Pride certainly runs deep for bartenders when it comes to the scene in their home town. But which UK city is top dog? Shakes & the City is back for a second year to find out…
If there’s one thing that bartenders most certainly are not, it’s competitive. Oh no… And they most definitely do not possess a strong sense of pride when it comes to their city’s bar scene either.
Which is why, when we approached a number of representatives from top metropolises to compete
in a nationwide competition aimed at establishing which city officially has the best cocktail scene in the UK, we had no response. Not a dickie bird. Nada.
Yeah right,.. if you believe that, you probably also believe that any old joker could get elected as the President of the United States. Oh, hold on…
This is the second year that Imbibe has run Shakes & the City. Last year we had just three teams battling it out on-stage at Imbibe Live, where Birmingham took home the £1m cash prize (you sure about this? -Ed).
This year we decided to inject some local rivalry into the mix, increasing the number of entries to eight, and holding three heats across the country. Diageo kindly sponsored the drinks at the events, with the winning team going through to the final at Imbibe Live in July.
Each city team of three was challenged to create a cocktail that epitomised their home town, and was given just seven minutes to present it. Simple.
So, who smashed their way into the final showdown at Imbibe Live? Read on to find out…
Heat 1: The North
Contenders: Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham
Judges: Elliot Ball, Cocktail Trading Co; Laura Foster and Louise Tilley, Imbibe
The industrial roots of the north came into play in the northern heat, with every single team making reference to it.
Birmingham were up first, blasting Black Sabbath as they took to the bar. The team had each created an ingredient for their Boulevardier twist, drawing on a number of influences from their city, and The Edgbaston’s Tommy Matthews gave a nod to Birmingham’s trade links with China in the 19th century by milk-washing English breakfast tea with Bulleit Rye. Gabry Carnaghi from St Pauls House drew parallels between Birmingham and Venice (both have canals), and used Venetian product Aperol, infused with lavender, cardamom and grapefruit.
Sofia Pinckard from The Wilderness gave a nod to Birmingham’s gun quarter by making her own vermouth, which she infused with gunpowder tea and gun smoke. It was presented in a cloud of smoke, ‘Because no rock concert is complete without smoke,’ as Matthews, put it before declaring, as they finished, that entering Shakes was more stressful than Diageo World Class.
Short, bitter and herbal, it was an interesting drink, but the different ingredients didn’t quite integrate properly.
Unfortunately, home team Manchester were a man down, but stepped up to the challenge nevertheless.
‘The people of Manchester were responsible for a big part of the industrial revolution,’ explained Arcane’s Gaz Walsh, before starting in on their drink.
Inspired by Manchester’s symbol of the worker bee, the team made a twist on a Bee’s Knees, mixing Tanqueray 10yo with local honey they’d sourced from Chorlton.
‘Manchester used to be such a smoky, smoggy city, but now there’s a lot of green outside the city, and this honey made from the pollen of local trees symbolises that change,’ Hawksmoor’s Chloe Hicks said.
These were mixed with a ‘citrus caramel’, dry sherry and a Caol Ila rinse, and served in a bee-shaped honeypot.
A touch on the sweet side, this was still a great, easy-drinking cocktail with a beautiful, eye-catching vessel.
‘It’s got a real buzz to it,’ declared judge Elliot Ball, ‘although they could do more with the look of the drink to jazz it up. They got really lucky with that glassware’.
Up next were Leeds, who were sporting matching black polo necks. ‘We wanted to incorporate what’s currently trending in the industry, but also celebrate our history as Leeds, which combines a lot of elements, such as our industrial past, as well as high tea served in Harrogate just outside of Leeds,’ explained The Domino Club’s Niall McGloin.
They went low-abv, mixing Tanqueray 10yo with ‘tIPA’ cordial, an ingredient Jo Last from The Domino Club had created, incorporating Yorkshire black tea and IPA beer and topping it up with a pineapple soda that Smokestack’s Lee Jones created as a nod to local boy John Priestley, who invented soda water in 1733.
The result was a light, refreshing drink that was perfect for summer days, but sadly it wasn’t quite enough to beat the bee, and Manchester took top spot.
Glass: Bee-shaped honeypot
55ml Tanqueray No. 10
Heat 2: Scotland
Contenders: Edinburgh, Glasgow
Judges: Julian de Feral, Gorgeous Group; Laura Foster and Chris Losh, Imbibe
The theme of the Scottish heat was crowdsourcing and inclusion.Edinburgh went first. ‘We’re a city of fun, we’ve got the festival, we’re big on hospitality, so we really wanted to bring that forward. We also wanted to embrace the idea of sharing and community, and in that sense we wanted to produce a drink that you guys will not only enjoy, but is different from the stirred down and brown, tweed-and-bowtie Edinburgh affair,’ said The Bon Vivant’s Sam Baxendale.
They gave a nod to Edinburgh’s high consumption of gin per capita by using Tanqueray No 10; the number of establishments with beehives by using locally sourced honey; and mixed these with mint stems, lemon juice, sparkling ‘seaside’ mead and – wait for it – the city’s favourite chip condiment, salt ‘n’ sauce.
‘Edinburgh is an old city based around an extinct volcano, so what we have here is a sharing volcano bowl of Arthur’s Seat,’ said Mark Low of The Lucky Liquor Co, as the team poured their punch in before garnishing it with multi-coloured bendy straws from ‘every Edinburgh bartender’s favourite hangout’ Garibaldi’s.
We have to admit we were dubious about the salt ‘n’ sauce as it was added, and it unfortunately dominated what could otherwise have been a tasty drink.
‘It’s like saying Hull’s famous for fish so let’s put a mackerel in the drink!’ exclaimed Losh later. We suspect there were issues scaling the drink up from single serve to punch proportions.
Glasgow burst behind the bar with plenty of energy. ‘We wanted to go against the outdated, irrelevant stereotypes of Glasgow,’ said The Good Spirits Co’s Graeme Mackay, as teammate Cal McMillan became the ‘master of chaos’ and The Finnieston’s Jamie Moran set about making their Ramos Gin Fizz-inspired drink, ‘because people make Glasgow and people make a Ramos’.
Using Nikka Coffey Grain in homage to Nikka founder Masataka Taketsuru’s time in Glasgow studying organic chemistry, and Benedictine – an ‘alternative monk-based liqueur to Buckfast’, citrus from Barr’s Limeade syrup, a nitro-hops tincture from the Grunt & Growler in Glasgow, and as a nod to being a gay capital of Europe, they topped it with bright-pink Barr’s Cream Soda and a cream float and glitter.
Is your head spinning yet? Ours too. Served up on coasters made from photos of Glasgow locals, it was a sweet, frothy concoction that made everyone smile.
In the end, it was the away team that triumphed. ‘Glasgow’s drink linked back to their city more,’ said Julian de Feral of Gorgeous Group during deliberations. ‘But if you’re going to go camp, you could do even more, as
the foam, glitter and liquid were all the same brown-ish colour.’
Take note Glasgow: we want more camp!
DRAM BAM THANKYOU MA’AM
50ml Nikka Coffey Grain
Heat 3: The West(ish)
Contenders: Bristol, Cardiff, Leicester
Judges: Nathan Shearer, Swift; Laura Foster and Ed Warr, Imbibe
The standard of entries in the south-west heat were the strongest. Spirits were high as everyone gathered.
Liberally scattering coal all over the bar, Cardiff kicked off proceedings. ‘We didn’t want to bring dragons, or have Tom Jones singing the national anthem while eating leeks, we do enough of that in our spare time,’ declared Lab 22’s Elliot Skehel, before he and team mates Jenny Griffiths of Ten Mill Lane and The Dead Canary’s Matt Jones went on to look at what led to making Cardiff the capital city of Wales – the coal trade and the Tiger Bay docks.
‘Tiger Bay would have had massive cultural importance in the groups of people down there,’ said Griffiths.
‘Our drink is exotic, influenced by the communities in Tiger Bay – Somalis, Yemenis, Greeks…’ continued Jones, as the team mixed gin, Chartreuse, white wine, a pink peppercorn and pineapple cordial, lime juice and egg white, with masala tea and lime oil garnish.
With lifted herbal, spicy and fruity characters this was beguiling, but the tea garnish was bitty and the oil burnt our lip.
Bristol burst onto the bar with fighting talk, recalling the days when the port city was home to pirates such as Long John Silver and Black Beard, and was known
for smuggling rum and fortified wine.
‘We’ve basically made a posh Cider & Black,’ declared Red Light’s Chelsie Bailey as she handed over to teammate Emilio di Salvo, of local distillery and bar Psychopomp, who poured their whole bottles of Pyschopomp absinthe and aquavit into a large punch bowl.
Lucas Roy-Smith from Her Majesty’s Secret Service added a cucumber and mint shrub and lime juice, before Bailey jumped in with Burrow Hill Cider – a nod to their west country home – and Ribena, which was invented by Vernon Charley at the University of Bristol.
The result was a fun and fabulous sharing punch with all the herbal elements coming through, topped by
the sweetness of the Ribena.
Bringing up the rear, so to speak, was Leicester’s Kal Ruparell, Matteo Mosetti and Jack Chalk of 33 Cank Street, who disappeared behind a curtain before reappearing, marching in formation as Roman legionaries.
What ensued was a Monty Python-esque skit of the soldiers stopping for a break, and mixing up a barrel-aged ‘Negronius Maximus’ while talking about Leicester’s Roman history.
‘Make sure you bring this bearded wench to my tent later,’ declared Ruparell while gesturing at Swift’s Nathan Shearer.
They took their barrel-aged Negroni, mixed it with oleo saccharum, and topped it with a foam made from prosecco, grapefruit, egg whites and gelatine. The sweeter elements initially tempered the Negroni, before the bitter notes came through on the finish.
The judges were left with a hard decision. ‘Cardiff’s drink had the best links to its city, but Bristol’s was one of the best punches I’ve ever had,’ commented judge Nathan Shearer.
‘Leicester’s presentation was great fun and original,’ countered Laura Foster. But ultimately, it was the standard of Bristol’s drink that won it for the trio, who’ll be bringing their ‘posh Cider & Black’ to Imbibe Live. We’ll see you there…
THE CORONATION PUNCH
Glass: Punch bowl and teacups
700ml Psychopomp Aquavit
Many thanks to Diageo for all the delicious Tanqueray No. 10, Bulleit, Talisker and Ketel One that kept the competitors well lubricated. Thanks also to Arcane in Manchester, The Lucky Liquor Co in Edinburgh and Red Light in Bristol for hosting the heats. If anyone is interested in fielding a team next year, contact [email protected]
While you’re here…