We’ve been excited to get on the road with the WhistlePig ‘No History, No Rules’ competition and the first heat in Birmingham did not disappoint.
We’ve judged a few comps since the end of lockdown and the quality of the heats has been exceptionally strong, a trend that continued in Birmingham.
When we launched the ‘No History, No Rules’ competition we thought that bartenders across the country would be excited to have the shackles removed, to be free to do what they wanted (as long as it contained WhistlePig of course). A freedom to reimagine what a rye cocktail should be ended up actually turning out to be a challenge for many.
You see people like rules, in drink creation there are many. They are little markers on the roadmap of cocktail making. They help us to know what sort of flavours and balances work together. By taking them away it created a new host of problems for those coming up with entries. It may have been a challenge, but if the first heat is anything to go by the results are going to be very special.
Our home for the day was the excellent Fox and Chance and as we handed out WhistlePig highballs to the competitors and their supporters the judging panel, consisting of BarLifeUK, Dan Priseman, Steward of the Brand (I’ll let you make your own gags about that job title) for WhistlePig and local legend Sam Boulton, owner of The Pineapple Club, got into position.
With everyone briefed, running order confirmed and calming shot consumed we were ready to go. There were four stand out competitors who kept us entertained for 8 minutes before handing over a delicious drink.
Katie Rouse from nearby Couch Bar took inspiration from a love of strawberries. She had put together a fantastic Strawberry Palm Whey mixture which was stirred down with a saline solution and WhistlePig 10. Once poured over block ice it was topped with Moët & Chandon, it was officially topped with a ‘boop’ of Champagne, 25ml for those unaware of ‘booping’. The result was an original and exceptionally tasty rye cocktail.
Blaise Bachelier of Fox and Chance really took the no rules concept and ran a marathon with it. He decided to base the flavours of his cocktail around the Canadian’s greatest gift to the culinary world, Poutine (french fries, cheese curds and gravy). This wasn’t just a tip of the cap either. Pig and beef fat washed WhistlePig 10 was combined with a roasted garlic and rosemary gravy syrup. The cheese element was a stretch too far even for Blaise so he used vanilla ice cream, pointing out ‘You said no rules, so that’s on you!’. All bended together and served with a side of French fries. I shouldn’t have worked, it should have had me reeling, instead it had me smiling and going back in for sip after sip and then dunking in the fries, a first for me.
His colleague at Fox and Chance, Ryan Smith, stepped behind the bar with PowerPoint presentation at hand, and if every PowerPoint presentation was as entertaining as his I would have done a lot better at school. Inspired by the thought of ‘How do you impress the man who has done everything?’. That man was, of course, Homer Simpson, he does love pigs after all. Ryan decided to concentrate on Homer’s two main loves, donuts and coffee. His milk punch style serve saw donuts blended in milk before being strained then combined with a coffee stout, maple syrup and raspberry liqueur before being split. The resulting drink would have definitely have had Homer producing his trademark dribble as the donut flavours complimented the WhistlePig superbly but still allowed the main spirit to sing.
Theo Gordon-Boyd had flown over from Bangor in Northern Island where he works at Ava Wine Bar & Bistro. It was definitely not a wasted journey as he kept the judges and the rest of the room entertained with his presentation based around the Three Little Pigs. His chat was accompanied by his sisters frankly superb drawings of the pig characters each representing one of his ingredients – WhistlePig 10, grapefruit juice and a nori shrub. It was a superb idea and when your garnish is some Tayto’s you are always going to get a bonus point of this judge.
Only two could make it through to the final in London to fight for one of three trips to the WhistlePig distillery in Vermont. This time it was Katie and Blaise who got the nods from the judges with their drinks just pipping the others.
A top tip for anyone looking to head to Birmingham to check out their bar scene (which I thoroughly recommend incidentally), don’t go on a Monday like we did, most bars are shut. Luckily for us Callie and Ryan very kindly made us several of the drinks from the Fox and Chance menu which we thoroughly enjoyed and resulted in a mini fight with Dan over the last sips more than once. Sam also took pity on us and opened up Pineapple Club so we could try some of his drinks, again fantastic in both look and taste. Seriously you should really check out Birmingham.
It then transpired that Crazy Pedro’s was having an industry only launch party that evening so we thought it would be rude not to pop along. The first faces we saw were those of Lyndon Higginson, Tristan Stephenson and Jake Burger, the evenings ‘DJ’s’. The less I write about that the better, apart from we had a great time.
So we have our first 2 finalists. Next week 4 more will be joining them from London and Bristol. We will of course bring you all the news from those heats. Until then thanks to Birmingham for such a friendly welcome, to the competitors for their drinks and to WhistlePig and Moët Hennessy for putting the comp on.
Katie Rouse – Couch Bar, Birmingham
- 35ml WhistlePig 10 year old
- 30ml strawberry palm whey
- 1 dash of salt solution
- 25ml Moët and Chandon Champagne
Stir Whistlepig 10, Strawberry Palm Whey & Salt Solution with cubed ice and pour into a frozen LSA Highball glass with block ice, top with Moët and stir to combine.
Blaise Bachelier – Fox and Chance, Birmingham
Poutine on the Rye-tz
- 60ml fat washed WhistlePig Rye 10
- 15ml roasted garlic and rosemary maple syrup
- 2 scoops vanilla ice cream
- Small scoop of crushed ice
Blend and serve in a milkshake cup. Garnish with 5ml of the maple syrup drizzled on top and sprinkle with dried rosemary.
Photography courtesy of Richard James Photography