It’s been a long old slog. And a lot of premium gin, vodka, whisky and tequila has been deftly shaken and stirred. But now World Class UK has a winner. Step forward Mr Jamie MacDonald from The Raconteur in Edinburgh…
Tuesday 14th June and at 10am, a time when most bartenders are usually asleep (well, they do work late nights), the best dozen in the country were gathered at Floridita in Soho to get the lowdown on the day ahead. And what a day… Diageo World Class UK ringmaster Barrie Wilson, Reserve Brands Ambassador did the honours, instructing the finalists on how things were going to roll and before you could say “mine’s a martini”, they were off…
We rode shot-gun with team three: Stephen Martin from Rick’s Bar, Edinburgh; Lee Hyde from The Met Bar, London; Jody Monteith from The Liquorists, Manchester and Tim Homewood from Babylon at The Roof Gardens. And what a team. We were dazzled by their inventiveness, passion and skill in each of the three rounds and were amazed by their comraderie.
We both loved Jody’s deliciously smooth His & Hers combining a spot-on 20:20:20:20 blend of Tanqueray No. TEN, Pale Ale, Chablis and elderflower cordial in the Shopping Challenge. And Ms S in particular could have sipped many a Full Ketel Jacket (Ketel One vodka, caster sugar, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, garnished with a delightfully aromatic spring onion), offered up by Stephen Martin. In the Theatre & Ritual challenge at Purl, Lee Hyde impressed everyone with his Art of Whisky serve based on a Chinese tea ceremony. Not only did the presentation look absolutely gorgeous with a capital ‘gorge’, the blend of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, fig liqueur, apricot liqueur, port and orange bitters worked like a dream. Tim Homewood also put his heart into his serve, donning full hunting gear (in 27 degree heat no less) to give Johnnie Walker Blue Label the respect and reverence it deserves. The bottle was produced from a wooden chest filled with dry ice to conjure up visions of the fog from the Highlands, to which a bunch of mint and thyme was added to replicate the ‘earthiness’ of the moors. The judges were invited to drink this prince of whiskies while nibbling on fresh, wild honeycomb as Tim recited a verse from Robbie Burns.
Lastly, we headed over to Odd Firm of Sin for the Classic Cocktail Challenge. Highlights include Lee’s Clover Club and Jody’s Aviation and Planter’s Punch and we also enjoyed heading back to the Seventies with Stephen’s Singapore Sling. And then it was done. Finito. Over. Any mistakes would have to be corrected next year.
Fast forward to 7pm and we were back at Floridita to add up the scores from the day’s challenges. Guests started to arrive for the evening’s final showdown and while they were relaxed our bartenders were looking anything but. The day was already running late and by the time those scores were ready they were nervous enough to introduce a whole new range of shaking techniques to their signature cocktails.
Finally they were gathered together, ready for the top scores to be announced. But did we go straight to the last two? No, it was down to the top four: Julian De Feral, Jamie MacDonald, James Hill and Lee Hyde. They were called on stage and each handed a envelope and told to open them in unison. The two bearing a Mexican flag would join the rest of the contestants (who are all heading off to Mexico in August by the way, so don’t feel too sorry for them) while the two with an Indian flag in their envelope would be going head-to-head. (Yes, we thought it was cruel too, plus we didn’t know which flag was which!) As shaking hands tore at paper we eventually learned the ‘Frilla in Floridita’ would be between Mr MacDonald and Mr De Feral. Cue applause and half an hour for our two men to set up their kit for the final showdown…
At last the lights went down, the stage was set (literally) and the final round judges were introduced: Simon Difford, Andy Pearson, Ben Booth, Justin Smyth, Tim Nichol, Hershelle Perez-Terrado, Spike Merchant, Erik Lorincz and your humble correspondents The Cocktail Lovers.
First up Jamie MacDonald who, though a little nervous, soon warmed to being the centre of attention to regale the audience with the romantic story of his signature the ‘Chaste’ Cocktail. And as he did so created something that started off simply enough in terms of mixing before the introduction of chemical flasks, tobacco smoke and a touch of bar alchemy.
Thirty minutes later and time for Julian De Feral to do his thing. Unusually for a competition of this calibre he chose not to go for a short drink but a long one. And unlike his predecessor he started simple and stayed that way to deliver a very nice but very unfussy Juleport Fizz.
Then it was over to the judges to head off for some heated debate. But it was neither heated nor much of a debate. We all came to the same conclusion. Which was easy and hard at the same time. So it was back to the stage and the announcement. After a few impassioned words from Spike Merchant the winner stepped into the spotlight…
Jamie MacDonald is World Class UK 2011 winner and on his way to New Delhi next month in search of an even bigger prize. We managed to grab an interview with him straight after he heard the news and it was clear that it would take a while to sink in. It was a long haul and a hard day but we think the UK’s chances on the world stage are in good hands with Mr MacDonald flying the flag. Congratulations Jamie, you did yourself proud.
And huge congrats to Nelson Bernardes from Good Godfrey’s, London who notched up the most votes in our online poll, closely followed by Tim Homewood from Babylon at The Roof Gardens. Mind you, each of the 12 competitors who took part on the day is a winner with us. Be sure to check them out in their respective bars.
The ‘Chaste’ Cocktail
40 ml Ketel One vodka
25 ml Bénédictine D.O.M.
20 ml Martini Rosso sweet vermouth
4 dashes Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters
4 dashes Tobacco bitters
7 ml Coal Ila 12 year old whisky
Stir all ingredients with block ice in cut mixing glass for controlled dilution. Strain and serve in a chilled side vessel accompanied with a chilled fluted cocktail/ ice sphere presented with tobacco bitters.
50 ml Tanqueray Export
15 ml tawny port (Grahams 10 year)
15 ml simple syrup (1:1 unrefined sugar)
20 ml lemon juice
10ml bourbon (Bulleit)
3 or 4 mint leaves
25mlsish of soda water
Shake and strain into a frozen highball. Add cubed ice, top with more soda if necessary. Garnish with a few mint sprigs and a lemon wedge.
Catch up with the full story of the World Class UK Finals with The Cocktail Lovers.