After a week of inspiration and sublime surroundings, we have a winner folks. We’ll be honest though, if you’d asked us to place bets on who we thought would walk away with the top prize at the beginning of our journey, we’d have lost our money.
Sigrid Ehm from Austria was the Wild Card in every sense. She won her place in the Grande Final by submission while the other seven went through national comps. Then there was her style. All through the week she was the quiet, kooky one. Her performances in the two warm-up challenges were good but by no means perfect. Sure her drinks were more ‘out there’ than the others but there was a language barrier which sometimes meant she didn’t always express herself as fluently or possibly as confidently as she would like, often peppering her sentences with ‘ja?’ (pronounced ‘yah’) and trailing off a bit when she couldn’t find the right word.
One thing though, Ms Ehm does things her way. And she sure has imagination. Take the gin and tonic challenge from earlier in the week for instance. Here she worked in a beeswax shrub, a dash of absinthe and Creole Bitters and served her drink on a sheet of beeswax. Did she add tonic? Not a chance. For her twist on a Martini, she stirred the Star of Bombay gin with mineral water infused with salt and seaweed, then cleverly added vermouth in ice cubed form and a couple of dashes of orange bitters. As for her coupette, the inside was brushed with gold dust and honey to give it a shimmery glow, then dotted with a blue ‘sapphire’. If we’re being picky (and so we should be in a global competition), the drink wasn’t cold enough and her delivery was a little nervy. However, inventiveness-wise, she scored big time.
Sigi’s innovative way of thinking shone through again in the semis. The beeswax was present. This, she explained was to represent the connection with nature and the 10 botanicals found in Bombay Sapphire gin. She also added an earth syrup made up of water, sugar, earth and salt and infused the gin with Spanish lemons and the world’s most expensive cherries (£50 for 500g from Harrods!), to which she added Noilly Prat. It was a truly imaginative, intelligent and intriguing drink but did we think she’d be one of the three to make it through to the finals? Probably not. Shame on us. The drink was great and her presentation was endearing but to our minds, not quite winning material.
Then something magical happened in the four or five hours between the semi-finals in the intimate setting of the upscale Churchill Bar in Mayfair to the crowd-filled finals in downtown Shoreditch. Where Ran Duan from the US and Dan Berger for Team UK kept to the high standards we’d witnessed from them earlier, Sigi ramped hers up to mega.
Playing to her strengths, she amplified her quirkiness by beginning her performance with a cute salute and a sing-along-a-sigi rendition of God Save The Queen. And on she went, adding equal parts charm, humour and originality to her El Diamante cocktail. There was a confidence that hadn’t been there before, an assured delivery that showed exactly why she’d earned her place on the stage and why she was crowned Bombay Sapphire World’s Most Imaginative Bartender 2015.
“I’m still wondering if the judges made a mistake!” she laughed, once all the photographs were taken and the result had (semi) sunk in. She was joking of course. For the record, this is one clever woman. Of course, with our Leading Ladies drive, we had to ask her about being a woman in the drinks industry. “It’s exciting but for a woman in this industry you have to be more than a man; you have to work more, know more, learn more – you’ve got to earn respect from your colleagues and guests. People in the bar are sometimes shocked but always impressed that you know your stuff. I would just say don’t be shy.”
Amen to that.