Let’s take a trip back in time to 1941, dark spirits are in full swing and vodka’s only known to some. John Martin bares the burden of having to stimulate the uptake of Smirnoff Vodka in the United States. Jack Morgan, owner of The Cock ‘n’ Bull is plagued with a similar challenge as he aims to promote his company’s ginger beer. Both stumped for ideas, the men deal with failure the only way they know how, by drowning their sorrows at the local pub. Here, John meets Jack and with a squeeze of lime their products are combined to make the perfect drink. A few days later they throw in a copper mug and that my friends, is how the Moscow Mule was born.
Today, the Moscow Mule is one of the most iconic vodka cocktails in the world. Still a showcase spirit, many bartenders are unaware of the history behind Smirnoff Red Vodka. So as a tribute to John & Jack, Smirnoff Vodka put together the Moscow Mule Bartenders Competition – where entrants from across the UAE were invited to participate in a series of training sessions and masterclasses, before making a Moscow Mule of their own.
The Moscow Mule Bartenders Competition is based around Smirnoff Vodka. Now in its second year, the contest aims to generate a bit more excitement around a spirit that bartenders use everyday but don’t necessarily know much about. Given that the Moscow Mule was the first popular cocktail for the vodka category, it’s no wonder it was chosen as the showcase drink.
This year, the competition was divided between junior and senior bartenders. To qualify for the junior level, applicants had to be working in the business for fewer than four years and for the senior level it had to be more than four. In terms of applications, all contestants were asked to submit a Moscow Mule recipe by February 7. The rules were simple; create a Moscow Mule however you like, as long at it had 30ml of Smirnoff Red Vodka and is served in a copper mug. Junior bartenders were also allowed to use up to four other ingredients, whilst senior bartenders could use five.
With more than 100 entries from across Dubai and Abu Dhabi, judges were plagued with the task of selecting only 40 to compete in the final on the 15th February 2016 – that is, 20 bartenders from each level.
In the lead up to the final and to raise awareness about the competition, a number of in-venue training sessions took place across the region. In addition to this, three masterclasses were hosted, two of which were RSVP only and the other an open invite.
Jason Clark hosted the first masterclass at PATH Bar School, where he taught the contestants how to make homemade ginger beer. This was especially important given that ginger beer is essential to the Moscow Mule and it is common in Dubai to stock ginger ale instead.
The second masterclass was also hosted at PATH Bar School and this time, it was based around 21st century garnishing techniques. As such, Jason showed the contestants how to present cocktails in a manner that is both eye catching and practical for the high-speed environment in which they are made.
Last but not least, the third masterclass was a demonstration piece to do with top bartenders from across the region. This included James Estes, Adam Carr from Aura Consultancy, Laura Ducca from Boca and Mamet Sur, the World Class regional winner for UAE. There to inspire, the presenters took turns showing contestants how they would approach the competition and make a Moscow Mule.
While each of the presenters had their own individual styles and equally delicious variations, there was quite a bit of attention paid to Adam’s cocktail. People seemed to like his alternative vessel of a pineapple, which was carved to look like a rocket and used dry ice to create a take off effect. Named Rocket Fuel to rhyme with Moscow Mule, this playful interpretation gave a nod to Russia’s space history and vodka.
According to Adam: “This style of event was a great way to kick off a cocktail competition, as it brought together the bar community and gave the competitors the opportunity to learn and become inspired by leading professionals in their industry. It was also great to catch up with some old friends behind the bar and share our cocktails.”
Another crowd-pleasing cocktail was made by James. Inspired by Mr. T, his cocktail was named ‘I Pity the Mule’ and combined Smirnoff Vodka Red with fresh lime juice, elderflower cordial, mint, cucumber and passion fruit.
A resourceful thinker James noted: “Mojitos and Gin and Tonics are very popular in the Dubai market. Utilising the mint and cucumber in another cocktail is one way that bars can reduce their waste.”
Now that the contestants were all prepared, it was time for the final round to begin at Park, a Peruvian restaurant and afternoon drinking space inside the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel. When competitors arrived they were each greeted with a small goodie bag, which included a Smirnoff branded muddler, copper mug, t-shirt and sunglasses.
The sun was beating down, there was an intermittent cool breeze and it was time for round one to begin. Five bartenders took to one bar at a time, with five minutes to make their drink out of sight of the judges. Once the drink was made, each bartender had two minutes to present it to the judging panel.
Each of the drinks were marked out of a total of 100 points, divided among taste, presentation of what it looks like, expression of spirit, explanation to judges and whether or not it’s possible to sell in a bar.
After round one, there was an immediate elimination down to the top three for the junior category and, because there was a tie, the top four for the senior category and then it was time for the highly anticipated final to begin.
For the final round each of the contestants were asked to make and present their cocktails again, this time in front of the judges – which definitely raised the pressure in the room.
After battling it out, it was time to announce the winner of each category. From the junior level, taking home the title of champion was Rian Shin. Inspired by ice and flower, his Ice Age frozen cocktail featured homemade ginger beer, flower syrup and even had a flower trapped inside a ball of ice. According to Rian, “I didn’t expect a lot because there are many amazing bartenders in Dubai, but I just kept trying to push myself.”
As for the senior level, Ruslan was announced the winner for his Ukrainian interpretation of a Moscow Mule, which used dried fruit and dehydrated, pickled ginger to create a more intense flavour.
Taking home a 5000AED mall voucher each, the winners were both very humble. All in all the 2016 Moscow Mule Bartenders Competition was a huge success and we look forward to seeing who will compete next year!