Northern soul: the 11 competitors. All photographs by Stuart Freeman.

It’s jolly good stuff this cocktail judging malarkey. For starters, you’re always guaranteed the best seat in the house – centre stage without being the centre of attention (unless you happen to be one of the participating bartenders of course, in which case it’s a different story entirely…)

From this vantage point, judges get to pry inside some of the most inquiring minds in the business. This is probably our favourite bit: hearing the stories, learning about the inspiration, finding out how the competitors weave their brand knowledge into their creations – in other words, finding out what makes them tick.

Which leads us on to the all-important part: whiling away a few hours tasting stunning drinks. It sounds simple enough but trust us, it ain’t easy. As we found out at the Northern heat of this year’s Patrón Perfectionists competition. After last week’s rollocking heat in Reading, and given the fact that this part of the world is no stranger to a good bar, we were expecting big things from our next stop, Manchester. And true to form, the tenders of Liverpool, Nottingham, Belfast, Lincoln, Hull, Newcastle and of course, Manchester, didn’t disappoint.

Joining us in the hot seats at the excellent bar at Mr Cooper’s House & Garden were Dave Marsland, not for nothing known as the Drinks Enthusiast, and Lewis Cooke from Manchester hotspot Epernay. Of all the 11 drinks we tasted, no two were remotely alike. Not surprising really. Given everything that goes into making each bottle of Patrón, the possibilities for exploration, innovation and taste direction are endless.

Joe Wild creating his winning drink, the Spirit of Sustainability

Motivated by Patrón’s exemplary green credentials, some like Joe Wild from El Bandito (Liverpool), chose to go down the sustainability route. His long, light and refreshing Spirit of Sustainability cocktail (Patrón Silver, orange liqueur, lime juice, bee pollen infused agave, orange blossom water), was served in a recycled glass without a bev mat or straw in sight. The theme was also embraced by Shane Kilarriff from Mr Cooper’s House & Garden (Manchester). He described his deliciously clear and elegant What the Water Gave Me (Patrón Reposado, German Riesling, rose liqueur served over pebbles from the Lake District) via Skype, as Karine Tillard, UK Patrón Ambassador, made it for us to see and taste.

Shane Kilarriff gives direction on his drink via Skype while Karine Tillard delivers the goods

The age old tahona wheel used in the production process at the Hacienda was referenced by David McLean from Alvino’s (Newcastle), in his Tierra (Patrón Silver, Dolin Dry Vermouth, lime, salted jalepeno basil cordial, celery bitters and egg white). It came up again in David Cole from Mr Cooper’s House & Garden (Manchester), presentation. Cole used locally made stoneware vessels for his Damiana del Mañana (Patrón Silver, damiana and agave, meadowsweet tincture and sparkling wine); while Lewis Parry from The Curious Cat (Grimsby), replicated the process by crushing rock salt and oak-smoked paprika to rim the glass for his Humo de Oro (Patrón Añejo, Pedro Ximenez, lime, cinnamon, star anise and grapefruit bitters).

Gareth Shaw from APOC (Belfast) zoned in on the agave and the special way the jimadors in the Highlands of Jalisco cut it close to the flesh for the distinct taste and characteristics of Patrón for his Diabolico, (Patrón Reposado smoked, Antica Formula, Aperol, clementine juice, lemon sherbet and agave). Alex Francis from Revolucion De Cuba (Nottingham), based his Dovetail (Patrón Silver, pink grapefruit juice, dry apple cider, Aperol, agave nectar) on the classic Paloma, which was also the basis of The Kentucky Paloma by Jason Kruger from Bar82 in Hull (Patrón Reposado, Cocchi Americano, peach syrup, lime, creole bitters, agave nectar and infused grapefruit syrup).

In between presentations at Mr Cooper’s House & Garden

Joe Lewis-White from the American Bar at The Savoy wove the whole shebang into his story – including the theme of perfectionism, reverse osmosis, his love of tequila and Patrón in particular. His cocktail The Hand of Time, didn’t hold back on ingredients either (Patrón Silver, Ethiopian coffee cold brew cordial, lime, Poire William eau de vie, British peas and pods, salted grapefruit soda, garnished with an aromatised and charred green pepper), all brought together in a clever and unique tasting drink.

Beckie Sullivan from The Strait and Narrow (Lincoln) took things in a different direction by celebrating 2013, the year that tequila was introduced to the Asian market. Her Especias prohibida (Patrón Silver, wasabi and ginger syrup, citric acid water, Burlesque bitters, lemon peel, egg white) was a subtle but delicious blend of Asian flavours which allowed the Patrón to shine through.

Beckie Sullivan with her Especial prohibida

Not everyone followed a theme though. Max McPherson from Bootleggers (Belfast) went for broke with his Cloud 9 (Patrón Reposado, falernum, cloudberry jam, Peach Amaro Montenenergro, Campari, Boker’s Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters and lime, topped with a yuzu, peach and prosecco foam, presented in a frozen couple powdered with icing with half of the base dusted with dried hibiscus).

After the judges had cogitated and deliberated Beckie Sullivan was announced third, with Shane Kilgarriff coming in second place. Joe Wild took the top spot. Why? His drink was simple. It was also incredibly refreshing and delicious – just the sort of thing you’d want to quench your thirst at the Hacienda in Mexico – the money-can’t-buy prize up for grabs by the winner of the UK Grand Final on 16th November. Who will be joining him? Check in and see. Next stop: Edinburgh, 6th September.

The Spirit of Sustainability

50ml Patrón Silver
15ml orange liqueur
25ml lime juice
15ml bee pollen infused agave
2 dashes orange blossom water
35ml grapefruit juice
Top with homemade rose soda
Grapefruit zest to garnish

Keep up-to-date at #patronperfectionists. 

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