Stationed behind the low, oval, black marble-topped bar at Zen in Port of Spain, the competitors performed in a cauldron-like atmosphere, watched by an estimated crowd of 800 invited guests and local onlookers spread across the ground floor and upper storey balcony.
The Angostura aromatic bitters Global Cocktail Challenge finals took place in Trinidad on Tuesday, May 13. A field of 11 competitors - all male, representing the US, Australia, Italy, UK, Venezuela and four nations of
the Caribbean - were each individual winners of qualifying events in their region, including the Drinks International Bartender of the Year winners of the past two years (see finalists box).
Each competitor mixed one non-alcoholic drink and one freestyle alcoholic drink under the critical eyes of five judges, selected for their experience in different sectors of the industry (see judges box).
Despite being champion bartenders in their own right, the finalists found the pressure of the competition a very real thing. Four drinks were disqualified: two because they didn't contain the minimum requirement of five dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters; and two because they exceeded the permitted maximum of six ingredients.
To complicate matters for the nervous finalists, there was an additional rule that extra dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters, over and above the minimum five, could score them extra points - but at the judges' discretion, and depending on whether it worked in the context of the drink. Any Angostura orange bitters used would count separately as one ingredient.
Scoring was standard: 10 points each for presentation skills and appearance and 20 points for taste and aroma. Up to 3 points could be deducted for going over the 8-minute time limit, and up to 5 points added for any extra dashes - in each case subject to the judges' decision.
"It went well," said chief judge Josué Merced-Reyes the following day. "Overall, I was very impressed with the flavours. The differences were only in fractions of points. Nobody got a perfect score, but it was a tight call among the top four, and some of the Caribbean entrants held their own against the experienced Europeans."
Merced-Reyes added that only three out of the 11 entrants actually tasted their own recipes before submitting them to the judges.
After being presented with his award by Angostura aromatic bitters worldwide brand ambassador Brian Lara, Jamie Stephenson said: "I'm ecstatic ... I like to
feel I've earned the respect of my peers."
For his winning non-alcoholic drink, Stephenson adapted the recipe that won him the Rémy Martin
Style Master 2007 award. "The Orgeat syrup and Angostura bitters replaced the Cognac flavours of the Rémy drink," he said. "Although it was different, I knew the flavours worked."
" In his speech prior to a stunning closing display of flairing by Danilo Oribe and Eduardo Gonzalez, then music and dance in true Trinidadian style, Angostura Group executive director marketing Gabriel Faria, said: "Tonight you have seen the best bartenders in the world."----=== The judges ===Chief judge: Josué Merced-Reyes - food, wine & beverage consultant, president InterEmktg.
Carol Homer-Caesar - Angostura quality control manager.
Johnny Kanor-Doublier - programme head of food & beverage department, Trinidad & Tobago Hospitality & Tourism Institute.
Kirk Velasquez - bartender at Tableau in the Wynn Casino, Las Vegas, and partner in two Las Vegas restaurants.
Dave Broom - freelance spirits writer and broadcaster, four-time winner of the Glenfiddich Food & Drink Award for writing, most recently with this 10th title, Rum.----=== The finalists ===Valentino Bolognese, Italy - veteran mixologist.
Jamaal Bowen, Barbados - Sandy Lane Resort.
Raymond Edwards, Trinidad & Tobago - bar consultant.
Eduardo Gonzalez, Venezuela - flair instructor; founder Bar'es.
Dwayne Goodridge, Trinidad & Tobago - Battimamzelle, St.Anns.
Zdenek Kastenak, Australia - Bayswater Brasserie, Sydney.
Kremour Maloney, St Kitts & Nevis - Ouaile Beach Resort.
Danilo Oribe, US - Kahunaville Flair Bar, Las Vegas.
Uyre Peter, St Lucia - Jade Mountain Club/Anse Chastanet Resort.
Jamie Stephenson, UK - founder The Bar Academy; Drinks International Bartender of the Year 2006.
Robert Wood, UK - Drinks International Bartender of the Year 2007.---- === The winners ===Overall winner: Jamie Stephenson
Best freestyle drink: Danilo Oribe - 'Angosturatini'
Best non-alcoholic drink: Jamie Stephenson - 'Narrow Minded?'
People's choice: Raymond Edwards----=== Winning recipes ===Angosturatini
45ml Angostura Caribbean Club Traditional rum punch
30ml fresh apple juice
7 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
4 dashes Angostura orange bitters
Brut Champagne top
4 watermelon chunks
muddle the watermelon pieces with the Angostura aromatic and orange bitters.
Add ice and all the other ingredients, then shake and double strain into a double cocktail glass.
Top with Champagne and garnish with a triangle of apple.
70ml pressed apple juice
60ml cream soda
15ml Orgeat syrup
5 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
shake ingredients with ice and strain into a tall glass filled with ice cubes then garnish with apple slices.