Neil Ridley reports on the UK finals of the 2017 Diplomático Rum World Tournament
As venues go, Burlock, London’s hidden basement retreat for all things rum, feels like a million miles away from Venezuela, the home of Diplomático’s Destilerias Unidas – especially on a chilly February Monday afternoon. However, once the eight UK finalists for the Diplomático World Tournament were finally assembled, things took a decidedly warmer turn.
The winning bartender will go on to face some tough competition in the European finals, which will be held over in Venezuela. Ten global finalists are set to return to London’s Beaufort Bar at the Savoy hotel, for a show-stopping finale later this year, where the overall tournament winner will be crowned.
Before that, the final UK eight, chosen from over 300 entries across the country had to really impress a crack panel of judges: Edmund Weil, Nightjar owner, as well as the award-winning Oriole and newly opened Swift; Anna Sebastian, bar manager at the Savoy’s Beaufort Bar; Marcis Dzelzainis, bartender extraordinaire at Sager + Wilde; and Jon Lister, European ambassador for Diplomático rum.
The task: to produce an outstanding, memorable and completely unique drink in under seven minutes, using the star of the show – the newly released Diplomático Mantuano. Mantuano, which means Nobleman, is a golden rum aged for up to eight years and blended from column, batch kettle and pot still styles, which delivers a brilliantly versatile, flavoursome rum, perfect for mixing or sipping neat.
Alongside a cocktail which hit the jackpot in the flavour department, the judges were looking for undisputed creativity within the serve, which perfectly balanced the heritage of Diplomático rum, as well as passionately telling the story behind the drink. It was a challenge which each finalist fully embraced. Dandelyan’s Iain Griffiths’ tiki-themed Phoebe’s Kiss paid homage to the legendary Don The Beachcomber and his wife, while Edinburgh bartender Leon Back of Panda & Sons used his colourblindness as theme to inspire each judge’s taste buds.
After some difficult decision making (and plenty of sipping) the judges’ favourite was the Square One, created by Satan’s Whiskers’ Joseph Hall. Square One was an inspired, but simple drink, using 50ml Diplomático Mantuano and 40ml homemade lemon and toasted coconut cordial, shaken and served on a bed of ‘edible Venezuelan soil’ made from banana and coffee.
‘It requires some real balls to make a drink using just two ingredients but the overall balance with the rum and the garnish in Joe’s creation was outstanding,’ explained Edmund Weil. The final word comes from Hall himself: ‘I really wanted to stay honest and true to the bar [Satan’s Whiskers] and to really create a celebration of the rum itself, as well as bringing a bit of east London to the global stage.’
Joseph Hall, Satan’s Whiskers, London (Winner)
Joe Lewis-White, The American Bar, the Savoy, London (Runner Up)
Leon Back, Panda & Sons, Edinburgh
Iain Griffiths, Dandelyan, London
Christopher McNulty, Strata, Glasgow
Andrea Melis, The Blue Bar at The Berkley, London
Antoine Mermet, Hotel Du Vin, St Andrews
Jitka Zakova, Peg & Patriot, London