The best thing about judging the UK leg of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge was having an insight into what treats lay in store for the winner. Sure all nine finalists knew that if they impressed the panel of judges (Jim Wrigley from Bourne & Hollingsworth Group, Mr Global Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell and us, fyi) they’d be jetting off to Trinidad for the Global Final but what they couldn’t possibly imagine is what that package actually entails. We know, we’ve been there.
Basking in the 30 degree Trinidad heat in February is just one part of the joy, as is the sound of steel pans and soca rhythms inviting you to ‘wind and grind’ at every opportunity. Part of the once-in-a-lifetime trip includes a tour of the Angostura distillery (with a private tour of the secret room where the world famous bitters are made), and a day ‘down de islands’. Then there’s the childlike joy of slathering yourself in mud and paint before taking to the streets on Jou’vert morning, not to mention the undeniable thrill of donning peacock-like costumes and joining the greatest party in the world, the Trinidad carnival. Plus, there’s the small matter of a mighty big cheque for a whopping US$10,000 for the winner. Oh yes, this a a pretty cool package indeed.
No surprise then that we judges were treated to some pretty tasty drinks, the brief made sure of that. Each competitor had to deliver a rum cocktail containing at least 25ml of either Angostura 1824, 1919, 7 or 5 Year Old, Reserve or White Oak expressions, and a minimum of either five healthy dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters; two dashes of Angostura orange bitters, or a combination of both. Additionally they had to create a drink using Amaro di Angostura as the hero ingredient with a minimum of two dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters or Angostura orange bitters as the supporting cast.
We tasted all manner of delicious concoctions, all perfectly in keeping with the reimagined House of Angostura interior specially installed at TT Liquor in Dalston. In the rum corner Angostura 1919 was mixed with banana falernum, coconut cream, salted pineapple juice, lime juice and one more than the requisite five dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters, courtesy of Thomas Gedney-Higham from Bibi’s Italianissimo, while Callum Neilly from The Finnieston combined it with beetroot juice, corn whiskey, Pimento Dram, salted nutmeg syrup and lime. Kevin Price Houghton from The Blind Pig took 5 Year Old and blended it with Somerset Cider Brandy, Dolin Blanc, apple cordial and Angostura aromatic and orange bitters, whereas Luca Guglielmo Tosi from Whisky Ginger took the same expression and added plum liqueur, lime juice, blackberries and basil leaves into the mix.
Ciaran Russell from The Voyage of Buck was one of three bartenders who went for 7 Year Old, adding PX sherry, lapsang souchang maple syrup, Angostura aromatic bitters and a pinch of pink salt to his cocktail; whereas Niccolo Pradella from Graphic Bar opted for Cocchi Torino, coffee liqueur, pineapple juice, saline solution and Angostura aromatic bitters for his. Lulu Fedi from The American Bar at the Gleneagles Hotel meanwhile took the 7 Year Old on the sweeter side, mixing it with lemon juice, Yellow Chartreuse, vanilla sugar syrup and Angostura orange bitters.
Last but by no means least we tasted two Angostura Reserva cocktails, one by Karl Smith from Marks Bar at Hix in Soho, using lemon and lime sherbet, citric acid, ginger ale, Angostura aromatic bitters and orange bitters, the other from Tom Kirk representing DOC Prosecco Bar. His cocktail combined vermouth, lime juice, honey syrup, pineapple, tarragon and Angostura orange bitters. The Amaro di Angostura cocktails were equally varied, ranging from recipes including oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc to another calling on Akashi Tai Yuzushu.
In the end it was Thomas Gedney-Higham who ticked all the boxes with his presentation and tickled all of the judges tastebuds with his cocktails. He’ll be jetting off to Trinidad in February to represent the UK in the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge and hopefully, pocket that US$10,000 cheque and two-year contract as Angostura Global Brand Ambassador. One thing’s for sure, he’s in for onehelluva good time.
Thomas’s Rum Cocktail – ‘Jou’vert’:
35ml Angostura 1919
25ml Banana Falernum (made with Angostura White Rum)
15ml coconut cream
6 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
25ml salted pineapple juice
5ml fresh lime juice
Thomas’s Amaro Cocktail – ‘Amargo Aromatico’:
40ml Amaro di Angostura
30ml ginger and beetroot shrub
12.5ml hazelnut liqueur
3 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters