The morning of the competition, 10 finalists donned their finest suits and arrived at the Bulgari’s ballroom bar ready for the face-off. With them they brought their cocktail ingredients, equipment and, of course, the skills they learned at the Beluga Signature Bartender School earlier this year.
Of particular importance to the final round of the competition was the Bartender School seminar on rested cocktails, as one of the two drinks the finalists had to present was a prebatched rested cocktail, prepared with Beluga vodka.
The contestants also had to craft their own original Beluga cocktail on-site, appropriately dubbed the Connoisseur’s Choice. Each bartender had creative freedom in this endeavour, with the guidelines of creating a replicable, transparent cocktail using under five ingredients that embodied the luxury of the brand.
But before the competition could kick off, introductions were in order. Beluga ambassador and competition judge Andrea Brulatti introduced his fellow judges, Giuseppe Gallo and 2017 Beluga Signature champion Witek Wojaczek.
He then announced the eager finalists and their places of work: Gianluca Sorrentino of Lobby Bar, Matteo Bernardo of Eve Bar, Alex Borovko of Hakkasan Mayfair, Antonio Caruso of The Arts Club, Yann Bouvignies of Scarfes Bar, Lorenzo Rocci of The Library Bar, Fabio Fanni of German Gymnasium, Victor Aguello Maggiolo of Beaufort Bar, Andrea Liberatti of The Arts Club and Jack Sorrentino of Quaglino’s were ready to compete.
One by one, competitors took their place behind the bar, making and presenting their drinks before the judges and a captive audience.
First, each bartender made his Connoisseur’s Choice cocktail, then poured and presented his rested cocktail. The drinks were typically accompanied by an anecdote – competitors cited everything from childhood memories to fairy tales as inspiration for their creations.
Now all that remained was the final judgment – and after much deliberation, the judges were ready to announce the winner.
‘We couldn’t be more proud and happy to see your commitment towards our brand and what we give back to the bartending community,’ Brulatti told the finalists.
Wojaczek, who has been travelling the world as a Beluga brand ambassador after winning last year’s competition, chimed in as well.
‘Overall the level was very high, very interesting presentations,’ he said. ‘It was very tight, to be honest.’
Gallo took a different tack with his words for the contestants, offering a spot of advice.
‘Some of you, with the travel, with the history, with the terroir, have showcased the artistic insight of each bartender,’ he began.
‘But there is another side as well, which is how you present a cocktail. We know some of the most famous bartenders in the world became famous because they know how to sell their drink.
‘The most important thing you can give a person is the experience – making them feel welcome. We make the drink for the customer. So make sure before any competition you have a nice glass of cold water, you breathe properly, then you put your head up, speak loud and clear to the whole audience. That’s the first characteristic we’re looking for.’
With that, Brulatti cut the tension by announcing Lorenzo Rocci of The Library Bar as the Beluga Signature 2018 UK champion.
So what set Rocci apart from the other contestants? His stunning Connoisseur’s Choice cocktail with Beluga Gold Line, white chocolate liqueur, clarified lime juice, champagne diamonds and a lemon twist certainly played a role, as did his sophisticated rested serve, made with Beluga Gold Line, verjus, rosé, orange liqueur, a salt solution and a grapefruit twist.
But according to Brulatti, Rocci also mastered the presentation requirements that Gallo discussed.
‘He didn’t just make a drink, you know? He engaged with the crowd, and with us, with literally everybody,’ commented Brulatti.
‘As always, it’s the small details that make the difference. Lorenzo really deserves this once in a lifetime experience in Sochi.’
After the announcement, Rocci remained modest, using the opportunity to highlight the importance of technique sharing and comradery among bartenders.
‘This is a community which is open,’ Rocci said after accepting his plaque. ‘Let’s continue to keep it this way.’
Thanks to his win, Rocci himself will have the opportunity to contribute to the international bartending community at the Beluga Signature finals in Sochi in September, where he will compete against finalists from eight other countries for the chance to become the next Beluga vodka brand ambassador.
If the Sochi finals are anything like the UK competition, they are bound to be a spellbinding show of opulence, skill and, most of all, elegant cocktails elevated to new heights with Beluga vodka.