I recently got back into bartending - which, yes, is a weird thing to say on a blog all about bartending and making cocktails, but it's been a couple of years since I spent more than one or two days at the most actually behind a bar making actual drinks for actual customers. Of course, among the various duties of a working bartender is to represent his employers in cocktail competitions and seeing as I'm not currently drawing a paycheck from a spirits producer, I thought I'd try my hand at the Australian qualifers for Diageo Reserve Brands' World Class comp.
World Class is pretty emblematic of how cocktail competitions have evolved over the past few years. This year's UK final took place on a plane while the prize for the winner of the Australian final is $100,000 towards opening their own bar (SPOILERS: it's not going to be me, it's going to be one of these guys) and as the potential benefits have grown, so has the competitive level.
Y'know when you've got an idea but it looks like it's gonna take about $500 of prep and equipment to even try it? — Jon Hughes (@dirtyoldtown) February 12, 2013
Now, most of the time, workshopping a drink isn't that expensive of an exercise, assuming you have access to the equipment and ingredients you need and that access usually comes through the bar you work at. This time, to satisfy my own curiosity as much as anything, I ended following the entire process from scratch on my own dime. I did manage to avoid some cost: despite moving to Australia in January, I did have my own shakers, strainers and measures with me. Anything I needed and didn't have, I bought.
The competition was structured around two 'bursts', each containing four drink categories associated with one or two of Diageo's Reserve Brands. I opted to tackle Tropical Drinks with Don Julio Tequila and ended up drawing once more from the well of Dave Arnold's fast'n'cheap infusion. I wanted to take a Tiki-ish approach to flavour - fun fruit flavours set against citrus and spice - and present it in a more refined, elegant fashion. The shopping list ended up looking like this:
1 x iSi 0.5 ltr Cream Whipper $100
1 x 10 pack Cream chargers $5
1 x pineapple $4
500g root ginger $15
1 x 700ml vodka $45
1 x 750ml Don Julio Reposado $85
1 x 2 ltr pressed apple juice $4
1 x 5 pack lemons $3
All in, that's $261 (all prices are in Australian dollars); maybe $500 was a touch of an overestimate and no doubt I could have got things cheaper if I tried. If you have all that stuff lying around, of course, the R&D cost of the drink drops somewhat. And from that, to this?
45ml pineapple infused Don Julio Reposado
30ml pressed apple juice
15ml lemon juice
10ml ginger syrup
Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon zest.
Pineapple infused Tequila
150g fresh pineapple, diced
Combine Tequila and diced pineapple in a cream whipper; seal and charge with N2O and shake vigorously for thirty seconds. Wait a further seconds before quickly venting the N2O from the whipper; strain out any remaining solids and reserve liquid.
500g root ginger, diced
300ml 40% ABV vodka
1kg caster sugar
In a food processor, blend ginger and vodka into a rough purée. Press the purée through a strainer or chinois and reserve the liquid. Add water to bring the volume of the reserved liquid to 500ml and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.
Ultimately, I didn't end up getting anywhere in the competition. As with any risk/reward calculation, there's a chance of getting nothing and - NEWSFLASH - with $100k up for grabs, it was always going to be tough. Besides, for once, the story of this drink doesn't end with the comp: the finished product is going on the new cocktail menu at Grandma's Bar in Sydney. Which ought to help towards making that $261 back.