The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 48

ISSUE 48

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Graham’s Blend Series Global Cocktail Competition: Year 2

ByThe Cocktail Lovers

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Who would have thought 20 or even 10 years ago that port would be used as a base for cocktails? Let alone be considered sexy and cool? The bright minds at Graham’s Port, that’s who.  Looking to the future whilst respecting the family’s past, the company had the vision to create two very special varietals – one white, Graham’s Blend Nº5; the other red, Graham’s Blend Nº12 – both made specifically for mixing.  

Liquids perfected, the next step was how best to showcase the beauty and versatility of these first-of-a-kind products. Which is where the Graham’s Blend Series cocktail competition comes in. Not wishing to blow our own trumpet but we predicted great things for this contest when it launched last year and we’re happy (some might say smug) to say that we were right. 

Exploring Porto

One year on and not only has it grown in size (from seven to 10 competitors), the level of inventiveness has gone up a notch, too. Proving that the only limit to the adaptability of the Graham’s Blends is the imagination.

Vying for the top spots were a fabulous crew of bartenders, all completely different and all showcasing completely different styles of drinks. Kicking off proceedings was Mario Gualtieri from the UK, who set the bar extremely high with his clean, crisp and uber sophisticated, ‘Unforgettable’ (Graham’s Blend Nº5, Botanist gin, plum sake, thyme syrup and rosemary bitters, topped with English sparkling wine). Citing the connection between the UK and Porto as his inspiration, his cocktail was made with hot summer days lazing in the glorious Douro Valley. Next we saw Xenne Akpotor flying the flag for the Netherlands. His sangria-style drink, ‘Holy Communion’ (Graham’s Blend Nº12, fat-washed calvados, gomme, cardamon bitters and saline solution), combined his passion for food and cocktail and the ritual of sharing bread and wine.

Yannick Seeber came third in last year’s competition and was back again representing Austria with a new creation, ‘Sol De Porto’. Combining Graham’s Blend Nº5, quince liqueur, local honey, lemons from the Douro Valley and a splash of Perrier Jouet, the drink drew on the art of winemaking, specifically made for enjoying with friends on the terrace.

Andrea Pesce from Switzerland was up next with the first stirred drink of the competition. Called ‘The Connection’ (Graham’s Blend Nº5, passion fruit, mango and tonka shrub, and apple cider vinegar), he referenced the deep bond between Porto and Brazil as the rationale behind his choice of ingredients. The result? An exotic, very quaffable serve.  Then came Antonio Rosário, from Portugal. His drink, ‘Tropicale’ (Graham’s Blend Nº12, hibiscus and guava syrup, balsamic, lime juice, saline solution, rosé Spumante), was another nod to Brazil, but here as a celebration of the Tropicale movement and deftly blending the two cultures to delicious effect in one simple but effective Collins glass.

Next came Lithunia’s Aurimas Kazulenas. Inspired by two of the world’s most popular cocktails, the Espresso and Porn Star Martinis, he took the opportunity to showcase his flare bartending skills as he created his ‘Poolside Martini’ (Graham’s Blend Nº12, blood orange juice, strawberry puree, citric blend, Campari and foaming agent). The easy-drinking, strawberry-forward concoction had crowd-pleaser written all over it.

Representing Norway, was Wilhelm Brenna with his ‘The Debt to the Grahams’. This was an opportunity to touch on the history of the brand, linking its beginnings in Scotland and on to Porto. Graham’s Blend Nº12, Lagavullin, verjus, Demerara syrup, beetroot and cocoa leaves, topped with a raspberry and chocolate air, resulted in a complex, cocktail that left a memorable impression. 

Germany’s Alina Bazen was the eighth competitor of the day with her ‘Port de Café’ (Graham’s Blend Nº12, mezcal, cold brew coffee, saline solution, agave syrup and a touch of Fernet Branca. Described as an upside down Manhattan twist, conceived to develop as it mingled in the glass, it was another bold drink that showcased the multi-faceted characteristics of Graham’s Blends.

The penultimate competitor was Saevar Ornolfsson from Iceland. His drink, ‘Branching Out’ (Graham’s Blend Nº5, calvados, green apple syrup, lemon juice and coriander) was an ode to his passion for growing and tending bonsai trees – as reflected in his choice of garnish.  

Finally, it was down to Joeri Visser from Belgium to wrap things up, which he did in fine style. Named after his father, the ‘Robbie’ (Graham’s Blend Nº5, fat-washed pisco, simple syrup, aquafaba and a Graham’s Blend Nº12 float) was more than a cocktail, it was created to raise awareness of how to respond to someone having a heart attack, like his father had experienced. And, as well as handing out a Kiss of Life gift to all of the judges, €1 from each cocktail sale (already on the menu) is donated to  a charity teaching people how to resuscitate anyone who needs help.

The three finalists

So who won? Let’s just say it was a very close call. In first place it was Alina Bazen, with Joeri Visser coming in second place and Xenne Akpotor in third.

Graham’s Blend Series – the facts

The competitors

Competitors and judges

Mario Gualtieri – 45 Park Lane, The Dorchester, London, UK
Xenne Akpotor – Ayla, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Yannik Seeber – Liquid Diary, Innsbruck, Austria
Andrea Pesce – Villa Príncipe Leopoldo, Lugano, Switzerland
António Rosário – Terraplana, Porto, Portugal
Aurimas Kazulenas – Kempinski Vilnius, Lithuania
Wilhelm Brenna – Grand Hotel Oslo, Oslo, Norway
Alina Bazen – Das Schwarz Shaf, Bamberg, Germany
Saevar Ornolfsson – Tres Locos, Reykjavik, Iceland
Joeri Visser – Belroys Cocktails, Antwerp, Belgium

The prizes

Ist: €1,000 cash prize, plus six months supply of Graham’s Blend Nº5 and Blend Nº12 for the bar
2nd: €500 cash prize, plus two cases of Graham’s Blend Nº5 and Graham’s Nº12 for the bar
3rd: €200 cash prize, plus one case of Graham’s Blend Nº5 and Graham’s Nº12 for the bar

The glassware featured

Coupe: 5
Nick & Nora: 2
Collins: 1
Rocks: 2

Number of Graham’s Blends used

Graham’s Blend Nº5: 5
Graham’s Blend Nº12: 5

The experiences

Yes, the main focus was the competition but before that, was the integral part where the bartenders got to know Porto, Graham’s, the Douro Valley and equally important, each other. 

The three-day programme was carefully put together with all of these elements in mind, commencing with a sumptuous, extremely atmospheric dinner in the cellar at Vinum at the Graham’s Lodge, followed by a day in the glorious Douro Valley at Quinta dos Malvedos. Here’s where we got to learn more about the history of the brand, see how they make the treasured liquids and taste a selection of expressions from the extensive portfolio. A boat trip took us to Quinta do Bomfim for a fabulous homestyle lunch and no sooner than we’d digested that, it was back to Porto and Terrieiro for supper.

Fully fuelled, the morning was time to head to Le Monumental Palace for the competition. Which takes us back to the beginning…

See  Instagram/grahams_port for more details

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The Cocktail Lovers

The Cocktail Lovers are Mr G and Ms S, a man and a woman who share a passion for cocktails. (We also happen to be married, so we’re cocktail lovers in more ways than one…)

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