Imbibe Live kicked off with a lively, gin-swigging start thanks to the Four Pillars Australian Gin Open final, which saw four finalists from around the UK face off in a furious battle of skill.
‘Today is the culmination of 6 months of hard work to find the best bartenders,’ said Joe Worthington of Four Pillars Gin, who played host to the showdown.
Indeed, the competition was a winding journey that began with nearly 100 entrants, which were then narrowed down to nine regional semi-finalists: Tom Godfrey of Red Light, Dan Bovey of Hyde & Co, Eleonora Biason of Scarfes Bar, Sophie Jamieson of Kansas Smitty's, Lee Jones of Smokestack, Roberto Conti of Dakota Deluxe Hotel, Sian Buchan of Panda & Sons, Stefanie Anderson of Bon Vivant and Euan Halliday of Black Dahlia.
Yesterday, these nine competitors were treated to a Selfridges shopping spree funded by Four Pillars before going head to head in the semi-finals at Merchant House – nothing like a bit of fun before the tough stuff!
For the semi-finals, each competitor had to make two drinks: one with Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin and one with either Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin or Navy Strength Gin. Each cocktail had to contain no more than six ingredients and weave in an abundance of Four Pillars knowledge.
Of course, only four would advance to the finals, and only two would ultimately win the grand prize: an all-expenses paid trip to Australia, home of Four Pillars, to make their own gin, travel to visit major accounts in Sydney and Melbourne and attend the Australian Bar Magazine Awards hosted by Four Pillars founder, Stu Gregor.
After a nail-biting semi-final, nine contestants were whittled down to four. This morning in Imbibe Live’s Cocktail Lounge, Eleonora Biason, Sian Buchan, Tom Godfrey and Dan Bovey duked it out in the finals before a panel of three judges.
Their task was twofold. First, before the final round got underway, each contestant had to blind taste-test Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin out of a line-up. Then, the competitors had to choose one of their cocktails from the previous evening to make and present to the judges in front of an eager audience.
Sian Buchan of Panda & Sons got the show going with her cocktail, a citrusy little number with Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin she titled The Sweet Yarra Valley High.
Dan Bovey from Hyde & Co took the reins from there, shaking up his No Wine, No Worries serve – a callback to wine made with vintner’s acid and Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin.
Next up was Eleanora Biason of Scarfes Bar, whose Let It Gin cocktail referenced the Beatles in its name, and the homeland of Four Pillars through ingredients like eucalyptus syrup.
Finally, Tom Godfrey rounded out the group with the Australian 96, a cocktail paying homage to the quintessential Aussie drink lemon, lime and bitters – he even carbonated and bottled the serve to echo its classic drinking experience.
After sampling the drinks, tallying the scores and making a healthy bit of fanfare that involved passing around a bottle of the new Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin among the audience, founder Stu Gregor announced that Eleonora Biason and Tom Godfrey as the winners of the Four Pillars Australian Gin Open.
‘Eleonora’s drink was super-slick, she had a great story,’ commented Gregor, ‘and Tom nailed the gin tasting, and his drink was excellent.’
But Gregor couldn’t let the other two contestants leave without recognition, as well. In a surprise twist, he announced that he is also giving away £500 to Sian Buchan and Dan Bovey for their valiant efforts in the competition.
With that, the Four Pillars Australian Gin Open closed for the year – but don’t expect this to be the last you see of the competition. ‘We have decided to make this an annual event!’ declared Gregor. We have a feeling there are plenty more antics to go round for next year.