Held at London Cocktail Club Old Street, four teams converged on the site to present a drink that was inspired by a historical event in their city or area to judges Julian de Feral, Bobby Hiddleston of Swift and Imbibe’s Laura Foster.
Up first was Team East London, represented by Cressida Lawlor and Thibault Bichet of LCC. Plunging the venue into darkness and playing air raid sirens, the crowd was taken back to the days of the Blitz, when East London was flattened by the Nazis.
Their drink was a restrained Vesper twist, incorporating ingredients that were rationed in the war, with Chase Marmalade Vodka, Gindea Tea Gin and Lillet Blanc, garnished with some flamed ground cinnamon, and served on a brick, or ‘The rubble of East London,’ as Lawlor declared.
West London celebrated the first Notting Hill Carnival in 1959, an unsurprising choice given the team – Gergo Murath, Olly Lambert and Cameron Olkin – all work at Trailer Happiness.
They got the party started with some dancehall, before presenting a moreish, punchy swizzle that mixed a Red Stripe reduction infused with West Indian spices, Wray & Nephew, Elements 8, velvet falernum, guava, lemon and lime juice and some Angostura Bitters. It was the sort of drink you could drink all day at Carnival.
Birmingham kept the party vibe going by reliving their city’s first gay pride, which took place in 1972. ‘The gay village in Birmingham is currently under attack, and it’s important to celebrate the community’s culture,’ declared Nocturnal Animals’ Glenn Eldridge while Matt Birks of The Edgbaston started making the drink and The Vanguard’s Luke Morgan handed out rainbow flags to the crowd.
They made their drinks with ingredients known to have aphrodisiac qualities: fresh watermelon juice and blood orange juice for vasodilation; a matcha tea syrup for vitality and dopamine production; Aphrodite Bitters; champagne and Absolut Elyx, giving a nod to Absolut’s long-standing support of the gay community. Served in a teapot, the resulting colour was murky, but the drink itself was fresh and fun.
Rounding things off was Central London, with Ilija Kniazev, Lukas Etus from Heads & Tails and Anthony Mcfarlane from Annabel's marking London’s recovery from the Great Fire of London in 1666.
They took inspiration from two drinks – the London Calling and Corpse Reviver No 2 – for their entry, which mixed Sipsmith gin with fino sherry, Cocchi Americano and an absinthe rinse, resulting in a bone-dry sipper.
The judges deliberated over the winner, which was an extremely close call, but in the end Birmingham took the heat.
‘They’d really put a lot of thought into their presentation, it was very slick, and fun with the rainbow flags and cake,’ said de Feral.
‘The drink was great, my one issue with it was how murky the liquid was, but that’s something for them to work on in the final,’ Hiddleston agreed.
Birmingham will be one of four teams to compete in the Shakes & the City final on Centre Stage at Imbibe Live, to be in with a chance of winning £1,000. Keep your eyes peeled for a report on next week’s Scottish heat, which will take place in Edinburgh.