Mexican beats Brits to take Tahona title

30 September, 2013
Jose Luis Leon and Emma Tanner

Chris Mosey, Jose Luis Leon and Emma Tanner

Jose Luis Leon became the first Mexican winner of the Tahona Society Cocktail Competition, having triumphed at the grand final at the Demetria Hotel in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Friday (September 27).

Leon, who manages Licoreria Limantour in Mexico City, took the Tahona Society title ahead of UK competitors Emma Tanner of Wahaca in London and Chris Mosey of Hula in Manchester, and 12 other international finalists.

The Tahona Society is a category-wide tequila education platform and community of bartenders founded by Dre Masso and the late Henry Besant; it is funded and run by Pernod Ricard through its tequila brand Olmeca.

Fifteen bartenders took part in the annual global final, the fourth of its kind and the culmination of heats and national finals throughout the year in Olmeca's core markets of Austria, Cuba, China, Russia, Poland, South Africa, Turkey, Lithuania, the UK and Greece.

Bartenders and journalists had assembled in Jalisco, Mexico in the run-up to the competition for a week-long, tequila educational programme.

Following Olmeca’s recent launch in Mexico, this year was the first that the Society had offered its training in the county, and the first time Mexico's bartenders had been eligible to enter the competition.

Leon, who emerged from a national final of 15 bartenders in Mexico City to reach the final, told Drinks International that he was proud to take the title ahead of an international field and represent the best of the Mexico City bar scene.

The 2010 World Class and 2012 Havana Club Grand Prix finalist said: “The Mexico City cocktail scene is on fire. Our bar, Limantour, was the first cocktail bar to open three years ago but now there are another five. This year was the first time the Tahona Society came to Mexico to train us. My victory is a result of that training." 

His cocktail, Mama’s Soup, was a blend of 40ml Olmeca Altos Blanco, 30ml Noilly Prat, 10ml agave syrup, 60ml celery juice, half the juice of a squeezed lemon and cilantro (coriander).

As a prize, Leon will spend a week in the US working in some of the word's top bars, including The Aviary in Chicago.

Judging the competition was tequila ambassador to the US and creator of the Tommy's Margarita, Julio Bermejo; Charles Joly, beverage programme manager at The Aviary in Chicago, the US; Heinz Kaiser, last year’s winner and bartender at Dino's American Bar in Vienna, Austria; and Jane Ryan of Class magazine based in London.

Bermejo said: “Luis struck home when he made a cocktail that reminded us of food. In Mexican culture, soups are very important and the Cilandro took me to my childhood. It was a meal - even Heinze and Charles said so.”

Another bartender keen to attribute her success to the Tahona Society's training programme was second-place Tanner. In her typically modest style, her cocktail ‘Lataille’ was named in homage to Tahona Society trainer and Olmeca UK ambassador Matthias Lataille.

It was made from 35ml Olmeca Altos Blanco, 25ml vanilla syrup, 10ml lime, 5ml agave syurp, dark muscovado sugar, eight [large] basil leaves shaken and served on the rocks. Garnished with a vanilla pod and a basil flower.

The Tahona Society class of 2013

Tanner, a ‘bar waiter’ not a ‘bartender’ at Wahaca on Charlotte Street in London, said she had worked hard throughout the competition but refused to be drawn on whether a promotion would likely follow. “You’d have to ask Wahaca,” she said, cautiously.

Tanner added: “I had never done a competition before and I had never made a cocktail before a few months ago. Six weeks ago I had to take advanced bar training just to compete. Everyone said vanilla and basil wouldn’t work together but they are two of my favourite ingredients and they both have a link to Mexico.”

Judge Bermejo said he was “reinvigorated by what Emma demonstrated”, adding that she was “unpretentious, elegant and humble.” “I would order Emma’s drink not once but twice – it was spot on," he said.

In third place was Mosey, a Liverpudlian working in Manchester. If Tanner represented the quiet, softly spoken side of the British national character, Mosey did not. Of the seven permitted minutes to create three drinks, Mosey talked for five and a half.

When it finally came, his Wet Martini-inspired drink was a big hit with judges and the throng of watching bartenders, journalists and Pernod Ricard staff.

‘Olmeca you a Martini’ was made from 60ml Olmeca Altos Reposado, 40ml Muscat, 10ml Strega, 2 dashes of Bitter Truth lemon bitters, "in a glass, stirred down and served with banter”.

An engaging, chirpy presentation style and a natural comedian, the Manchester bartender was happy for his fellow contestants, Leon and Tanner, but disappointed not to have emerged victorious. He said: “I wanted this too much. I’m happy to get top three but there are always mixed feelings coming second or third."

Mosey added that producing three drinks plus delivering a presentation proved difficult in the allotted time. “To blow all that smoke up a sphincter in seven minutes is not going to happen,” he joked.

On a couple of scorecards Mosey’s cocktail was marked down for "lacking agave character”, a requisite of the competition. Mosey said his drink “wreaked of agave” but diplomatically added: “In this industry it’s hard to comment on judges’ criticism.”

Making up the 15-strong field of competitors was: Gerald Steiner, Lennox Bar, Linz, Austria; Maydelin Granadillo Suarez, Hotel Barcelό Sόlimar Arenas Blancas, Varadero, Cuba; Lu Wenliang, Apothecary, Beijing, China; Pavel ‘Pasha’ Kalitvin, Platonov, Voronez, Russia;  Karol Bobinski, Bar Studio, Warsaw, Poland;  Dominic Walsh, Orphanage, Cape Town, South Africa;  Esra Çakır, Reina, Istanbul, Turkey;   Ekaterina Buys, Chainaya, Moscow, Russia; Jeffrey Waldman, Hogs Head, Johannesburg, South Africa; Leonid Bychkov, Big Fish, Volgograd, Russia;  Laura Volkaite, Bar 210, Kavnas, Lithuania;  Dimitrios Rampiadis, Love Casual Living, Dhessaloniki, Greece.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.