In this world of mind boggling wizardry with drinks, it takes a helluva lot to come up with something that makes a lasting impression in a cocktail comp; something that stands out from the crowd. Kat Stanley-Whyte’s entry for this year’s PATRÓN Perfectionists Cocktail Competition has done just that.
Inspired by the uncertainty and challenges that we’ve all faced in the past 18 months, her winning cocktail was created to capture how we’ve felt as we slowly transition to being able to be around family and friends, host weddings and escape for much needed breaks. Her answer, in liquid from, is a gorgeous sangria-style drink designed to be served straight from the box.
But it isn’t a gimmick. As Kat explains: “Escape the Box is more than just a bag-in-box cocktail, it has the ability to connect a community which has gone through some difficult struggles and allow a chance to relax, to escape the box we’ve confined ourselves in and move forward in celebration.”
Creatively reworking the striking PATRÓN Tequila packaging, Kat’s serve was presented in one of the outer cartons that would otherwise have gone to waste. And just when you thought that she couldn’t tick any more boxes (pun very much intended), she kept the community theme going by teaming up with Joseph Malik, a local musician and singer, to include his latest release which could be accessed via a QR code.
Such a great entry, such a worthy winner, we couldn’t wait to find out more.
First question, who is Kat Stanley-Whyte?
I’m a military brat in a way. My dad was in the navy so we had the opportunity to move across the world with his job, which was fantastic as I was introduced to different cultures, foods, experiences from young age.
I used to be a sailor for Team GB. From the age of 10 to 18, I used to sail for Great Britain and as a result, I did a lot of yacht work in the Caribbean. In the summers I used to fly off to teach kids how to sail yachts and work onboard rich people’s yachts.
My whole career was looking like it was going to be sailing until I went travelling to Australia during my gap year. Initially I went out there as a sailing coach but when the season finished I was out of a job and ended up working as a bartender in the hostel I was staying in. Immediately fell in love with it and got the hospitality bug.
When and why did you make bartending your career?
When I started working at The Basement Bar in Edinburgh. It was part of Signature Pubs Group and my GM at the time Alex Duncan, took me under his wing and gave me lots of encouragement. I started as a waitress and eventually moved towards the bar. He was the one who got me into tequila, encouraging me to attend trainings and learning about the spirits I was working with. His support really made a difference, it made me realise that this was more than the fun side of my life, it was a career I could be proud of and enjoy as well. Under his guidance I went from Junior Manager to GM within a year and I running a bar at 24 years old.
Did this competitive side manifest in your work?
Oh yes! My dad grew me up to be competitive and I definitely carried that into my work. Once I made the decision this was what I wanted to do, I threw myself into it 100%.
You’re clearly very driven, does that come from your sports background?
At Signature Pubs, you’re pitched against the other venues in the group, so I was always trying to come up with new ideas to push the boundaries of what a corporate venue would look like. I tried to make our bar as individual as possible – in fact, some people didn’t realise we were part of a bigger company. I also wanted to strive in the cocktail area so I pushed my team to enter the cocktail competitions, but as GM I didn’t have time to enter them myself. Over time I realised that I loved being part of those competitions, meeting people and that side of the industry. After a while I moved to Uno Mas where I am GM but entering competitions as well.
Describe your drinks making style?
I love classics but I like to get creative with the ingredients within them, particularly when it comes to infusions and playing with the palate. Food pairings have really made a big difference in my style recently. During lockdown I had access to the kitchen so I took inspiration from my favourite foods and included them in cocktails.
You’re quite the agave fan, what is it about the category that resonates with you?
I love the family aspect. I remember one of my first tequila tastings was with tequila expert Megs Miller – the way she talked about agave and her travels completely blew me away and my passion grew from there. I’m also obsessed with Mexican culture.
Tell us about your entry for this year’s PATRÓN Perfectionists cocktail competition. What came first, the drink or the concept?
