Running the full gamut of flavours with No. 3 Gin’s Unlock Taste National Cocktail Competition
In an increasingly crowded gin market, it requires something special and distinctive to stand out from the crowd. With No.3 Gin the challenge is which part of the incredible story to tell you…
Launched in 2010 after two years of development, No.3 Gin is inspired by three centuries of London’s vibrant drinks history. Created by Berry Bros & Rudd, the UK’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, it takes its name from 3 St James’s Street, London, its illustrious address since 1698.
Exquisite in its simplicity, No.3 is a testament to the use of top-notch ingredients and superb craftsmanship. The result, a London Dry Gin where the six botanicals (three fruits, three spices) each play their part in delivering a classic symphony of distinctive juniper, fresh citrus, delicate spice and subtle earthiness. Since its release, No.3 has become the only gin to be awarded the ‘Best in Class Trophy’ three times at the International Spirits Challenge.
Following on from last year’s inaugural showdown, the stakes were raised for this year’s edition of the No.3 Unlock Taste Cocktail Competition. A hundred adventurous bartenders from across the UK confidently took up the first-round challenge with the ultimate prize in mind: the Unlock Taste Trophy and a trip for two to Chicago to headline a No.3 takeover at one of the World’s top 50 restaurants. The brief: present a new No.3 cocktail that paired ingredients with the gin to accentuate or balance its flavours for a delicious and eye-catching concoction.
After every drink was tasted and judged by the dedicated team from FMV, the field was reduced to sixteen. The next challenge saw contestants gathering at 3 St James’s Street, London, for final’s day to deliver another inspirational new No.3 serve with spell-binding aplomb to wow an elite panel of judges. If a tempter were needed, simply turning up meant receiving £50 voucher to splash out at the legendary Berry Bros & Rudd store.
Come final’s day and the intrepid competitors arrived from as far afield as Inverness, before being whisked into the depths of the Berry Bros & Rudd cellars, surrounded by centuries of history. First things first, they were fuelled with coffee and bacon butties and the running order drawn at random before proceedings were initiated.
Steven Livanis from Mojo, Manchester was the first to step into the spotlight at the No.3 bar and flex his cocktail-making credentials in front of the judges. Sat at the bar, judging sheets and pencils at the ready to critique were some serious experts, who had been rounded up by the FMV team. The line-up comprised Dr David Clutton, chief alchemist behind the creation of No.3 Gin and the only person in the world with a PhD in Gin; Alessandro Palazzi, the Martini legend himself from Duke’s Bar; Geordie Willis from the Berry Bros & Rudd family; Jane Ryan from Imbibe and fellow writer Simon Difford of Difford’s Guide.
As Livanis presented his Hedge of No.3 cocktail, his fellow competitors and an assembly of onlookers peered down from the balcony above in the beautiful building. Mistakes would be visible from every angle.
Following on swiftly were Francesco Lombardi from The Corinthia, London, Fynn Seegar from Angelica, Leeds, Aiden Page from Callooh Calley and Michaela Ball from The Finnieston, Glasgow. Already the stories were in full flow, the fennel, nettle and jasmine were in abundance, and even dandelion and burdock root made a guest appearance. As things heated up a toaster was added to the list of intriguing equipment used. Clearly the competitors had embraced the very spirit of Unlock Taste and the plentiful options to push boundaries with No.3, from playing and accentuating the spice and bitter notes to pulling apart its savoury profile, or paying homage to the floral and sour palate – the day was promising to produce some truly sublime drinks.
As the impressive roster of participating bartenders continued Dandelyan’s Stephen Mutty’s umami and savoury-style spritz was both tasty and a great representation of his bar’s unique take on drinks, and Emily Chipperfield from Nuala in London surprised all the judges with her chocolate-inspired Dutch Method. What appeared as creamy and sweet was actually a refreshing summer sipper with clear gin notes radiating through her white chocolate premix. Following on from 99 Bar & Kitchen’s Milo Smith, Manachain Monaghan of Leed’s Below Stairs flipped everyone’s assumptions on taste and flavour as he shook up a black drink and kept his lips sealed on its contents. Stephanie Anderson from Edinburgh’s Bon Vivant then wowed the crowd with her Martini-style Loop cocktail and charisma.
As the first round saw a final burst of wonderful infusions, reductions and hydrosols, the standard remained impeccably high. Luca Cicalese from The American Bar at The Savoy accentuated the cardamom in No.3; Elysa McGuire from Death & Taxes introduced woodland hydrosol; Steven Bain from Jonny Foxes & The Den and Connie Cain reached for the lavender; and Dan Bovey of Hyde & Co. Bristol introduced a cheeky blend of three acids. Among the line-up, a familiar face from last year’s competition, Johnnie Munoz from Hawksmoor made an appearance and wowed the crowd. From the judges’ mutterings, he can proudly claim the best drink of the day with a delicious gin, olive and lemon Victory Bitter cocktail.
After the final score cards were added up, canapés distributed and some hearty No. 3 gin and tonics cracked into, the three finalists were announced. Going on to the next and ultimate round were Stephanie Anderson, Johnnie Munoz and Manachain Monaghan, who all automatically won a trip to Holland to meet the craftsman behind No.3 and tour the distillery.
Chicago here we come
The grand finale took the form of a mystery round, with each finalist visiting the Unlock Taste table, which was awash with ingredients to inspire and work with. They had ten minutes to review and select the ingredients for a final creation that could take them to Chicago and then ten minutes to start crafting and refining their cocktail.
Stephanie was first to present in the final round, shaking up a delightful strawberry and basil drink with a delicate spice. Manachain shied away from his earlier enigmatic style and went for a classic herbaceous cocktail, which he managed to make from an infusion with the gin. Finishing the day off was Johnnie who had the crowd in hysterics as he presented a drink using raspberry and basil, which he’d turned into a syrup.
With everything added up across the two rounds the ultimate champion of the day was Johnnie Munoz who landed himself a four-night trip to Chicago with a pal, plus £200 spending money. He quickly said his thanks before heading off to work where the rest of the crowd, particularly the visiting crew from Scotland, descended on him to celebrate a mere few hours later.
From 16 bartenders, working in vastly different markets, the diversity of drinks across the day was simultaneously exciting and profound with the savoury and sweet, the sour and the floral all being unlocked and pulled apart. And the historic setting couldn’t have contrasted more perfectly with the modern bartenders and the flavours they presented across the bar – firmly placing No 3 Gin’s cocktail competition at the forefront of the industry.