviting us along and holding such a unique and fun competition. To all the finalists for putting in such effort and celebrating everyones success so well.
Mainly MASSIVE congratulations to Robyn ‘The Mediterranean’ Wilkie and of course Fabio, Carlos and Daniel.
Back to normality now……. where did I put that gin & tonic?