With the dust settling on the financial woes of Conviviality, it is back to business for both Bibendum and Matthew Clark, the latter unveiling its business goals in the on-trade cocktail market. Victor Smart witnessed the final of Stir It Up, a cocktail competition that, along with countryside workshops and an online advice portal is spearheading the company’s summer cocktail communications.
Bartenders from Cardiff’s Lab 22 in Cardiff, London’s Skylight and One Eleven in The Aviator Hotel in Farnborough were the three finalists in Stir It Up. There was even one recipe inspired by “Nan’s fruit tarts.”
A good cocktail mixes tradition and innovation in equal measure. And the final of Matthew Clark’s Stir It Up contest in Hoxton this month showed that there are enthusiastic bartenders aplenty from around the country ready to conjure the old and the new into tantalising new taste combinations.
As everybody knows, the cocktail market is now valued at hundreds of millions as premium and super-premium spirits take hold, with women particular devotees. And Matthew Clark’s goals for Stir It Up were strictly business – to help licensees boost sales by understanding customers’ ever-shifting preferences.
The company’s 2018 cocktail package for the on-trade includes a series of countrywide workshops, an online advice portal plus this nationwide cocktail competition all aimed at increasing the accessibility of the cocktail category.
Set up in collaboration with 30 leading spirits brands, Stir It Up is designed to devise what Matthew Clark prosaically calls ‘industry-leading cocktails’. More specifically it was designed to give bartenders the opportunity to be experimental and creative in devising their own recipe, followed by some time trials testing their routine skills.
The event was held in the cool arches of Kachette. But the role of bartender contestant is tricky. For example, the whole cocktail shaking routine, accompanied by obligatory whoops from the audience, is pure theatre. And it’s vital to have a convincing patter and nerves of steel when racing frenetically to mix multiple cocktails against the clock. The mixologist must have a thoughtful side too, however, it’s a considered business, choosing the ingredients and matching the brief in this case for a summery drink. In short you have to be part showman, part geek.
Take finalist Amy Swanton, 29, from One Eleven – The Aviator Hotel. Her specialist cocktail was Easy Like A Sunday Morning concocted from marmalade, camomile tea, Monkey 47 gin, simple syrup and lemon. She admits to being fascinated with using tea as a mixer and researches endlessly both online and in books.
Then there is Tom Cavanagh, 24, from Skylight, London. His specialist recipe for his Sangrita cocktail (white-wine based) is a twist on a white sangria and classic margarita, two classic summer cocktails that have stood the test of time. Its long list of ingredients are Patron Silver Tequila, Marie Brizzard Triple Sec, Yellow Chartreuse, salted peach and agave puree, peach bitters, Jacobs Creek Riesling, and fresh mint. Tom sees cocktails based on white wine as making a comeback now that so many other combination and recipes have been exhausted.
Finally, Alex Mills, 26, of Lab 22 in Cardiff. His Lowland Highball is a long drink that aims to cast some well-earned limelight back on to scotch and its place in hot weather menus. It pairs bourbon-cask aged Auchentoshan with peach and thyme in a Collins style.
Alex’s inspiration for his cocktail? – “my nan who used to bake a variety of different fruit tarts each summer, one of which was a peach and thyme tartlet”. Well, his nan can be proud for Alex left with the laurels and will now hold a ‘hero status’ in all Matthew Clark summer cocktail communications.
Sponsors for Stir it Up are Bacardi Brown Foreman, Catalyst, Diageo, Maxxium, Pernod Ricard, Proximo, Remy Cointreau and William Grant & Sons.