The bartender team has taken the lead in this year's Bartenders v Sommeliers competition, after the first round of challenges took place yesterday.
The two teams came together at Sovereign Loss in London's Brixton for a full day of gruelling challenges, judged by a panel made up of The Cocktail Trading Co's Elliot Ball, Jane Parkinson, Bibendum's Willie Lebus and Cellar Trends' G Franklin.
Things didn't start so well for bartenders, who were behind on points after the blind tasting round thanks to strong performances from sommeliers Harry Crowther and Meg Ryan, and the team spent the rest of the day trying to catch up.
The following round saw sommeliers once again do better, with Crowther making a great Manhattan for the classic cocktails challenge — while the bartenders' Robyn Wilkie scored highest in the wine service round that came next.
All competitors were fearing the food matching round, and rightly so, as the judges made for very difficult guests. Still, both the sommeliers' Jonathan Kleeman and bartender Oli Pluck pulled off good performances and suggested some strong matches — with Pluck getting a few more points for his knowledge and confidence.
Teams were only one point apart as they went into the final round, which saw two members from each team have to make a cocktail on the spot from a box of mystery ingredients. Despite the sommeliers' best efforts, the bartenders took this one home easily, thanks to Roberta Mariani and Joe Hall's drinks.
The day ended with 196 points for bartenders to 187 for sommeliers — a small difference that gives bartenders just a modest advantage going into the final. Will they be able to take back the trophy from the sommeliers, who have kept it for the past two years? Find out at the final at Imbibe Live on 4 July...
Pictured: Left, bartenders. Back, L-R: Dominic Whisson (captain), Joe Hall, Oli Pluck, Roberta Mariani. Front: Robyn Wilkie, Sandia Chang (coach). Right, sommeliers. Back: Jonathan Kleeman, Harry Crowther, Gus Pollard, Chris Dennis (coach). Front: Ben Porter (captain), Meg Ryan. Photo by Justine Trickett.