Naked Grouse Cocktail Competition with Martin Duffy

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One of the most knowledgeable people in the alcohol business we know, Martin runs the drinks consultancy Solid Liquids and the Scottish Bartenders Network. He has finally written a blog for us on the recent Naked Grouse Cocktail competition:
As a regular cocktail competition participant and judge, it was lovely to be asked to stand in for Mr Hoban as an Edinburgh Whisky Blog representative on the judging panel of the recent ‘Naked Grouse’ Competition, which took place in the tasting room of The Bon Vivant’s Companion in Edinburgh. Joining me on the panel were Richard Gibb from Maxxium who look after the Grouse Family of Whiskies and Amanda Humphries who is Maxxium’s ‘Mixxit Training Manager’.

First since this is the EWB I suppose I should tell you a little about the Whisky itself. The Famous Grouse should need no introduction I’m sure as its one of the biggest selling blends in the Scottish domestic market, its newer sibling The Naked Grouse is something quite special. Although it still falls into the category of Blended Scotch, on taste alone you’d be forgiven for thinking it was more likely to be a Single Malt due to its rich yet smooth character. It’s based around a higher than average component of malts which are mostly from Highland Park and Macallan and has been aged in first fill sherry casks before being bottled at 40%.

The competition was opened out to bartenders from as far north as Aberdeen and as far south as Newcastle, the challenge was to present their take on the Old-Fashioned Cocktail using Naked Grouse with a focus on the ice used, and use it they did!

First up on the bar was Dan from Orchid in Aberdeen who presented his Whisky on the side with a block of ice made from bitters and malt extract – interesting idea which was well delivered and was just the tip of the proverbial as to what else the competitors would come up with.

George from Newcastle was second and produced a drink served with an italian sangiovese syrup to boost the rich sherry notes in the Whisky which was served over a rosemany infused ball of ice. Next we had Adam who had home advantage as he works in the adjoining Bon Vivant, he had pre steeped peach slices in some Pedro Ximinez Sherry to give the sherry a delightful hit of fruit before removing the slices and dehydrating them for use as the garnish, alongside the peach sherry he used a homemade black pepper tincture which was complex without overpowering the Naked Grouse.

 

So three great drinks already in all the spectators in a relaxed mood we had what turned out to be the eventual winner on in forth, Adam Gray (Herman to his friends) from ’99 Bar in Aberdeen. He paired the Naked Grouse with a home made syrup which contained 2 different types of bitters including new ‘The Devil’s Club’ Blood Orange, vanilla pods and sherry. Called ‘The Big Yin’, it was served in a huge block of ice that had been hollowed out and was accompanied by some cheese and biscuits to three hungry judges.


There was again so much variety in the performances of the rest of the line up, Ben from Hotel Du Vin in Newcastle gave us a spicy little number then Rosie from Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms followed it up with a beautifully light Rose and Walnut concoction. Ryan Rhodes from Aberdeen’s The Tippling House had smoked his ice before cracking it into shards, TJ Littlejohn from Tonic in Edinburgh had made his ice enhanced with lavender flowers and paired the Whisky with Chai tea. Scoot from Edinburgh’s 56 North took the initiative to work with the richer coffee notes and used an espresso syrup with ice infused with vanilla before serving with creme brûlée on the side. Kieron Hall from Popolo in Newcastle used an apricot and Demerara reduction with a vanilla laced cigar on the side before last up Russell Downey from Tonic in Edinburgh served his over a nice big block of ice made from some eTeaket Chocolate Tea.

The Winner

All in all a great days and with so much thought behind each Old-Fashioned it was hard for the judges to decide but we all agreed on Herman’s effort as a winner, he’ll now go head to head against the winners from the other UK heats in the final in the summer at ‘The Boot Camp’ in Perthshire. Working out second and third was a bigger challenge as there were so many great drinks but after a bit of deliberation we all agreed on Adam from Bon Vivant in second and Ryan from The Tippling House in third but well done to all those who took part.

 

MD

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