Karine and Stephen, photographed by Beth Crockett
“It’s amazing to see the evolution of the Patrón Perfectionists competition, says Karine Tillard, Patron UK Ambassador. “To get it going in the first year I had to personally go around the country finding 10 bartenders to be in the final – now we have entries from 200-plus bartenders in the UK alone, it’s grown so fast.”
No lie. In the three years that the Patrón Perfectionists competition has been running, it’s gone from a 10-person UK-only affair with one heat at the Punch Room in London to a global comp with 17 participating markets last year. And there’s three more coming into the mix this year. What’s the draw you may ask? Well, we won’t pretend that a once in a lifetime trip to the truly breathtaking Hacienda Patrón in Mexico doesn’t help; but it’s more than that. As Karine Tillard and Patrón UK Brand Manager Stephen Batchelor explain…
How and when did the idea for Patrón Perfectionists come about?
Karine: After the first year we knew we needed to make some changes – we didn’t want it to be another competition with just another drink; we wanted to make more of a difference. So while I didn’t come up with idea for Patrón Perfectionists, I did come up with the structure of it. For me it’s really important to have some bartender love as a brand otherwise you don’t achieve anything, so one of the changes we made was to make the competition more open. We now have more heats, with more chance for everyone to participate; we’re not just selecting people because their cocktail is good. The idea of the competition is to make the bartender shine, it’s not just a case of finding a winner and that’s it – we have a relationship with them. It’s been the same with every competitor, whether they win or not.
Steve: Four years ago Patrón wanted a programme that championed the beautiful art that can go into a tequila cocktails so we could break down any misconceptions about our category. We threw out many ideas and in the end, even though it’s very tried-and-tested, a competition felt like the best way to go about it. But it had to be done differently. With our competition, not only do you have a beautiful home place for people to aim for as an end goal, we wanted to bring something a bit psychological, a bit emotional into it and we felt that perfectionism as an idea was something that we hold dear to our hearts when we’re making tequila and that perfectionist streak goes through to the bartenders – they’re detail obsessed about getting everything perfect. From its start in the UK, to its expansion to seven countries, then 18, now over 20, including the US, we’ve had incredible support.
Now we’re into year four. What do you look for in the judging process?
Karine: For me, the first thing I look for is creativity. I don’t go for crazy garnishes or anything, I’m looking for balance. Simplicity is key.
What about the character the bartender?
Karine: We’ve been lucky in the UK. We’ve had Dean Shury, Mike McGinty and Greg Almeida in the past three years and they’re all absolute perfectionists without being arrogant. I couldn’t ask for better people.
Did you think Patrón Perfectionists cocktail competition would grow so rapidly?
Steve: The fact that we’ve struck gold with everyone including supporters of the brand, the leadership team coming out of America, our customers and media is testament to how beautiful this brand and this competition is.
There are not shortage of comps out there, how do you make this one something bartenders want to part of?
Karine: It’s very difficult and you have to chase bartenders to make sure they get everything in on time but the prize is a lifetime experience. We play a video on our social media channels that shows the week the finalists have in Guadalajara – you can’t buy that. And it’s not that we just give the winners a trip and that’s that; it’s an ongoing relationship – you pretty much get a job with Patrón, our previous winners keep working with the brand.
How does the success of Patrón Perfectionists make you feel?
Steve: There’s a real sense of pride and it’s good to see that people are not just thinking about Patrón as a tequila, but tequila as a category. It’s a real platform for top-end mixing and ideas. It feels surreal sometimes, seeing how other countries take a twist on the same idea but make it their own. The UK still has some of the best numbers but in terms of presentation, everyone is shining.
Is it a competition you would have liked to enter as a bartender?
Karine: Definitely. I love the fact that it gives you a lot of space for creativity.
What are you looking forward to this year?
Steve: I’m looking forward to seeing how the UK can do something even more beautiful than before, we really want to add an extra twist and make this year the most exciting one possible. I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution of what comes through the door in terms of entries – it evolves every single time and it will be no easier to sit through 200 plus cocktails than it’s been in previous years. The games steps up every year.
I’m also looking forward to seeing what the US does as this will be the first time they’ve been in the competition.
What’s the best thing that’s happened in the three years that the competition has been running?
Karine: I’m proud that it started in the UK. It’s a fast-growing competition and it’s very successful – as soon as it finishes, I have people contacting me asking me how they can enter. And it’s not just by bartenders in the UK – I get approached by people in lots of different markets and I’ll point them in the right direction.
There was a bit of hustling on my part for the first competition – we had 182 entries and I probably did 95% of them but I do think the personal touch worked. I spent days talking to people I thought were worth it, people that no other brands approached. I’m really proud of the fact that we’re giving people a chance to shine.
Why should people enter?
Steve: You’ll get to be fourth in the line of winners whose careers have changed for the better. If you share the view that tequila cocktails can be made beautifully and creatively, if you want to immerse yourself in the most gorgeous provenance you can have for a category, earn themselves a trip of a lifetime and the chance to have a partnership to help everyone, then this is the competition for you.