Three Lessons from Cocktail Competition Winners

by | Oct 12, 2015 | Everything Else, Video Blog | 0 comments

Ten years ago, cocktail competitions were local, in-person and a great way to practice cutting edge cocktail techniques. Today competitions have escalated to a whole new level – the stakes are higher, the competitors better and the prizes and prestige from winning are bigger than ever.

If you’re looking to enter some of the large global competitions this year, it’s worth taking a moment to see what’s worked in the past.

Bacardi Legacy 2015:

Perhaps one of the most prestigious competitions out there, Bacardi Legacy is all about creating the next “classic.” This is not the place to bring wild and crazy ideas – the goal is to create a cocktail that’s approachable, delicious, and that anyone could order in their local bar.

This year’s winner was Frank Dedieu with Le Latin

Le Latin

by Frank Dedieu

  • 45 ml Bacardi White
  • 20 ml Lemon Juice
  • 20 ml White Wine (Viognier preferred)
  • 6 ml Olive Brine
  • 2 barspoons Sugar

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with an olive.

The first thing I noticed – though expected – is how simple this drink is. I’m familiar with every ingredient. Nothing is infused, foamed, or sourced from Unicorns in the high desert. I have everything I need to make this drink this evening, if I wanted to.  … All of this proves this drink absolutely fits the bill of a “classic”.

It’s also not terribly complicated to make. The instructions are so short you may have missed them – shake, strain, garnish. Simple, classic.

All that said, this drink is absolutely unique, new and different. In Dedieu’s own words (courtesy of RumDood),

“I have customized the DNA of the most famous rum cocktail…rum, lime, and sugar. Sugar cane and rum are the Cuban touch of my cocktail; lemon is the specific citrus and wine represents the French vineyard. A green olive and its brine balances the cocktail with its salty touch.”

– Frank Dedieu

While I don’t know the exact reasons Frank took home the grand prize, it’s easy to see one key factor he had in his favor: several of his competitors cocktails included ingredients such as Skinos mastiha liqueur, honey longan water and banana syrup – ingredients you’re unlikely to find behind an average bar. Frank stuck to common ingredients and created something completely unique, perfectly aligning with the heart of Bacardi Legacy.

As BACARDÍ Global Brand Ambassador, Dicki Cullimore, put it:

 “Le Latin is a cocktail that fuses together the elements that we look for in a ‘Legacy’ cocktail.”

Lesson: Understand the Competition you’re entering and make sure your cocktail aligns perfectly with their purpose.

MIXLDN 2014

With the 2015 competition still underway, we’ll take a look at 2014’s final results.

The “LDN” bit of this competition’s name comes from its London focus – and 2014 was no exception. Sponsored by Beefeater (if you hadn’t already guessed),tThe competition’s theme was “London Inspires You. You Inspire London.” And like many other large competitions, the 30 finalists were selected from regional competitions that happened earlier in the year.

Perhaps most surprising is that the winner in 2014 was an American bartender who had never even visited London – or left the USA at all. His cocktail, “The Hackney Handshake”

The finals in London consisted of several stages:

  • Competitors had to guess – by smell – what a spirit was distilled from.
  • They had to create a unique cocktail to pair with a surprise dish – with only 20 minutes to work with.
  • The grand prize winner was chosen by popular vote at an event attended by 250 bartenders, bar owners, booze writers and other hospitality professionals.

The Hackney Handshake

By Brandon Phillips

  • 60ml Beefeater 24
  • 15ml Lustau Manzanilla Sherry
  • 25ml fresh lemon juice
  • 30ml Movie Night Syrup (made with Movie Night Tea from David’s Tea)
  • Egg white soda
  • Juniper dusted popcorn (Garnish)

Unlike Bacardi Legacy, competitors were welcome to go “all out” with their cocktail creations. Even when limited to 20 minutes, finalists used techniques like flash infusion and nitrogen charged foams.  The competition was extremely strong, but Phillips’ skill took him through the end and won him the competition.

“I came from Oshkosh and Winneconne… I’d never been out of the country,” he said. “Now I get to go to Japan and Russia and do exactly what I love about competitions… be immersed with people that are the face of our industry, that are really the ones moving and shaking things.” – Brandon Phillips (source)

Lesson: At the elite level, bartending competitions are about more than just the signature cocktail. Competitors also need the skills and experience to be creative and think on their feet. And yes, the signature cocktail must be great!

World’s Most Imaginative Bartender 2015

“This is a competition that challenges the imagination. It’s about the big picture not just what’s in the glass. – Julie Reiner (Judge from Clover Club) (source)

Most Imaginative Bartender is probably one of the most “out there” competition – in every sense of the word. And as The Cocktail Lovers mentioned, the winner’s performance came down to creativity. Sigrid Ehm was not the most polished nor best spoken throughout the competition, but “her drinks were more ‘out there’ than the others”.

In the final round, Sigrid went even more “imaginative” still – starting with a salute and a song and creating her cocktail, “El Diamante” with confidence and polish.

El Diamante

By Sigrid Ehm

Infuse Bombay Sapphire gin with lemon, Cherry Noilly Prat and an original homemade sald and earth syrup. Chill and strain into a martini glass.

Lesson: When all else fails, focus on what is most important to the judges. If they want creativity, give them creativity!
It’s easy to over-simplify these competitions into one “lesson” each, but at the end of the day all of the winners (and many of the finalists) bring experience, expertise, confidence and a polished performance. With practice and preparation, these ingredients combine to make a bartender competition material!

By the way – are you thinking of entering a cocktail competition?

Check out our Cocktail Competitions listing and our free “How to Win Cocktail Competitions” guide!