Winning the Hayman’s True Taste Competition – Interviews with Christopher Hayman and Jordan Sweeney

Hayman’s True Taste Competition Entry Deadline: April 30th, 2019

Jordan and his winning drink

From a bottle of booze and a slap on the back in the old days, to trips abroad and ambassador gigs now, cocktail competition prizes have changed a great deal over the last ten years or so. At the very forefront of the trend for properly rewarding bartenders for the time and effort they put into a competition is Hayman’s True Taste, which offers its winner a five-day distilling apprenticeship, and the chance to distil a signature gin. It’s a big prize, and one that not only looks great on a bartending CV, but also offers learning and development of skills that can’t really be found elsewhere.

With the True Taste entry deadline looming, it seemed pertinent to have a chat with Hayman’s master distiller, Christopher Hayman, to find out what last year’s winner Jordan Sweeney experienced at Hayman’s Balham-based distillery. We then asked Jordan Sweeney for his view on the apprenticeship, and if he had any advice for bartenders entering the competition this year.

CH = Christopher Hayman
JS = Jordan Sweeney

BLUK: Could you tell us how Jordan’s time at the distillery was spent, and what he learned during the apprenticeship.

CH: The first day he spent with our distiller, Sam (Pembridge), and he learned how we make gin in our two-day process. Our main botanical supplier came in and talked to him about the botanicals. Jordan then measured out the botanicals and put them in the still, and he went through the whole distillation process. The first day is steeping and the second is the actual distillation… So the first day was very much a familiarisation with how we approach distillation as a family, and getting him to think about the gin he wanted to produce… Jordan had a very enquiring mind and he asked lots of questions, which was very good.

Day two we started talking to him about what he wanted to do, and he had the idea of making a hopped gin, so quite a lot of tastings went on, looking at hops and beer, trying to get an idea of the flavours that would work, and then beginning to understand the impact different hops would have, because as you start adding hops or any new botanical into a gin you have to make sure it doesn’t upset the balance. So selecting the hops had to be chosen looking at the whole, so after many mini-distillations we came down to Fuggle hops which are English and went well with our juniper prominence and didn’t upset the balance. It was a huge amount of work in one day… Jordan was very enthusiastic about finding a way to make it work.

The third day we started distillation which meant loading up the stills and allow the botanicals to steep, then the fourth and fifth days were actual distillation. When we got samples we were able to start thinking about serves, and designing labels. So the last few days were a mix of distillation and operations, dipping the bottles in the wax… turning it from Jordan’s idea into a gin.

BLUK: Having such intimate knowledge of Hayman’s gin and how it tastes, is there an ingredient or flavour it surprises you that no-one used it last year?

CH: I always admire bartenders because their knowledge of flavour and how you can combine them is much greater than mine… I wouldn’t like to advocate a particular flavour because people need freedom to be creative. It’s a personal thing, it takes a few attempts to get it right and be creative, and that’s half the fun.

BLUK: If you were entering the competition, who would you choose as your hero?

CH: I think one of the most important things is that the hero can be someone in your family, or it can be someone historically. I’m very keen for people to have the freedom to choose and be imaginative. Whoever they choose, as long as they have a personal reason or connection to it. It doesn’t matter who it is, having a personal connection is the important thing. It doesn’t have to be a famous person. It’s a personal celebration of someone with hero status, not necessarily celebrity status.

We asked Jordan Sweeney what he thought of the competition, having won last year and experienced the prize of a distilling apprenticeship and creating his own gin.

BLUK: How was your time at the Hayman’s distillery?

JS: Unbelievable. It says it is a distiller’s apprenticeship, but it is so much more than that. You work a lot with the Hayman’s brand ambassador, so you also learn about that role which gives you a great understanding of the drinks industry works. It’s a masterclass in product development, so you get to work with different departments in the business. From numerous recipe tests and fine tuning to quality control and marketing. They include you in everything so it’s certainly more than just a distillery apprenticeship.

BLUK: What was your favourite part?

JS: Learning how the team at Hayman’s develop a product, and fine tune it from the first try to the final product. You pick a flavour and stretch it, evaluating it until its fine tuned. I think we did 8 or 10 distillations, and 30 different blends.

BLUK: What advice would you give to anyone entering the True Taste competition this year?

JS: Don’t do a formulaic, boring presentation. For example, I based my final drink on hops, which is why I did hopped gin. The two hops we used are called Fuggle and Goldings and they are 150-200 years old. They are both from Kent, and from these two hops every other hop we now know and love are bred. So, I think of them as the Grandfather and Grandmother of hops, and for my presentation I created an alternate universe where they were the Royal family with little hops as faces! It was memorable, and if you don’t do that people won’t remember you or your idea.

It’s important to be yourself and dare I say break conventional ‘cocktail competition etiquette’. Take a few risks with your presentation. Do something different. You only get one shot after all.

Entries for the 2019 True Taste competition are currently open, with a submission deadline of Midnight on April 30th. You can find the entry details and submission form here.

Jordan Sweeney’s signature gin was released for sale last week. You can read about the release here.