The Chivas Masters UK is back. Now in its fifth year the format’s a little different but it’s as challenging as ever. Up for grabs for the winner? Just the chance to represent the UK at the Global Final, that’s all.
We joined the 10 finalists as they set out to stake a claim for a place in that final. Yes, they were there to make outstanding drinks, but it was the inspiration and stories behind those drinks which was at the heart of the competition. Chivas Regal has a heritage which embodies generosity, teamwork and shared success, and this year it was all about inviting bartenders to bring those values together to celebrate the spirit of community. They had to look at a particular community which inspired them both as a person and as a bartender, then bring that inspiration alive in an original cocktail creation. They had just five minutes to tell their stories and make their drinks, not to mention demonstrating their bartending skills and knowledge of the brand and its ethos. Five minutes between them and a place in the Global Final.
As mentioned, there were a few subtle but significant changes to the format this year. First of all there were no regional heats to claim a place in the national final. Instead, bartenders had been invited to make a short film showcasing their cocktail. Just one cocktail you say, didn’t they make three last year? Quite right, they did. Now, these two changes may appear to make things a little simpler, but not according to two of the judges, Chelsie Bailey and Rhys Wilson. They should know. After all they took The Chivas Masters UK title in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Their take on the new format was that there was simply no room for error. The bartenders had one shot to get everything absolutely right.
Tasked with deciding who would be claiming a place at the Global Final were the aforementioned previous winners Chelsie Bailey, formally of Red Light, Bristol and Rhys Wilson, until recently plying his trade at Happiness Forgets, London. Joining them were Phil Huckle, Chivas Regal UK Brand Ambasador and The Cocktail Lovers.
Kicking off was Josh Davies, from The Hedonist Project in Leeds. For Josh his community was actually very close to home, in the shape of the guests he served in his bar every day. It was, he said, all about striving to make them happy. He celebrated them in the aptly named Pursuit of Happiness (Chivas 12 Year Old, banana liqueur, Campari and sea salt). It looked elegant in a coupe glass with a single hand carved ice cube and was also deliciously smooth. Craig Petrie from Scarfes Bar in London stepped up next and in his lilting Scottish accent he told us about a coach driver who was at the heart of his home community. Following the journey of this driver we were introduced to some of the places he visited and things he enjoyed, such as milky coffee which was represented in the drink with a rich barley and oat milk. The Weegies Cranachan (Chivas 18 Year Old, barley and oat milk, tayberry vinegar, heather honey water and chocolate bitters) was a long serve, its depth complimenting the detail of the story.
Top l-r: Pursuit of Happiness, The Weegies Cranachan, Sharing Whispers
Bottom l-r: Colony, Regency Fix, Nunc Est Bibendum
Having fared well in the Chivas Masters in 2016 Manachain Monaghan from Below Stairs, Leeds, was back. He took us to the Peak District to pay tribute to a group of volunteers, known as The Rangers, who care for the locale. The area very specifically influenced his drink’s ingredients, in particular the inclusion of Buxton Spring Water. It was this that made for the drink’s dilution as he bravely chose not to use any ice, but serve his drink at room temperature. The result was a particularly powerful combination in the shape of the Springwater Scaffa (Chivas 12 Year Old, vanilla bean infused heather honey, allspice dram, crème de mure, absinthe bitters, chocolate bitters, Buxton Spring Water and salted dark chocolate garnish).
Community for Colette Abel, from The Luggage Room in London, was a close family. She spoke proudly about her two sisters, Felicity and Gemma, who work in the health service. They inspired her in her work to bring happiness to others. She remembered fondly too how, as children, how they had enjoyed singing Frére Jacques, hence the name of her drink. Frére Jacques (Chivas 12 Year Old, raspberry shrub, rooibos tea reduction, lemon juice and Oloroso sherry) was served over ice, with tea representing friendship and making for a very convivial drink.
Dan Fearnley, from Australasia in Manchester, was impressed by a group he had discovered who sourced and championed local food. And it was examples of this food, such as beetroot and honey, that were included in his drink. The Roots (Chivas 12 Year Old, smoked beetroot juice, burnt lemon juice, cacao liqueur, ginger and honey purée and chocolate bitters) was served over ice, with the beetroot working exceptionally well with the Chivas 12 Year Old. Margaux Picard from Happiness Forgets, London, is from France but has fallen for the community of her adopted East London home. In particular she likes the way everyone shares their discoveries, such as a local shop which specialises in French ingredients and reminded her of home. Sharing Whispers (Chivas 12 Year Old, Lillet Rouge, sweet vermouth, simple sugar syrup and Rosé Pine des Charentes vinegar) was an intense combination and very tasty.
Manchester’s Gethin Jones, from Cottonopolis, described how he took inspiration from the upcoming community of young bartenders in his home city. Describing them as a mutually supportive colony he represented them with honey bee pollen. The resulting Colony (Chivas 12 Year Old, burnt honey bee pollen syrup, grapefruit bitters and chamomile bitters) revealed intriguing layers of complexity. William Underwood, from Bar Valentino, loves his Brighton home and shared stories of the community there in his Regency Fix (Chivas 12 Year Old, marmalade, lemon juice, Cocchi Americano, Cherry Heering and absinthe rinse). The result was an appealingly bitter drink with the Chivas standing out very nicely.
Perhaps the most intellectual of the presentations came courtesy of Alex Williams, from the Discount Suit Company in London. He spoke about the community of friends he had made at university when he had been a classics student and how together they had studied a 2000 year old poem. It was this poem which particularly inspired his drink, yes really, with ingredients such as a modern version of an original Roman wine. Nunc Est Bibendum (Chivas 12 Year Old, Vouvray white wine, salted honey syrup and peat mist) might not have been the catchiest of names but made for a very memorable drink.
Rounding up the five minutes of fame was Alex Godfrey from Milk Thistle in Bristol. A finalist last year he was back and determined to improve his finish. He spoke emotionally about some difficult times he had encountered in his career and how he had revived it by moving to Bristol. He paid tribute to the friends he had made in his new home with his Journey of Brothers (Chivas 12 Year Old, Fino sherry, Somerset cider cordial, celery bitters and tonic water). Quite simply it was equal parts refreshing and complex. And did he improve on his previous year’s finish? He did, he took the title.
“Winning is mind-blowing”, said Alex afterwards, “I wanted to celebrate the Bristol community because they gave me back my creativity and passion for bartending. Now I want to do the very best for them in the Global Final.”
Shared success: Alex Godfrey (in Chivas apron) is congratulated by the other finalists
Alex will be joining a particularly elite international bartending community in June when he represents the UK at The Chivas Masters Global Final 2018. We’ll be there to report on his progress.
Follow all the action from The Chivas Masters Global Final , London and Scotland, 24-29 June 2018 with The Cocktail Lovers.
Journey of Brothers
40ml Chivas 12 Year Old
15ml Fino sherry
20ml Somerset cider cordial
1 dash celery bitters
Build first four ingredients in an ice filled Collins glass, top with the tonic water and garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel.
Journey of Brothers