Updated: Mar 29
There is something particularly magical about Ireland & the Irish people, something you try to out your finger on when you meet them for a pint or laugh at their in-jokes you don't understand. It's only when you finally actually properly visit Ireland & find the Irish in their natural habitat that somewhere deep down inside you wish you were a little Irish too...
So thats what happened when over 102 bartenders from over 27 countries flew into Ireland for the annual Jameson Barrelmen's Homecoming. Just a friendly visit to the home of Jameson at the Midleton Distillery in Cork County, lots of knowledge bombs & a "little" competition to find the next mixmaster champion! Truth be told we really didn't know what to expect as we'd never worked with the whiskey before but oh were we in for a treat...
The first day was a tour of the beast that is the Midleton Distillery itself with all its historical buildings, warehouses, gran storage, malt houses & many pretty, pretty pot stills but you can read all about that here. This allowed all the contestants to start rubbing shoulders with each other, for old healthy rivalries(Ireland & England) to exchange chants & for old friends(all of the Scandinavian region) to exchange a couple of drops of Jameson.
We dined in the old warehouse on the grounds of the distillery itself, sat across long tables as one family where different cultures intertwined, toasts to one another called out proudly each trying to outshine the other. Those not competing tomorrow in the bartending competition were competing today in what is the battle of the most charismatic.
Although many fought hard into the night in order to avoid the following day it had to come one way or another for both contestant as well as the supporting team. Before the warriors of the day stepped onto the battlefield there were a team of experts on hand to educate all of us unruly lot. Inspired by the movement of foraging, urban-farming, localisation & going back to Mother Nature was fantastic workshop from Oisin Davis.
Himself & a local botanist was at hand to take us through some of the common flora growing in Ireland. There was lemon verbena, hybrids of mint & even purple basil as well as cocktails on hand with every plant to showcase their potential in mixed drinks. From discussion with regards to cultivation, upkeep & perfect growing conditions including storied history about every flower, leaf & root. It's actually quite inspiring considering how much time we spend online, in markets & speciality shops looking for the next "wow" ingredient or spice when such magnificent things can be easily grown in our gardens or windowsills.
Next expert in the spotlight was none other than Elliot Ball of the Cocktail Trading Company in London, dubbed the "Master of Creativity" by the hostess with the mostess of the night he would tackle the difficult subject of running a cocktail bar in one of the cocktail capitols of the world - London. There were regaled tales of serving drinks in snow-globes, ceramic well boots, garnishing with pages from the 50 Shades of Grey novel or with hidden black dildos.
We decided to dub him "Cocktail Jesus" - this was not because of his long hair & beard but rather by the message he was trying to bring across to the room - that cocktails must be able to connect with their guests & that failing to do so we fail as an industry. We also fail as a business as potential revenue is lost when our guests have no bloody idea what they're drinking or why. Preach to the creative one...
Shortly after we were treated to a unique workshop about the history of the ancient art of the Cooper - from the tools of the trade perfected hundred of years ago to the story of the wood that goes into making the Jameson whiskies. The master Cooper broke down a barrel right in front of us & put it back together again with what can only be described as the world hardest rubiks cube puzzle. Every stave being different & every groove in the wood bent in weird ways it would take a very keen eye to put it all together again from a pile. A master at work.
After all the education was truly done & dusted it was definitely competition time as all the competitors were ushered into the same warehouse that housed the previous nights festivities. This time it had been remodelled as the arena for them to present themselves, their drink & tell their story.
This year concept was: Taste That’s Why
- A Jameson drink inspired by the tastes from your local city or country
Base of drink min 35ml of Jameson Original, Caskmates, Black Barrel or Crested
1 drink or as many as the time/serve allows
3 minutes to make & present drink
Taste & aroma
There were many intense costumes, vessels & drinks on display with many of the bartenders going well above & beyond the call of duty.
That being said though there can only be 1 champion per year & we didn't get to taste all of the drinks on the day of the competition as we'd probably die from the hangover. So the difficult task of choosing the top 8 of the evening came to the judging panel:
Oisin Davis, international drinks consultant for Jameson
Elliot Ball, Bar Owner at the Cocktail Trading Co., London
Billy Leighton, Master Blender, Jameson
Barbora TAPUŠÍKOV, Barrelmen’s Homecoming 2017 winner
One of the best aspects of the entire event is that were always kept on our toes by the people at Jameson. When you're herding bartenders it can be worse than herding cats & its especially difficult to keep their attention to one place or another. At this event we didn't even notice who the missing 8 finalists were as over 200 people were in attendance to attend the final in the distillery. A new part of the distillery was opened, we were ushered in, the finalists ran onto the stage & the clock counted down from 7 minutes...
I've never before felt such an energy from a crowd during a competition, whether it was the English support squad in Hogwarts Hufflepuff t-shirts to the universal support of the charismatic Korean champion who spoke practically little to no English but made up with raw energy.
BUT WHO WON?
It was almost impossible to tell who'd be crowned the king of the castle as all finalists made the time limit with minutes to spare. Spare us the sad & serious faces because the winner was...
THE FOGGY DEW
2oz/60ml Jameson Black Barrel,
2 Dashes Green Chartreuse,
4oz/120ml McIntosh Apple Juice,
5oz/15ml Appalaches Birch Syrup,
EffetVertSens Sparkling Balsam Fir Water
A straightforward, humble bartender from North of the wall (???) with a drink served in customised chalices made to represent the Jameson heritage. A drink refreshing & delicious giving tribute to the character of the Jameson Black Barrel. It was a huge hats off to the man of the hour & also big shout out to the runners up in the wild race:
#2: William Meredith, Dandelyan, London, UK
#3: Mattia Cilia, SCJAMPAGNE, Italy
From the bottom of our hearts here at Cocktails For You we'd like to thank Jameson for sharing with us their annual Barrelmen's Homecoming. The laughter, the jokes, the new friends & making us feel part of the big Irish family.