The concept, definitely. The focus on the consumer changed how I approached entering PATRÓN Perfectionists from previous years. Before it was about creating the flavours and building from there but, this year, I really felt I had to connect with consumers, I had to think about my concept first and how I was going to present it in a way that delivered something that was new and exciting – something people hadn’t seen before, but also something they could potentially interact with.
We came up with this box idea and I wanted to introduce some kind of sharing element. Obviously with quarantine and Covid, sharing is difficult in a manner that’s considered safe so I took all of those elements into consideration and the bag-in-box idea spurred the flavours that would go in it.
Concept nailed, how did you approach the flavour?
I chose PATRÓN Reposado for its delicious oaky characteristics and used it as a base to create a Sangria-style drink, something fruity and familiar to change people’s perceptions of tequila and get them to realise just how versatile the spirit can be.
Wine was definitely one of the flavours I wanted in my drink. As a child, we spent a lot of time travelling and visiting vineyards and as a result, I knew that I wanted to use a gorgeous French Malbec to pair with the caramel notes in PATRÓN Reposado.
How long did it take to ‘nail’ the entire concept?
About six months.
When did you know that you’d ‘got it’?
When Joseph Malik’s record company confirmed that I could use his track as part of my presentation. The song, ‘I Quit My 9 to 5’ tied in really well with my whole concept. Without it I would have felt that it was missing something.
What was your favourite part of the competition?
The viewing party where the Top 10 UK PATRÓN Perfectionists came together to watch our presentations and hear the results (above). Having spoken to everyone via Instagram over the past few months, we all got to know each other really well but to be able to connect and see everyone in person was absolutely unbelievable. Being able to share the evening with my fellow competitors made everything magical.
What were the benefits of presenting your cocktail in a virtual format?
I find it really awkward talking straight to camera when there’s no crowd or judge presence to riff off and I must say, I was more nervous about being able to connect my story through the camera. However, being able to style the stage and bring the concept to life and showcase the artistic side in that way was pretty magical.
Other than winning, are you proudest about with your entry?
Getting it delivered on time!
What are you most looking forward to at Hacienda PATRÓN in Mexico?
Meeting the families, the people behind the bottle and meeting and making a connection with the other bartenders from around the world. It’ll be my first time in Mexico and to be able to experience it with one of the biggest brands in the world is unbelievable.
Kat’s winning cocktail
ESCAPE THE BOX
35ml PATRÓN Reposado tequila
20ml Creme De Framboise
20ml Raspberry syrup
50ml French Malbec
1ml (2 drops) saline solution (4:1)
Fresh raspberries (garnish)
Demerara sugar (garnish)
Pour from Bag in Box over cubed ice in wine glass (125ml per serve). Open lid of re-used PATRÓN Packing Box to find Caramelised Tequila Raspberries.
Enjoy garnish on the side or consumer has the option to add it to the drink
If box is unavailable, build all ingredients in glass with cubed ice and stir. Add garnish.
Infuse fresh raspberries in 10ml PATRÓN Reposado for 45 minutes. Remove the raspberries and place in the freezer for 2-3hrs. Roll the raspberries in the raspberry syrup followed by rolling them in Demerara sugar.
Very carefully using a blowtorch and PATRÓN stirrer/cocktail pick, caramelise the sugar until all the fruit is covered, place on greaseproof paper and place in the fridge for an additional 2-3 hours for caramel to set. Place the caramelised tequila raspberries in Escape the Box wrapping and add to top of Bag in Box or store in fridge.
Congratulations to the remaining nine competitors
Benjamin Shelmerdine from Filthy XIII; Danny McManus from The Gate; Ellie Raeside from Tonic Bar; La’Mel Clarke from Lyaness; Liam Scott from The Corinthian Club; Morgana Toro from Artesian Bar; Stefan Oancea from the London Cocktail Club Shoreditch; Tiegan King from Babel Belfast; Yannis Heracleous from Hawksmoor Spitalfields.