What Went Down at Bristol Cocktail Week

The 20th – 26th of October saw the return of Bristol Cocktail Week, a week specifically designed to excite bartenders and engage consumers in and around Bristol.

This year saw tastings and food pairings, gin making and a whole lot of cocktails, what a week it was!

Monday kick-started the week with the high energy Bristol Cocktail Cup, this 9-hour competition consists of six different heats in five different bars around the city, with the coveted prize of being crowned Bristol’s best bartender 2014.

Competition time (©chrisfielddesign)
Competition time (©chrisfielddesign)

The day started at 2.30 with the Wray and Nephew, signature drink round. 14 bartenders threw their hats into the ring and had 5 minutes to create two of their own drink. Cue the bad banter air horn and some very drunk judges.

Luckily though each heat had a fresh set of judges, so after the 14 hopefuls had been cut to eight it was on to the next bar and the next round.

This round, sponsored by Portobello gin was scenarios, again the competitors had 5 minutes to create two of the same cocktail, based on the scenario they had been given. Plenty of Bristol puns and delicious gin drinks later the eight were now a six and it was time for the next round.

The Saturday night round, a speed and efficiency round, sponsored by Gentleman Jack saw the remaining six bartenders making 4 four drinks as quickly as possible and judged on speed, efficiency and cleanliness. This round really sorted the men from the boys, or more correctly, the drunk from the sober. There were a few very mixed up drinks and some broken glass but the four semi-finalists were announced and after a quick fish and chip break it was on to the fourth round.

Herradura sponsored this round, the boilermaker, designed to test the bartenders ability to flavour match. The guys and girl had to pick a beer from the bar and having tried it, create a short straight up mixed drink to compliment it. This was the hardest round to judge, as the drinks were all so good and the scores so close but after much discussion the two finalists were chosen.

The two final rounds were a mystery box, sponsored by Chartreuse and a quiz. The boys were neck and neck after the mystery box with some damn tasty Chartreuse cocktails but the quiz followed directly after and with it came a winner. Massive congratulations to Emilio De Salvo from Red Light this years bartender of the year.

Tuesday was a little more of a relaxed affair, Hausbar hosted it’s Haus Rules competition, a great afternoon of no frills bartending, designed to test the competitors ability to bartend in a foreign bar with only what is on offer in the bar to play with. The prizes up for grabs were some beautiful vintage bottles of booze.

Brandy, Sherry & Gin

The evening was a consumer tasting of the Somerset Cider Brandy range. The master distiller from Burrow Hill came to talk the interested parties through their products from aperitifs to brandies old enough to drink themselves and cherries soaked in eau de vie. Once the tasting was over, customers were invited to try the brandy in a range of specifically concocted drinks.

Jinzu launch with Dee in blue (courtesy of Barbara Hollyhead)
Jinzu launch with Dee in blue (courtesy of Barbara Hollyhead)

Wednesday saw a Harvey’s Sherry day at Red Light, with a daytime tasting for bartenders and an evening one for consumers. The Sherries ranged from Fino to Pedro Ximenez and each of the delicious products came with a delightful food pairing. The queue for the events showed Bristol’s love for sherry is still in full force, especially for those who stayed late into the night, drinking their way through the sherry inspired cocktail menu.

Thursday was also split into two halves, the daytime for bartenders and the evening for consumers. All sponsored by Jinzu gin. During the day bartenders were invited to create their own bottle of compound gin by infusing a juniper distillate with a steep made with a mix of dry botanicals, everyone went home happy with a unique gin and some unique gin names!

In the evening the glamorous West meets East ball was held at The Milk Thistle. The lounge was filled with stunning cocktail dresses and sharp suits drinking Jinzu cocktails and nibbling on British canapés with a Japanese twist. The ball proved so popular it sold out of Jinzu just before 12.

Rum, more Gin and Awards

On Friday we invited Bristol to step back into 1930’s Cuba and with the help of Bacardi soon the Mauretania bar was awash with the taste and sound of the 30’s in the Caribbean (and some enthusiastic salsa dancing). The fantastic cocktails were a hit with everyone, as was the lively music causing plenty of hip swinging.

Bacardi time or are we Tempting Fate? (courtesy of Barbara Hollyhead)

Hendricks had the stage on Saturday, decking the Averys wine cellars out with a punch filled bathtub, a martini stall, a taxidermy puma and many, many candles, whilst taking consumers on a trip of gin through the ages. Excited punters flowed around the room trying cocktails devised through the different gin eras and munching on canapés such as duck with quackling and haggis spring rolls.

When the evening finished and everyone trickled out into the night there wasn’t a single person without a smile on his or her faces.

Then Sunday rolled around, with more than a few blurry eyes. Time for the Bristol bar scene to put on their posh frocks and head to Noche Negra to find out which bars had won this years categories; best atmosphere, best menu, best service and best all round bar. For the first year the voting was open to the public to have their say and we received over 1,000 votes. The winning bars received a Bristol blue glass plaque and more than a few hearty pats on the back.

Bar with Best Atmosphere (sponsored by Wray & Nephew)

1st – Red Light
2nd – Doghouse
3rd – Hausbar
4th – The Milk Thistle

Bar With Best Cocktail Menu (sponsored by Portobello Road Gin)

1st – Red Light
2nd – Hausbar
3rd – Doghouse
4th – The Milk Thistle

Bar With Best Service (sponsored by Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey)

1st – Hausbar
2nd – Red Light
3rd – Doghouse
4th – The Milk Thistle

Bristol’s Best All Round Bar 2014 (sponsored by Herradura Tequila)

1st – Red Light
2nd (joint) – Hausbar & Doghouse
3rd – The Milk Thistle
4th (joint) – Amoeba & Pata Negra
5th (joint) – Flipside & Hyde & Co