The good ship Shakes & the City pulled into its final harbour for this year’s heats at Berry Bros & Rudd in London, which is fittingly the spiritual home of competition sponsors FMV.
As teams from South England and Wales gathered, No3 G&Ts (natch) were liberally poured in the atmospheric cellars of No 3 St James, greasing the wheels of what was to be yet another surreal afternoon.
The challenge? All the teams assembled needed to present a drink that they’d created for a famous face from their city in seven minutes. Simple. Or was it?...
David Hockney's from Yorkshire-gate
With London being so big and all that, we’d split the city in two, with a team representing South and West London, and another flying the flag for North and East London.
First to face the judges was South and West London. Swift’s Sam Ameye, Oli Kritzler from soon-to-be-opened Fitz’s and James Hawkins from Sexy Fish set up paints and brushes on the judges’ table before they revealed that their famous local face was the artist David Hockney.
They challenged the judges to paint their own glasses while they presented their drink with ‘interesting’ results: FMV’s Roy Evans painted a mysterious scribble-blob, Mojo’s Sam Fish produced a passable London skyline complete with Gherkin, while Imbibe’s Laura Foster resorted to painting a couple of yellow dots. ‘What is this?!’ cried Kritzler as he picked up Evans’ effort. Perhaps that’s not the best way to endear yourself to the judges…
Basing their drink around Hockney’s famous painting A Bigger Splash, a masterpiece depicting someone diving into a Californian swimming pool, the team played off the yellows and greens that pop out in the painting, using fresh flavours with similar colours. Berry Brothers London Dry Gin, manzanilla sherry, lime juice, gala melon syrup and Boston Bitters combined to create a very summery drink perfect to sip by that Californian pool, with great complexity.
It was a great presentation, a strong drink… and then resident Yorkshire expert and judge Fish stepped in. ‘I thought David Hockney was from Yorkshire? I’m sure he’s from Bradford,’ she murmured. Sadly, that small matter sadly scuppered the team’s chances from the off.
Benjamin Smith, Maria Kontorravdis and Tom Ryan – all from Dr Ink’s Curiosities - hit the bar next to defend Exeter’s honour.
They told the story of Eleanor and Gertrude Acland, sisters who had very different beliefs, with Eleanor being a suffragette and Gertrude being anti-women’s lib.
The team hence made an equal parts drink to represent the two sides of the argument, mixing Irish whiskey, a Devon apple and mint syrup and Devon Red cider to create an incredibly refreshing summer sipper chock-full of apples and mint.
‘Diversity still has a long way to go in Exeter – we’re still seeing a lot of Gertrude and not so much Eleanor and we need to re-balance,’ declared Kontorravdis.
With a nod to the links between the suffrage and temperance movements, the team also offered their apple and mint syrup with soda as a brilliant shim for those not drinking. A very clever aside.
1-2-3, from stout to tea
The London Cocktail Club mafia fielded a team to represent North and East London, and they announced their arrival to the floor by promptly wrapping the bar in crime scene tape. Trio Sam Boevey, Amber Blood and Thibaud Bichet – otherwise known as DI Boevey, Dr Blood and special detective Thibaud – welcomed the audience to the Blind Beggar pub for a police briefing following the murder of a rival gang member by Ronnie Kray.
Boevey called upon Sgt Thibaud to use ‘the art of mixology for psychological profiling’. Making a drink for the Kray twins, they took English breakfast tea syrup to represent their poor childhood; Guinness to represent them growing up; cognac for their ascendence to wealth; lemon juice (‘the entire situation leaves a very sour taste in my mouth,’ said Boevey); Cherry Heering to represent Reggie (‘cool, calm with a bite’) and finally absinthe for Ronnie (‘a psychopath’).
Served in a half-pint glass to look like stout and locked up in a metal jail/cage, it was relatively sweet, but enjoyable. ‘It really looks like stout,’ enthused Fish. Evans, meanwhile, couldn’t taste all the ingredients. ‘I could taste the cherry and bitters, but not the tea,’ he said.
A matter of maths
Drawing a line under the Shakes heats for 2018 was Team Cardiff. Pennyroyal’s Alex Taylor, Alex Mills from Lab22 and the Dead Canary’s Mark Holmes had decided to bypass the likes of Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey to pay tribute to esoteric 16th-century Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde.
As Recorde was the inventor of the equals sign, the team produced a drink of equal parts ‘because that hasn’t been done today yet’, declared Taylor with tongue firmly in cheek.
Recorde had been the controller of the Royal Mint, so Mills had decided to represent copper coins by taking Berry Brothers London Dry Gin, putting it in a copper pot still and electrifying it with an arc welder. As you do.
He’d also been comptroller of silver mines, which Holmes depicted through a silvery green tea, quince and kummel cordial, while the team bound the flavours together with Lustau Vermouth, and garnished the cocktail with pickled fennel.
The drink itself had a Fruit Pastille lolly flavour due to the fruitiness of the tea used in the drink – something that was pleasing to sip, but perhaps was a little oversweet in larger amounts.
In the end it was time that proved to be Cardiff’s undoing. Going 30 seconds over, they were docked three points, which took them out of the running.
The winning drink
Vallance & Bow
For the Kray twins, by Team North & East London
Glass: Half pint
Garnish: Little prison cell
Method: Shake & strain into ice-filled glass.
25ml English breakfast tea syrup
20ml lemon juice
10ml Cherry Heering
1d Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
As the judges retired to discuss the merits of all the entries, it was essentially between Exeter and North and East London.
‘I loved the Kray presentation, but the drink was a little sweet for me,’ said Fish, while Evans was unsure how well Exeter’s drink tied to the Acland sisters. ‘It was delicious though,’ he declared.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, North and East London just edged it through the strength of their presentation. ‘They’ll really bring the party to the main stage at Imbibe Live!’ declared Foster, with one eye firmly on the final.
So there we have it – three teams ready to face off on Tuesday 3 July at Imbibe Live. Who will win between North and East London, Edinburgh and Sheffield? Come along to find out…
While you're here…
Have you registered for the on-trade’s favourite drinks show yet? Imbibe Live is taking place on 2 and 3 July at Olympia London.
If you don't already know, Imbibe Live is the innovative and interactive annual exhibition for anyone who sources, buys or serves drinks in the licensed on-trade. From sommeliers to buyers and from managers to publicans and bartenders, this essential date in the drinks calendar will see the industry’s finest come together.
Register today: www.imbibe.com/live
We can’t wait to see you there!