Above: The El Diamante cocktail by Sigrid Ehm

We didn’t talk about the semi-finals did we? How rude! Okay, let’s rewind to Thursday afternoon (Cue wobbly-wobbly Tales of the Unexpected music and distorted visuals…)

We’d had a great week, starting in Madrid for an immersion into Spanish culture, then headed to Murcia and on to the lemon and almond groves where Ivano Tonutti, Master of Botanicals sources two of the ten essential ingredients for Bombay Sapphire gin. From there it was a short flight back to Blighty to Laverstoke Mill to dig deep into the roots of Bombay Sapphire gin. That’s just a summary, we haven’t even touched the sides of all the other activities laid on for competitors and guests including the fabulous restaurants, shopping experiences, cocktail safaris, endless gin and tonics and uber cool choice of hotels.

As fancy as these things were, and believe us, they were pretty damned fancy – they were mere foreplay. The build up to the climax began with the semis… Like last year this was an intimate affair set in the plush but welcoming Churchill Bar & Terrace at the Hyatt Regency hotel. Each competitor had to present the drink that got them here in the first place: something cool, tasty and very, very imaginative.

The eight competitors, clockwise from top: Sigrid Ehm; Laura Choquart; Lukas Motejzik; Dan Berger; Luis Bustamante; Ran Duan; Mitsuhiro Nakamura; Robin Kaufman

Sigrid Ehm from Austria drew first place and set the bar very high with her El Diamante cocktail. Hers was a drink conceived from a very vivid imagination and carefully thought out to combine several elements of the trip – from the lemon peels she’d snuck over from Murcia through to the bottle of Spanish mineral water she infused with salt, sugar and earth. Yes, you heard right – earth. Not just there as a talking point we might add but to connect all of the elements of her journey as well as representing the vital source for all the botanicals. Other ingredients included cherries, vermouth and of course, Bombay Sapphire gin.

Above: Mitsuhiro Nakamura’s cocktail; below, Dan Berger’s Glory of Exploration

Next came the French contestant, Laura Choquart. The story for her Sea Route cocktail was inspired by the respect of nature at Laverstoke Mill and the water running through it. Having secreted a few stones from’t mill she infused them in dry white wine for minerality and added wood for a deeper flavour. As you do. Next, in went a dash of vanilla, a pinch of sea salt bought in Madrid and a lemon leaf brought over from Murcia.

Lukas Motejzik from Germany added dehydrated pumpernickel to the rim of half his glass to echo the savoury, malty, earthiness of Bombay Sapphire. The drink itself consisted of Spanish white wine, sugar, verjus, bitter almond essence –topped with a lemon flavoured olive oil. Dan Berger for Team UK went savoury as well, infusing fresh watercress in St. Germain elderflower liqueur for his Glory of Expedition cocktail. Next he added Noilly Prat which he explained works like orris root to lengthen the drink, then in went watercress vinegar to capture the beauty of Laverstoke Mill. The cocktail was poured into ‘rocking’ cocktail glasses – one for the drink, another smaller one for tonic. Both vessels were set on an iPad with a video of the water from the River Test playing along to a swishing soundtrack.

Robin Kaufman flying the flag for Canada invited us to share his dream through our imagination. His Sublime Siesta cocktail combined jasmine water, Manzanilla sherry for its saline quality, lemon and myrtle oil. Like most of us who had been there, Mitsuhiro Nakamura was inspired by the natural beauty in Spain but gave it a Japanese twist. After playing a video on the art of hosting he created his drink using a yuzu peel and fresh ginger infusion, then added violet liqueur for a floral quality, lemon juice and cypress bitters.

Ran Duan from the US got his presentation off to a powerful start with a video showing highlights of the trip, accompanied by an inspirational soundtrack encouraging everyone to follow their dream, “Imagination is a gift we all have,” he started. “I want to paint a mental masterpiece.” He did this with an orchard syrup created using salt, dill, olive oil and lemon to which he added “the star of the show”, Bombay Sapphire gin. His was a carefully constructed dynamic presentation while in contrast Luis Bustamante kept it simple and respectfully Spanish with an infusion of honey, almonds and oranges from Spain.

Judges Julie Reiner, Peter Dorelli and last year’s winner Remy Savage took time to weigh up the presentations based on bartender performance (technical skill and presentation flair, efficiency and sequence of movement, story telling, efficient use of time and cleanliness of work), and cocktail appearance (how it looks and if it evoked the experience of the week).

In the end the three semi-finalist were announced: Sigrid Ehm from Austria; Dan Berger from UK and Ran Duan from USA.

Read the winner’s journey here.



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