Cocktail special

29 October, 2012

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Lucy Britner probes cocktail experts on how to track trends and succeed in competitions

THERE ARE TWO SUITCASES next to the bar. The ’tenders aren’t off to some exotic location, this is just their kit for today’s competition. Silver punch bowls, an absinthe louche, antique shakers and glassware are unloaded, then comes an enormous block of ice, wrapped in plastic and coated in a few starchy white napkins – no doubt from the hotel the bartenders are representing.

It used to be the fashion to bring along a sort of doctor’s bag containing a barspoon, nice jiggers and your shaker. Well not in this day and age. If you want to be taken seriously, bring everything except the kitchen sink.(Or should that be the ‘Calabrese sink’?).

The cocktail boom is reverberating around the world and when it comes to flavours, shapes, sizes and garnishes, anything goes. 

In fact, Beefeater brand ambassador Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge says absolute trends don’t really exist anymore.

“The industry today is so much more diverse than five or six years ago. The days of absolute trends are at an end.”

Hamilton-Mudge says there are many different types of bar and a cocktail should fit the personality of the outlet.

“There are still places that are doing the same thing they were 15 years ago and it works for them. Then there are Tiki bars, hotel bars, speakeasies...

“Cocktails are here to stay and it’s about understanding the identity [of your outlet].”

Punch is an example of a type of drink that has recently made a come-back, though Hamilton-Mudge says that doesn’t mean it’s right for every venue – so it can’t be called the ‘T’ word.

He suggests that knowledge is becoming more commonplace. “This isn’t a trend but one example of a piece of knowledge that has become more widely spread, for example, keeping vermouth properly. It used to be that it stood on the back bar, warm and oxidised,” he says. 

One thing that’s apparent in the Drinks International Cocktail Challenge, of which Hamilton-Mudge is a judge, is the frequent overuse of fashionable ingredients. “I remember a competition years ago when a certain liqueur appeared in just about every drink,” says Hamilton-Mudge. 

Top tips

So when you’re working with a brand to come up with a new drink, or you’re thinking of entering a competition, where do you start?

Fredrik Olsson, international brand ambassador for Ballantine’s blended scotch whisky, says research is the first step.

“The most important thing about any competition is research. You have to understand the product you’re using and ensure whatever ingredients you use in your cocktail enhance the product.”

Ali Dedianko, Belvedere ambassador, says she is an advocate of uncomplicated drinks.

“Don’t crowd the spirit,” she says. “You don’t want to hide a good product.

“For Belvedere, it’s about fresh, natural and local ingredients and when you’re balancing a drink you should listen to what the customer wants in terms of sweetness. Lots of people forget that we are in the customer service business.”

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