There are three of them are at the bar and they’re drunk. Not just a little tipsy but swaying, shouting, obnoxious and it’s only 2pm. I’m at London’s salubrious Connaught Bar, supposedly to report on Nikka Whisky’s Perfect Serve cocktail competition for Drinks International, but it’s fair to say the scene unfolding around me is not one to which I am accustomed...
“Err... excuse me,” I say gingerly to the blonde at the bar who is furiously busy trying to pacify her whisky-hijacked, increasingly belligerent husband. “I’m looking for Olivia – I’m here about the competition.”
“Is this another of your boyfriends?” comes the retort from Mr Belligerent as I’m ushered away to a nearby seat. The bartender tries to steer the conversation away from my embarrassment and back to his fastidiously assembled cocktails, but the trio’s attention is evaporating by the mouthful.
With no sign of a smiling, hand-offering representative of Nikka, I’m put out and about to pull out. Until, that is, Mr Belligerent neatly pivots on his stool and approaches my table. “Hi I’m Phil Wilson from Eaux de Vie – with Nikka Whisky,” he says in an unfathomably sober voice.
“Sorry about that. We’re giving all the bartenders the same treatment, we’re role-playing to see how they handle difficult customers.” After a dawning sensation recognisable only to a victim of Jeremy Beadle or Ashton Kutcher, a smile emerges on my relieved, rosy-cheeked face.
Now this is a cocktail competition.
As Olivia Plunkett (the Blonde), also of Eaux de Vie, later explains, Nikka’s competition comprised three UK bartenders competing in four disciplines – with the added pressure of a group of ‘difficult customers’.
They were examined on product knowledge, previously prepared drinks, the ‘perfect Mizuwari’ – a Japanese serve that involves mixing water with whisky – and their take on the three classic cocktails. For the record, Rusty Cerven of host-bar The Connaught coped best and he’ll go on to the final in Paris in November.
As yet the format hasn’t been finalised, but without the Blonde, Mr Belligerent, the third drunk – who turned out to be Ladislav Piljar of The Savoy’s American Bar, and of course my own timely cameo – it has a lot to live up to.