France took top spot in Beluga Vodka's first international competition yesterday, closely followed by the UK, in both second and third place. Marie Picard of Hôtel André Latin in Paris placed first out of nine bartenders competing in Moscow's Four Seasons Hotel.
In second place was Andrea Benvegna, formerly of the Connaught Bar, with third place going to Lewis Parry of The Curious Cat in Grimsby. Also representing the UK was Ago Schiavo, of Bulgari Hotel London.
The Beluga Signature Competition saw finalists from Germany, France and the UK compete for top spot. The top three bartenders from each country travelled to Moscow, and only then were they presented with their surprise task for the grand final. Each bartender was to create not one but two drinks. The brief explained: 'As a little black dress for a woman and a classic suit for a man, these drinks would be a perfect match for any luxury black-tie event. Together they are a perfect couple attracting everyone's attention and admiration.'
Ingredients for these two cocktails were sourced in Moscow, with the nine bartenders embarking on a shopping trip in the Russian capital, and rehearsing their drinks for the first time in the Four Seasons on the morning of the competition. It was a test of not only the finalists' drink making ability, but also their ability to work under pressure, and improvise where necessary.
The final itself was held in the hotel's Moscovsky Bar, overlooking the Red Square. The judging panel consisted of The Connaught's Agostino Perrone, author and cocktail expert Fernando Castellon, Lukas Motejzik of Zephyr Bar in Munich, and Denis Kryazhev of Restaurant Fahrenheit in Moscow.
Picard told a love story set at a ballet performance while creating her two drinks, one which combined Beluga Noble with elderflower, hibiscus and grapefruit, while the other was a twist on a Martini, with vermouth and dried verbena.
Benvegna, meanwhile, took second place with a personal story about a first date, and using vermouth, cassis and coffee in one, and white cacao, pomegranate, Port and balsamic glaze in the other. Both were a bright red colour, in contrast with gold paint inside each glass.
Parry, meanwhile, drew on mythology for inspiration, telling the tale of Actaeon and Diana, and incoporating apple, Lillet Blanc, sake and honey in one drink. His second used Campari, grapefruit and saline solution, as well as Beluga Hunting Bitter - a product to keep an eye out for next year.
'It's like a dream,' Picard told Imbibe. 'I don't think I thought I could win, but instead just concentrated on what I could bring to the final. It's a hard competition. It started in June with applications, so your mind's on Beluga for months!'
'It's just an amazing experience, learning from other people's ideas,' said Benvenga. 'It really showed each person's personality, and their skills too. And the UK smashed it...'
'Well that puts Grimsby on the map!' said Parry on achieving third place. 'It's a huge challenge, and a huge privilege too. How many comps do you get to go on the winning trip, and then compete? It's unreal. And then to place... wow.'
While in Moscow, the nine finalists had guest shifts in some of Moscow's best bars, such as Noor. In addition, they were treated to a bespoke Beluga cocktail serve presentation by Agostino Perrone and Walter Pintus of London's Connaught Bar, at City Space, with its impressive views of Moscow from the 34th floor of the city's Swissotel.
Picard took home a trophy and cash prize, with second and third place earning themselves Beluga suitcases containing cocktail equipment.
Congratulations to Marie Picard of André Latin, Paris, winner of the first international Beluga Signature Competition in Moscow. Congrats too, to Team UK: Second place, Andrea Benvenga, ex-Connaught Bar in London, and third place, Lewis Parry of the Curious Cat in Grimsby. #belugavodka #belugasignature A photo posted by Imbibe (@imbibeuk) on Nov 21, 2016 at 7:40am PST