Last Thursday was the UK final of the Martin Miller’s Gin Cocktail Competition 2008, the culmination of six rounds of competition that took place all over the UK. Held at the Miller’s Academy in Notting Hill, an opulent mixture of old school charm and British eccentricity, the event saw seven of the UK’s finest bartenders fight it out in a competition themed around the humble Gin & Tonic.
Owing to a previous judge dropping out I was lucky enough to be invited to judge the competition, alongside Jon Santer, brand specialist for Miller’s and original head bartender at the legendary Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco, famous blogger and international playboy Jeffery Morgenthaler, and creator of the gin that made this all happen, Martin Miller himself. When I arrived everyone was more than a little hungover from the previous night, but after a few G&Ts and a customary wait to allow the event to be suitably late starting, the bartenders were ready for battle to commence.
The first round, the “Twisted G&T”, required each bartender to create their own unique take on the venerable classic. Simon Warneford kicked off proceedings with a tonic gelée topped with a gin caviar and various powered chemicals to create the fizz. When eaten with the right ratio of gelée to caviar this tasted amazingly similar to a good G&T, and as a molecular mixology skeptic I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately more often that not your spoon had too much of one or the other, throwing the “drink” off balance, but when it worked it really did work.
Another highlight was Paul Mann’s full-scale presentation on the G&T, including a deliberately badly made one that was frighteningly similar to many I’ve experienced over the years, complete with the rapidly decaying lime and approximately three ice cubes. He finished up just as it looked like he was going to totally overrun with a cool-box full of G&T ice lollies, something I’m sorely tempted to replicate next summer, if only for the novelty value.
Interestingly, while many of the men went for showy drinks using fancy techniques the women taking part tended to concentrate more on making a really tasty cocktail. Amanda from Ithaca in Manchester produced a drink beautifully presented in a cup and saucer (g and tea, get it?), while Rebecca Almqvist’s Pink G Buck #7 was by far the best drink, as evidenced by the fact Jeff couldn’t keep his paws off it…
Following this round was the speed round, where each bartender was required to produce as many Gin and Tonics in one minute as humanly possible. The limes were precut, but tonic bottles had to be opened within the time limit, and each glass had to contain gin, tonic, ice and at least one slice of lime. Given the speed they were working at, many glasses ended up with about two limes worth of slices in the glass, and of the drinks I tasted they ranged from just about OK to pretty damn bad.
Amazingly though both Rebbecca and Amanda managed 17 drinks, easily beating last year’s speed champion Paul Mant, and combined with her fantastic cocktail Rebbecca Almqvist emerged as the clear winner. I look forward to visiting The Lonsdale soon and enjoying a Pink G Buck #7 all to myself…
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