Diageo Reserve World Class UK has always been about taking the skill of bartenders to the next level. But taking them to 35,000 feet to prove it, well that’s something else altogether. And that was exactly the aim of the ten finalists who arrived last week at Terminal 5, the home of British Airways, as they set out to become the winner of World Class UK.
Three challenges lay ahead for them, the first of which would see their number reduced to just four. And the reward for making it that far? A ticket to step aboard a British Airways Club World flight bound for New York City to continue with the challenges. Deciding who would get their hands on those precious tickets were the judges; James Hill (World Class Brand Ambassador), Eric Lorincz (World Class Global Champion 2010 and Bar Manager, The American Bar at The Savoy), Andy Mil (World Class UK Champion 2012, Bar Manager, Match Bar) and Tom Sandham (Founder of Thinking Drinkers). As for the finalists themselves they had already beaten off stiff competition in their regional heats around the UK to make it to the final of the competition in the First Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 5. Hoping to board the plane to New York were Gareth Evans (Social Eating House, London), Kevin Griffin (Tigerlily, Edinburgh), Aaron Jones (The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, London), James Fowler (The Library, Bournemouth), Matt Soares (Hilton Manchester, Deansgate), Ben Purslow (Ziloufs, London), Iain McPherson (The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh), Lucy Horncastle (The Victoria, Birmingham), Michael Braun (Bibis Italianissimo, Leeds) and Mark Scott (Hyde & Co, Bristol).
So, to Round One and the first challenge – The Perfect Pre-flight Cocktail, was all about creating a drink for a First or Business Class passenger prior to a long haul flight. As each contestant stepped up we were treated to anecdotes aplenty, displays of aviation knowledge, flying props from globe-shaped bottles to a miniature Concorde garnish, and of course outstanding drinks. But there were only four tickets for New York and they went to Gareth Evans, Kevin Griffin, Aaron Jones and James Fowler. Little did they know that this was the last time in the competition they would have a choice of glassware, access to hard ice and plenty of space to shake or stir.
Round Two, Cocktails at Altitude, London Heathrow to New York JFK flight, saw our high flyers faced with a pair of challenges. First they had to deliver a variation on the classic Aviation Cocktail using Tanqueray No.TEN. Next they were to interpret Cocktail Above The Clouds with Ron Zacapa XO (a Guatemalan rum uniquely suited to the challenge given that it’s aged above the clouds at 23,000 feet). As judge James Hill said, “At this level in the competition it is expected that the drinks will taste great, it is more about how the bartenders cope with limited glassware, time and resources available on a flight”. Not to mention security, the effect of altitude on taste and working in a tiny 4 metre square galley. All of Gareth Evans’ liquid ingredients were confiscated at airport security but he still managed to turn it around and drew inspiration for his cocktail’s name in the process calling it Security Measures. Meanwhile James Fowler dealt with taste at altitude issues by giving the judges a steam re-hydrator to refresh their nasal passages before serving his Nichol Above the Dollar cocktail.
After a short stay in New York the contestants were back in the air again for Round Three, this time aboard an exclusive all-business class British Airways service to London, one of the most sought after tickets in premium travel. The challenge this time to create the Ultimate Nightcap using Ron Zacapa XO and Johnnie Walker Blue Label, along with the very finest ingredients from their stay in New York City. Whilst setting to work to create the perfect drink for the discerning British Airways customer on a night flight they once again had to deal with issues of limited glassware and space, but just to make it even more interesting there was the added interested of just a little flight turbulence. Johnnie Walker Blue Label was the spirit of choice for three of the finalists. James introduced a fig infusion into his A Long Walk Goodnight. Kevin utilised a popcorn aroma into Mister Walker’s Nightcap. And Gareth spared no expense in sourcing the very finest in additional ingredients for his Living The Dream. Meanwhile Aaron went with Ron Zacapa XO, introducing orange marmalade into his Mile High Milk Punch.
As the transatlantic travellers neared home another nice touch saw the winners being announced by the captain of the British Airways A318 as it touched down. To a cabin of cheers the names coming over the tannoy were Gareth Evans from Social Eating House and Kevin Griffin from Tigerlily. They won’t have their feet on the ground for too long though. On the 28th May they will be off to the Western Europe Final in Madrid to decide which of them will be representing the UK in the Global Final.
Oh and by the way the Global Final, which will be taking place 4 – 9th July, will be on board a boutique Azamara Club Cruise’s ship in the Mediterranean. They get around these bartenders.
The Winning Cocktails
Gareth Evans, Social Eating House
Club Class, Seat k1
40 ml Ketel One Vodka
10 ml Apperol
12.5 ml rhubarb syrup
25 ml lemon juice
15 ml egg white
1ml Amaro Blend
Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and dry shake, then wet shake and strain. Serve and spray bitters over the top of the glass.
35 ml Tanqueray No. TEN
12.5 ml apricot brandy
10 ml Fino Cherry infused with whole lemons
10 ml pickle brine
20 ml lemon juice
Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake and strain. Serve in a champagne glass with a customs 100ml liquid rule sheet, ‘approved’ stickers, bribe money and a lemon twist.
40 ml Zacapa XO
20 ml Dry Vermouth
10 ml Apricot Brandy
10 ml Jagermeister
Stir all the ingredients and strain over ice. Serve in a tumbler garnished with orange zest and dark chocolate.
Living The Dream
40 ml Johnnie Walker Blue Label
20 ml De Kypor XO Cherry Brandy
10 ml VIP Yellow Chartreuse
Stir all the ingredients and strain and serve with orange zest.
Kevin Griffin, Tigerlily
45 ml Tanqueray No. TEN
20 ml Rin Quin Quin Peach Vermouth
1 lime zest
Hopped chamomile bitters
Homemade chamomile perfume – aromatised
Stir all ingredients and serve in a vintage sherry glass with lime and coriander marshmallows.
The Clouds Above the Kingdom
30 ml Tanqueray No. TEN
15 ml King’s Ginger
15 ml Camomile Liqueur
10 ml lemon juice
1 bar spoon lemon sherbet
1 bar spoon caster sugar
Add all the ingredients to the shaker, add ice and shake for thirty seconds until its ice cold. Shake, double strained and serve in a vintage stemmed glass.
Chocolate Night Cap
50 ml Zacapa XO
25 ml Noix Saint Jean
7.5 ml Mozart Chocolate Spirit
½ bar spoon pimento dram
2 orange zests
Harrod’s Coffee and Chocolate Disk
Stir all the ingredients over ice with two orange zests and serve on a glass tea cup with a Harrod’s Coffee and Chocolate Disk.
Mr. Walkers’ Nightcap
40 ml Johnnie Walker Blue Label
20 ml condensed milk
50 ml Half & Half (half milk, half cream)
10 ml Popcorn Tea Syrup
1 pinch nutmeg
4 dashes Chuncho Bitters
Shake at 35,000 feet and serve in a 1/3 vintage milk bottle with a green straw. Add a Scottish shortbread and salted chocolate charboned and walker truffles on the side.