With Eddie Russell on the judging panel the finalists were going to have to be on their game to win a trip to the US.
The 9 finalists had already battled through their regional heats to have the chance to fight it out for one of 3 spots on a trip taking in New York before visiting Kentucky and the Wild Turkey distillery. We’re sure when they arrived at NOLA they were confident in their drink and their presentation, and ready for whatever the final had coming their way.
Then in walked the special surprise guest judge (I am assuming BarLifeUK and last years winner Joshua Reynolds were equally special just not as surprising….) in the form of Eddie Russell and the collective buttock clenching caused a momentary lack of air in the room.
For those of you unfamiliar with Eddie Russell he is the Wild Turkey Associate Distiller with over 27 years experience in the industry and son of bourbon legend Jimmy Russell. To say Eddie knows his stuff is more than a minor understatement.
Our finalists had already been set a particularly fiendish written test by Wild Turkey Brand Ambassador Martin ‘Tini’ Taylor. You know it’s a tough bourbon test when Jamie Jones comes out looking pale and a bit sweaty.
We’ve been big fans of Wild Turkey since our days in Australia where the secret industry poker night was sponsored by them and every week we enjoyed copious Old Fashioneds whilst taking peoples tips (our poker name was Timid Badger). As a result the thought of trying 9 expertly made Wild Turkey cocktails had seen us get out of bed that morning in a better mood than usual.
First up behind the bar to try and impress Eddie, Josh and BarLife was Bristol’s Dan Bovey. Going first faze’s some but Dan took to the challenge with gusto producing his superb Preserving The Faith serve. He managed to prove that a great drink is better than a sum of it’s parts as it included 15ml of 41% Sink The Bismark IPA which is singularly one of the most disgusting beers we have ever sampled. However when mixed in with everything else it added great depth, the quotes from the Russell’s around the glass also put a smile on Eddie’s face.
It was a tough act to follow but Jamie Jones was not going to be out done and showing that bribery is a great tool, produced one of the last bottles of Wild Turkey with an 8 year old age statement from his personal collection to share with the judges. His drink was based around the famous Algonquin Cocktail & Hotel quoting one of its regulars Dorothy Parker, ‘I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy’.
Robin Honhold continued his foray back into the competition scene with his cocktail The Brave based around the ‘Brave & Free’ line from the US National Anthem. His julep style drink including Campari, apple eau de vie and a sumac & breakfast tea syrup (his only homemade ingredient ‘which I feel upset about sometimes’) was superbly refreshing and linked in with his chat very well.
Ryan from Tonic had left Edinburgh for only the 5th time in his life to be there and his drink was based on a tale of Kentucky love with a printed story to be read as the cocktail was enjoyed. Claudio from LAB also had some love in his musical inspired Yard Bird, being inspired by his saxophone playing girlfriend with a bit of Charlie Parker (eventually) playing in the background.
However the most original presentation came from Manchester’s Adam Binnersley who somehow managed to link whiskey, thanksgiving (turkey consume shrub) and ridiculous tricks on a motorcycle into his presentation. In fact the parallels between Jimmy Russell and one of Wild Turkey’s biggest fans Evel Knievel were pretty impressive, a fact that Wild Turkey have apparently also picked up on as Eddie informed us that there is a tribute to Evel at the distillery.
There is something very special about judging a competition with the brand distiller and when that person has such a wealth of knowledge even more so. It isn’t always the case however, that these people enjoy their brands mixed in cocktails, however Eddie, as much as he loves his Wild Turkey nice and untouched, embraces cocktails and had some great thoughts as we all sat down to discuss.
With such an amazing prize up for grabs and such a strong field, meaning the scores were exceptionally tight, it wasn’t an easy process but by the time we had finished and included the written test scores the maths pleasingly tallied with our personal thoughts. There wasn’t just the top three to announce, all of whom will be heading on the superb trip in November, but an overall winner who got a very fancy bottle of Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17 Year Old.
The winner was announced as Dan Bovey from B@1 who showed that going first isn’t such a bad thing and will be joined on the trip by Robin Honhold from White Lyan and Mojo’s Adam Binnersley.
With those three involved the trip is sure to be a hell of an experience and you never know BarLifeUK might just manage to wangle a seat on the plane so we can bring you news all the adventures.
Thanks to NOLA for hosting us so well, Wild Turkey for such a great competition, everyone who came down to enter and support and of course our fellow judges Eddie and Josh.