Brendan Soprano, general manager of Abbey Road Bar in Liverpool, has won the 2020 competition
Soprano has won £250 and three bottles of the brand's award-winning mezcals with his Quiote cocktail, combining Corte Vetutso Tobala, Lable 5 Puttonyos Aszu Tokaj, grapefruit oleo, expressed grapefruit oil and celery mist.
The American Bar at The Savoy's head bartender Maxim Schulte came in second with his Humble Hero creation, mixing the brand's Espadin expression with Kingston Black Apple aperitif, spiced buckwheat cordial and orange bitters.
The challenge tasked bartenders with creating a drink that is 'a cut above', inspired by the mantra of Juan Carlos Gonzalez Diaz, master mezcalero. Entries were judged by David Shepherd, co-founder of Corte Vetusto; Eduardo Gomez, director of Tequila & Mezcal Fest, and Josh Linfitt of Propping Up the Bar.
'Having always been a major fan of agave spirits, but especially whilst working at El Bandito in Liverpool, seeing the Cut Above Challenge posted online, I knew had to have a crack,' said Soprano.
'Tobala is my favourite varietal, so much so I named my dog after it. I knew in my head I could build a drink around the base liquid without detracting from the characteristics that make it so special... Turning what is currently a negative situation into a positive one, it’s also reignited a passion in me to put aside time to read again and get back into the genre once more.'
Third, fourth and fifth place went to, respectively: George Cook (ex-Dinner by Heston, London) with his cocktail The Ancient Cup, Horace Buckenham (The Florist, Bristol) with The Prime Cut, and Kat Stanley-White (Uno Mas, Edinburgh) who presented Patrimonio. All of the top five winners will be shaking their cocktails in person this autumn for a photo shoot.
‘As a small, independent brand, we can empathise completely with how the UK bartending community is feeling over this extraordinarily challenging time,' explained Shepard. 'We came up with the Cut Above Challenge as a way of lending some much needed support in a way that was authentic to us.
'The idea was to harness the skill and creativity of the community and, in turn, offer support to existing advocates of the brand as well as introduce Corte Vetusto to the growing number of mezcal-loving bartenders across the UK. I'm truly humbled by the impressive calibre of submissions and grateful to my fellow judges for their invaluable input. Great care was taken in the creation of the drinks, showcasing our award-winning mezcals and justifying why they felt their entries were 'a cut above' – we just wish we could have tasted them!'