Ladies and gentlemen - please forgive my even more perplexed writing style to the usual mess. I will cover the reason in a later post [for those who care - for those who don't care: don't you worry].
I was proudly appointed as one of the blind tasting judges in the Monin competition yesterday. It happened in the popular Bahri Bar in Madinat Jumeirah - and it was a full day of tasting [but not drinking].
One of the very unique things [for the UAE], what happened was, that representatives of both main liquor supplier, African & Eastern and MMi - were sitting on one table [they usually even don't like to share the side of the street]. Truth has to be told - Becky and Richard are both Trainers and Specialists of the respective company - and those are the most open minded and easy going personalities around. Despite of the "heft" of the competition and the fact, that both alcohol brands were represented, I haven't seen more known faces of those company. Change is happening slowly.
I won't write about the whole experience of the competition and all - simply as we as taste judges, were tucked away in another restaurant, without the whole shebang which happened in the bar.
The unique experience I made was, that I was not by far the most opinionated taster of panel. I was astounded that Becky and Richard both had very strong opinions about quality of the drinks and rated quite harsh - not that I would object - but I had the feeling, that most judges are always soft spoken, inconsequent and prone to fru-fru drinks. And this was simply not the case.
To unfold it upfront - at the end, I was the most opinionated commentator at the end of the competition - and the others were more diplomatic and encouraging. However this was due to the different perspectives - I really felt, that the participants [and all others] would need to understand, that they are not by far there, where they should be. Becky and Richard thought, that it is more important, to encourage and keep the motivation of the bartenders. There is no right or wrong in this- these are just opinions. But I speak out, what I think and believe, that this works just fine.
Every of the 15 participants had to do one alcoholic and one alcohol-free drink [mocktail].
I have attempted to make pictures of all drinks and cover it better, but it was simply not possible - we had to judge, to discuss drinks - there was no time to make pretty pictures - at the end I only did 4 or 5 pictures - and 3 where coming out ok...
As it is almost impossible to cover all drinks, the whole chronological order and all - I am bullet pointing the major [and sometimes epic] points of the drinks:
- Sweetness: All drinks were far too sweet. It was a syrup competition, but that doesn't mean, that you have to make it super sweet.
- Balance: Nobody really understood balance. Most drinks are a play between sweet and sour, with some bitter, sometimes salty or savory elements to it. Like covered in previous point, the drinks were too sweet, didn't really added enough acidity and most [due to the generous use of syrups and sweetened purees] were too concentrated.
- Spirit Forward: There were only a couple of cocktails, which were alcohol centric. Classic cocktails are spirit forward; and they are just the concoctions, which are in everybody's mouth. The participants seemed not to understand this fact.
- Garnishes: A drink should be decorated with an unique garnish, which is edible, fresh, authentic, relevant, meticulously presented. The garnishes we have seen were often old and slightly dried, not relevant, and prepared very heavy handed. Some of the drinks just featured inedible elements [like stones] within the presentation [which also featured edible items] - e.g. one drink was presented on a plate with loose stones upon it, but also some almonds scattered over it. Another drink was featuring one melon decorated with gold leaves [no problem there] and star anise [problem there...]. When I compare this competition with the ones in Germany, when I was still working there: the cocktails are not particularly worse [well truth has to be told: Germany evolved very much in the last years and it is a concern, that the cocktails here are on the stand of European cocktails 10 years ago] - but the garnishes were always almost too complex, small works of art. This is a big deal breaker here...
- Type of glass: Almost everyone seemed to love the cocktail glass [your typical martini glass], but nobody seemed to used a thought, if these glasses are adequate. Juice heavy drinks are long drinks - hence they should not be presented in stemmed cocktail glass [nor in a coup].
- Character: This goes along with the "spirit forward" point. We had only one drink which played with the aroma-spectrum of the spirit. In most alcoholic drinks, the character of the spirit was totally hidden. Other ingredients, should modify but never cover up the character of the distillate.
- Being contemporary: C'mon - muddling should be a thing of the past [except of very few classics]. There are so many ways, how to prepare and flavor your drink - muddling should not be the one fits it all fix!
- Being smart: Check your ingredients, before you use it. In the competition one participant used a peach which was totally brown [I guess, that the peach was not good - this has nothing to do of oxidation] - this is a very poor performance. But others used branded glassware [of their bar] - in a competition??? And by the way guys [you know who you are]: your drinks were the worst of the competition! You really didn't brought pride to your [US chain] company!
- Understanding ingredients: This was a big topic. There was definitely a lack of knowledge about ingredients, not only of distillates, of the syrups [e.g. their sweetness] but also of produce [one prime example was the use of kaffir lime, which some muddled, resulting an overly unpleasant bitterness].
- Simplicity: All "grand classics" are rather simple recipes. The characters can be complex [due to the well chosen ingredients], but never confusing. The drinks in the competition were almost all confusing. Too many ingredients, too many clashing nuances. Not one of the drinks had the potential to become a modern classic [or at least be recognized by other bars and get on the regional menus] - not by far. Only a few, could come close to this - with a little bit tweaking.
The finalist needed to use Tanqueray classic or Russian Standard [why vodka- we had anyway far too much vodka in the drinks!] and could also use any given items.
The winner Guilherme was actually the best, adapting in the last heat. It also seemed, that he was [of all finalist] the one, who was involved with the creation of his drink the most. It is just a feeling, but it seemed that the others, had with their drink a lot of help of their supporters [in their respective bar] - at their final drink was definitely worse and less inventive than their original drink.
Guilherme even produced a better drink, than his previous offerings - which is especially impressive, if you have the pressure of the finals. Still the drink was too sweet.
I had a great insight, when Becky, Richard and me discussed about the possible reasons, why the bartenders showed a pretty poor performance:
Bartenders [here] don't drink right!
Out of my conversations with my bar guys, but also others, their facebook pictures, their recommendations in the bars, there is one thing, which sticks out [and it is strange, that it never stroke me before]: this guys are going out and drinking their Jack & Cokes, their awful Bullfrogs and not much better Long Island Iced Teas. And they are drinking other sickly sweet drinks.
Nobody seems to drink proper and classic cocktails. And this would be so important. If you are doing training sessions and tastings, everyone is only trying with a straw [which doesn't usually make a lot of sense] - and don't have the full experience of the drink. If you don't know, what good drinks are all about, you might also not be able to create a new good drink!
This is about it. I hope, that I didn't pulled somebodies leg too much! But it is all about experience and I hope, if the guys who read this, competing again, they will be much better [well hope dies at last].