Thursday, June 16, 2011

A World Class Hangover

Nielsen Braid making 'My High Tea' at the Time Out Shake Down
Last week was epic. I'm talking in excess of 70 cocktails in three days kind of epic. So what the hell could inspire me to get so soused? Well a couple of things actually: a) I drink for a living and b) it was a hell of a lot of fun.

You see the week gone by was no ordinary week for folk in the bar-tendering/cocktailian clique - last week hosted the Australian final for the Diageo's World Class program - a global bartending comp that's building some serious street cred on the global highway. This gruelling final was played out over three days - and I was lucky enough to be invited to judge.

L-R: Ben, Nielsen, Lee, Matteo and Max at The Time Out Shake Down
Of course you can't dive head first into a competition of this sort of leviathan nature without a little warm-up and fortunately Myffy Rigby, Time Out's Food & Drink Editor, offer me the perfect chance to limber up my one working cocktail swilling arm at the inaugural Time Out Shake Down. The event held at one of Sydney's best small bar spaces - Downtown at The Commons - tested the 10 top recipes submitted to Myffy's critical gaze over the month of May. We whittled these recipes, mighty tasty all, down to five with Matteo Fabbris (Stitch), Ben McFarlane (Rockpool Bar & Grill), Nielsen Braid, (Gardel's Bar at Porteno), Max Grecco (Eau De Vie) and Lee Potter Cavanagh (Victoria Room) making it through to the final which will be held at theloft on June 27.

After a late night feast and dominoes match at Waterloo Street's new El Capo 'Latin street food' restaurant to 'debrief' (read enjoying a couple of $11 El Dorado 15 year old rums) - I called it a night. Slipping tipsily into slumber I dreamed of the potions that would be await me over the following days (seriously I dream about cocktails - messed up eh?).

The World Class Australia finalists at Rockpool
The Australian World Class Finalists arrived from around the country and got straight to work on Monday night whilst I was losing (badly) at dominoes. They were busy taste testing dishes with Rockpool's Chef, Phil Wood, to prepare cocktails for the food matching event the following night. The judging element, however, didn't start until the Tuesday morning at Sydney's Zeta where the contestant's cocktail mastery was given a real work-out as they presented two cocktails apiece to the panel of judges.

Krystal's Ice luge did some damage at Gastro Park
Whilst there was some debate between the judges on who was standing out after this round, highlights included Krystal Hart's Tanqueray No. Ten ice luge and Martini ritual, Chris Hysted's Old Mayan with Ron Zacapa, Russian Caravan tea flavoured agave nectar, Guatemalan coffee and a bourbon, sherry and Pedro Xiemenez flavour fog and that amazing smelly French cheese and truffle honey served to us by Phil Gandevia (what was that by the way? And your drinks were cracking too!)

After working our way through 20 expertly prepared and thought-out creations we dusted our brains, revived our corpses and moseyed on down to George Street's Rockpool for the evening event. This in my mind was the most challenging aspect of the competition and whilst I did have some favourites from the evening like Dr Phil's pomegranate, gin and sherry number, having tried only five of the drinks on offer at this event it was way to hard to make a call on who might be nudging ahead.

The third and final day of my cocktail judging bender saw me judge the speed and taste round held at Victorian Room. The contestants were given a few minutes to acquaint themselves with the bar before being given an order of five drinks to knock out lickety split. This round really saw Tim Philip's from ivy's Level 6 stand-out for his slick, tidy and lightening quick performance. And while all this was going on another set of judges were testing the the competitors' knowledge of classic cocktails to put the finalists through there final set of paces before determining the winner.

Dr Phil, Tim and Macro. And yes that trophy does weigh more that Tim.
With judging over finalists, judges and the Reserve and Behind Bars teams had a brief interlude before reconvening at Roslyn Place's new Gastro Park (it's amazing - go there). Treated to a stunning meal and wine (a blessed change from cocktails) we were all able to relax - well almost. The contestants developed slightly strained smiles and acquired the odd nervous tick in the build-up to announcing the winner - who those of you in the know will know was Tim Philips - the man responsible for the development of the microwaveable Johnnie Walker Hot Toddy goon (available at all good quality liquor retailers now). Worthy of mention too are the two runners up - in 2nd Place Phil Gandevia from Eau De Vie and in 3rd place 'The Performer' Marco Nunes from Brisbane's Canvas.

Tim will now go take on the world in New Delhi. Best of luck mate!  

This post has blown out of proportion significantly, but for further reading on the World Class Australia and other stories related to this post visit:


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