After two and a half days of challenges set in the picturesque home of Diageo, in Speyside’s Drummuir Castle, Hawksmoor Spitalfields’ Ali Reynolds has been named winner of World Class GB 2015.
‘It’s still slowly sinking in,’ Reynolds told Imbibe after his win. ‘I don’t know which of the excitement or the nerves is outweighing the other.’
The 10 finalists were judged over the course of two and a half days on three challenges.
The first, Ground to Glass, was the only surprise round in the final. After lunch, competitors were tasked with creating two cocktails to pair with each of the two dishes they’d had. They had to use foraged ingredients, picked that morning with forager Mark Williams within 200m from Drummuir Castle.
Diageo senior Reserve brand ambassador Daniel Dove told the competitors that this was the round he was most excited about. ‘I think food pairing is the future of bartending. It’s not a trend that’s going to die any time soon. Hopefully we’ve got some ingredients in there you’ve not tried before. This is a good exercise to test your palate and knowledge of flavour balance.’
‘Foraging takes things back to basics,’ added judge Lee Westcott, chef at east London restaurant Typing Room. ‘If you don’t know an ingredient, maybe don’t be too hasty to use it,’ he advised.
Some of the ingredients foraged included sweet cicely, burdock root, tansy, spruce tips and blackcurrant leaves. Competitors had an hour to create their two drinks, before being given 10 minutes to present them in front of the judges – Ryan Chetiyawardana, Dan Dove, Lee Westcott and World Class GB 2014 winner James Fowler.
They were judged specifically on the look, aroma, taste and ‘elevation of spirit’ of their individual drinks, and overall on creativity, presentation, their food pairing and the preparation of their drink.
The second challenge, called Deconstruct/Reconstruct, was akin to a blending competition. Competitors were given eight whiskies to identify – that they had been made aware of ahead of the competition to practise – along with a blend specially created for the competition by Johnnie Walker master distiller Jim Beveridge. They then had to pick out the six used in the blend, and at which percentage, before placing the blend on a flavour wheel.
This was possibly the trickiest of the three, with even judges doubting they’d be able to successfully complete it.
‘The hardest challenge, beside waking up at 6:30 in the morning, was for me probably the blending round,’ said Reynolds. ‘It’s something I’ve done before but always second guess myself on. It’s literally down to perception: there’s nothing you can do to correct yourself. Everything else [apart from the blending]was very much just being presentable and using what you do every day.’
Finally, in the signature serve challenge, all candidates presented two drinks to judges Ryan Chetiyawardana, James Fowler, Andrea Montague and Stephen Martin. The first had to represent themselves and their bartending story, and the other their venue or the venue they’d like to own.
‘Being pushed this high by a competition alone and being surrounded by nine other people this talented — I don’t know how you pick the winner out of 10 like that. I’m so, so happy,’ said Reynolds. ‘You feel much more confident going into the challenges knowing that there’s nine other people in the room that do the same job as you do but are here for you as well.
‘The best bar teams in the world are the ones that actually help each other out. There’s so much help that comes from the team I have. Every drink I’ve made for this has gone through their hands and I’ve taken their feedback on board.
Reynolds wins a £10,000 marketing budget to be spent by him and his bar to create and promote a World Class serve, and he will of course also go on to the global final in Cape Town to represent the UK.
‘I’m super excited about the global final,’ added Reynolds. ‘It’ll be a whole new level of testing but I cannot wait.’