It was a rare sunny day in Manchester as teams from across the north of the country converged for the first heat of Shakes & the City 2018. For the third year, the competition size has grown yet again, with 12 teams signed up to compete across three heats.
The teams’ challenge this year is to create a drink for a famous face from their city, with the winning group going through to a final at Imbibe Live… where they’ll be in with a chance of winning a glittering £1,000.
Imbibe arrived in Manchester and made a beeline straight for host venue Science + Industry, a hidden bar inside Cane & Grain. Kicking off with some delicious No 3 Gin & tonics courtesy of sponsors FMV, the teams all furtively scattered to different corners of the bar to prepare.
Birmingham was rooting through a mysterious box, while Manchester had a cooker on the go, mysteriously reducing Vimto and port down to a jammy consistency and drawing a face on an orange with a Sharpie...
Let battle commence…
The boys from Brum took to the bar first. The Edgbaston Hotel’s Toby Heap and Andrei Marcu set the scene with some old silent-film music, before holding up subtitle cards to reveal that their famous face was Charlie Chaplin.
They performed a mini slapstick routine recreating the Charlie Chaplin bartending film while making their twist on a London Calling, renamed Birmingham’s Calling. Mixing No 3 London Dry Gin as a nod to Chaplin’s move to the capital, amontillado sherry ‘because he’s nutty’, apricot liqueur, Cointreau Noir to represent the dark moments in his life, lemon juice and egg white – a nod to Chaplin’s white make up – they topped the dry, fruity, nutty drink with black powder in the shape of the actor.
Up next were Manchester, who stepped behind the bar with a smiley-face orange on an umbrella in place of absent teammate Mike Ramsden.
Rather than picking one famous face, they decided to throw the entire population of Manchester into their drink. ‘We’ve got a lot of famous gingers – Mick Hucknell, Paul Scholes, Curly Watts from Coronation Street…’ Adam Wilson began, before Danny Smith poured The King’s Ginger into the shaker.
Penny Blue rum was added as a nod to New Order’s Blue Monday, while some Oasis Citrus Punch was added as a nod to the Gallagher Brothers… before some lime juice was poured in to represent the souring of their relationship. Finally, notorious grump Morrissey was represented with Mrs Better’s Vegan Bitters.
It was a dizzying romp through Manchester’s music scene, resulting in a ginger-citrus sipper reminiscent of Refreshers bars.
Silver screen sipper
Elysa McGuire, Alex Holmes and Shanelle Bateman from Leeds, Leeds and Leeds went rather left field by making a drink for a man who didn’t actually come from their city, but who filmed the first ever motion picture there.
Frenchman Louis Le Prince made a three-second black and white film of a man walking in a garden in Leeds in 1888. The team consequently used a rhubarb-infused cognac as a nod to his French roots; a cucumber oleo saccharum to represent the English garden; a cherry blossom tea made with flowers foraged from near where the film was made; and Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters, giving a nod to the era that both he and Le Prince were alive.
Served in a Nick & Nora glass and garnished with a film negative and baby’s breath flowers, it was beautifully presented and complex, and included a mini murder-mystery game inspired by Cluedo (another Leeds-based invention) and the fact that Le Prince disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1890.
Neighbouring city Sheffield rounded things off by paying tribute to Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill and her awesome athletic feats.
Having researched what she liked to eat and drink, teammates Will Anderson, Becca Ladyman and Lydia Jennings declared that ‘the key to an athlete’s success is lots of fresh fruit and vegetables’, and explained how Ennis-Hill appears to have a love of Italian food.
They embarked on making their twist on a Breakfast Martini with the use of local Sheffield Gin, Cocchi Americano (as a nod to Ennis-Hill’s love of Italian cuisine), and lots of fruit, with local rhubarb syrup, rhubarb bitters, lemon juice and pink grapefruit juice.
The drink was garnished with a dehydrated pink grapefruit and gold leaf rim – paying tribute to the athlete’s gold-studded career – and presented on a podium. It was a refreshing, fruity mix with a herbaceous edge and heaps of rhubarb.
The judges retired to deliberate. Nate Brown of Merchant House was particularly impressed by Birmingham.
‘The presentation of the drink and the ideas were spot on. It was a brave choice and it went really well,’ he said.
Everyone enjoyed Leeds’ entry. ‘It was a fascinating presentation, and I want to learn more about that character, but he’s not from that city,’ said FMV’s Joel Beckett.
‘If we look at the brief, which is to create a famous face from your city, technically only two of the teams answered it,’ said Imbibe’s Laura Foster.
While the judges enjoyed Manchester’s entry – ‘everyone in Manchester is mental!’ exclaimed Brown – it was Sheffield’s entry that really stood out.
‘That for me was the best of all four,’ said Beckett. ‘The drink reminded me of the kind of cooking you get in a country pub in that area.’
‘Everything was well considered and linked back to their celebrity too,’ declared Foster.
And so it was that a delighted Sheffield discovered that they’re through to the final at Imbibe Live in London on 3 July. We’ll see them there…
Breakfast of Champions
For Jessica Ennis-Hill, by Team SheffieldGlass: Coupe
Garnish: Gold and waste grapefruit
Method: Shake and strain.37.5ml True North Sheffield Dry Gin
12.5ml Cocchi Americano
25ml local rhubarb and Sheffield honey syrup
5ml lemon juice
5ml pink grapefruit
2d Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters
Small handful of local tarragon