My Chivas Masters experience (and I hope I’m not alone) was probably the best competition that I have experienced in Hong Kong to date. From the hand selection of amazing talents to watching all of them come together for not just one cocktail each but four, was by all rights mind-blowing.
The hand selection of very different personalities and backgrounds for this competition inspired a vast interpretation of ”four cocktails over four eras”. I looked at the journey of the Chivas brothers as inspiration whilst others took on the flight of spirit itself. I think allowing such an open canvas over time allowed all the bartenders to express themselves and their styles uniquely. From Bryson’s “Airplanes” to Wallace’s “Flavours” to Neil’s “Boomerang”, everyone had something to bring. I think taking personalities of the individuals – not just their skill level – made the competition better overall.
My preparation involved a lot of trial and error with Chef Adam Cliff as well as a lot of teasing and “nagging” with Neil Rivington and Leo Owen Boys. It was miraculous how time flew by, and, in reality, I only prepared about a week out. A lot of tasting was involved, and thanks to Chivas, we all had six bottles sent to our venues to prepare with.
I tried to negotiate each era to a style of cocktail that was popular at the time, keeping plenty of measurements with one element of each drink being added to the fourth and final drink representing the current period. My idea was to show that each era has contributed to the way we drink now, which was also a reflection that Chivas still stands tall and regal on our bars. Mentally, it wasn’t until on the day that the nerves kicked in, as all bartenders know a standard shift is a late one. Being surrounded by so much “liquid courage” and friendly banter, we all found the day went quickly, and the best man won.
The trickiest part of every competition is how fast time goes when you are presenting your creation. To make and present four cocktails really does cause the nerves to kick in. I forgot two ingredients, cut myself and forgot my lines. It’s all part of the experience and, to be honest, the time limits they had were very reasonable. As all bartenders know, it’s all about preparation.
Fifteen minutes for four drinks is plenty of time – any bartender worth his salt will make a Mojito in about two minutes. Hence, the only advice I can give is to make sure you have everything as simple as possible. Write a checklist of your ingredients, so you forget nothing when you come to a competition. Most of the guys did forget something, but like the bartender family we are, everyone was happy to lend a lemon, chill a glass for you, or in my case – bandage a bleeding finger whilst you make a drink. Even though it’s a competition, at the end of the day, it’s about hanging out with like-minded people, enjoying a great product and showing your peers what you’re capable of.
All in all, the beauty of this competition for me was the person who won deserved it, and the rest of us came in second place.
We all learned a lot about each other’s style and personality. We drank Chivas, formed new friendships, bolstered old ones with a lot of banter and gave each other our endless support.