Sure, we’re the teensiest bit biased because we were hosting the proceedings but parking that honour aside for a moment, to our minds this year’s Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge was the best one yet.

Having been to the previous two finals we’ve seen how the competition has grown in status, attracting ambitious bar tending talent from all around the world. This year was no exception. In an action-packed contest held at recently opened Aria Lounge in sunny Trinidad (30 degrees at the time in case you’re interested) we watched as the 11 competitors pulled out all the stops to win the top prize.

Who could blame them? With a very healthy cheque for US$10,000, plus the opportunity to represent Angostura rum and bitters as Global Ambassador for the next two years up for grabs there was plenty to play for.

The judges, from left-right: Daniyel Jones; Ian Burrell; Julie Reiner; Philip Duff; Carol Homer-Caesar

But first they had to impress the judges. And trust us, no unbalanced drink or shoddy technique would get past the beady eyes of this lot. Heading up the panel was Julie Reiner, one of the leading lights in cocktails and owner of Clover Club and Flat Iron Lounge in New York; joining her was tip-top presenter, trainer and beverage consultant Philip Duff; Ian Burrell, Global Rum Ambassador; Carol Homer Cesar, Senior Manager of Lab Operations, Product Research and Development and Quality Assurance at Angostura, and last year’s winner, local hero Daniyel Jones.

In our roles as hosts we had the best view in the house. We watched as each of the contestants prepared their two libations: one ‘Freestyle’ cocktail where they could really show what they were made of in the creativity department by devising a signature drink using any spirit as long as Angostura aromatic bitters were included in the mix; the other an original ‘Rum’ cocktail using either the rich, dark and contemplative 1824; smooth, vanilla-spiced 1919; toasted oak, nicely mellow 5 Year Old Gold Rum or the full-bodied, rich and chocolatey 7 Year Old Dark Rum to form the basis of their cocktails. In addition each drink had to include a minimum of five dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters which, let’s face it isn’t exactly an arduous task as just a few drops works magic in any cocktail.

Yani Frye showed off the four shaker shake…

Things got heated with Panagiotis Giovanis cocktails…

Nazar Makarov used a soundtrack in his slick presentation…

Denzel Heath styling out his bespoke Angostura waistcoat and bow tie

The presentations couldn’t have been more different: there were flames lighting up Panagiotis Giovanis’s cocktails; a soundtrack adding drama and fluidity to Nazar Makarov’s two drinks; Denzel Heath called in the tailors to custom make a natty waistcoat and matching bow tie fashioned in a facsimile of the Angostura aromatic bitters label, while Yani Frye shook four shakers at once for no other reason than to show that he could.

A selection of cocktails vying for the top place in the final

As for the drinks, we were treated to a smorgasbord of delectable cocktail loving delights representing the flavour profiles from all corners of the globe. Rohan Hackshaw from Barbados flew the flag for the Caribbean using tropical passion fruit and thyme in his ‘Passionate Thyme’ Freestyle drink and unsweetened Mauby drink in his ‘Bitter Sweet’ Rum cocktail; Michael Tomasic brought a taste of his native Australia to the proceedings with a Paul Simon Fig & Lemon Jam in his ‘Olympia’ Freestyle and Crawley’s Spiced Honey Apple in his ‘Big Bird’ Rum cocktail. Máté Cstátlos representing the United Kingdom added quintessentially British Plymouth Sloe Gin to his ‘Madame Butterfly’ Freestyle Cocktail, while Kester Blake mixed in Sorrel cordial to bring the sunshine flavours of Trinidad and Tobago to his ‘Calypso Rose’ Freestyle cocktail.

Michael Tomasic hard at work

Mate Cstatlos flew the flag for Blighty

Rohan Hackshaw added a taste of the Caribbean to his cocktails

After much deliberation it was time to announce the winners. Michael Tomasic from Australia picked up the top prize in the Freestyle section with his ‘Olympia’ cocktail, while Nazar Makarov from Russia was announced the winner of the Rum cocktail category for his ‘Rum Story’. Then the moment we’d all been waiting for: who would be representing Angostura as its Global Ambassador for the next two years?

Máté Cstátlos came close – he was a placed a well deserved third; Nazar Makarov edged even closer, coming in second but the overall winner was Michael Tomasic from Mr Moustache in Australia. “Both of his drinks were extremely well balanced and he showed great knowledge of the products,” said Julie Reiner immediately after the announcement was made. “It was a tough competition but Michael was consistent.”

The finalists, left-right: Mátá Cstátlos (3rd place); Michael Tomasic (1st place); Nazar Makarov (2nd place)

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said a shocked looking Tomasic after being handed the oversized US$10,000 cheque, “The competition was tight as I was up against some really experienced bartenders but I’m really looking forward to working with Angostura as its Global Ambassador for the next two years.”

Michael’s winning cocktails:

Freestyle Cocktail: Olympia

45ml Hine Cigar Reserve
15ml Lustau San Emilio Pedro Ximenez
15ml fresh lemon juice
15ml egg white
1 barspoon Paul Simon Fig & Lemon jam
6 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters (1 in drink, 5 floated)

Method:
Shake and double strain ingredients over ice. Pour into a tumbler and garnish with Muscatel Clusters and tobacco leaves.

Rum cocktail: Big Bird

45ml Angostura 7 Year Old Rum
7.5ml Fernet Branca
20ml citrus (lemon or lime)
20ml Crawley’s Spiced Honey Apple
40ml fresh pineapple juice
6 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters.

Method:
Shake and double strain into a chilled Fancy glass. Serve on a platter with pineapple chips and liquorice aroma.

Above: Michael Tomasic’s winning cocktails

The eleven finalists:

Denzel Heath, South Africa
Rohan Hackshaw, Barbados
Barbaro Giraldes Portieles, Cuba
Panagiotis Giovanis, Greece
Shane Mulvany, Canada
Yani Frye, North America
Michael Tomasic, Australia
James Goggin, New Zealand
Nazar Makarov, Russia
Kester Blake, Trinidad & Tobago
Máté Csatlós, United Kingdom

For highlights of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge 2014, check out the film below:

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