Naked Grouse Bootcamp – The Final

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Our good friend and bartender extraordinaire, Martin Duffy, reports on the final of the Naked Grouse cocktail competition held recently at The Famous Grouse Experience.

After a UK wide competition in five different cities, only the best from each heat could make it to the Naked Grouse ‘Bootcamp’ held recently at The Famous Grouse’s spiritual home in Crieff.

The six finalists were:
Luke Pearson – Lost & Found, Birmingham
Rosie Paterson – The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Adam Gray – ’99 Bar & Kitchen, Aberdeen
Jon Lister – PURL, London
James ‘Gent’ Bridges – Freelance, Bristol
Niall McGloin – Smokestack, Leeds

The panel of judges consisted of:
Amanda Humphrey – Mixxit Trainer at Maxxium
Michael Green – Brands Development Manager at Maxxium
Martin Duffy – Solid Liquids/Scottish Bartenders Network (on behalf of EWB)

We all arrived at lunchtime on a glorious sunny Monday to ‘The Famous Grouse Experience’ at the Glenturret distillery (well, apart from Adam who had a whirlwind train ride around Scotland first!) and were treated to lunch first. Once all the introductions were made it was time to head up a winding single track road to the beautiful Loch Turret high above to the venue for the final; ‘The Boathouse’.

The beautiful Loch Turret

The challenge was the same as in the heats; to use the Naked Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky to create an old fashioned style cocktail which utilised ice in a clever and modern way. The Naked Grouse is a combination of Macallan and Highland Park whiskies which have been quite heavily sherry casked to create a deep and rich blend. The ‘Old-Fashioned’ cocktail in itself is an effigy of simplicity – spirit, sugar and bitters all stirred over ice with a peel of citrus zested over the top; the ice of course in this case being the subject of innovation.

The first to take to the beautiful bar carved from driftwood inside the Boathouse was Luke from Birmingham with his ‘Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover’ which was a marriage of Naked Grouse, black walnut bitters, sugar syrup made from caramelising a sugar cone on the bar top and served over ‘Reversed Osmosis’ ice with a twist of orange and an accompaniment of champagne pate.

Next up was Edinburgh girl Rosie who served us ‘The Fashionable Summer’, her ice was prepared fittingly with rosewater. She had created a sugar syrup using walnut wine and brown sugar, stirred that along with the Naked Grouse over the rosewater cubes and then served it over a rosewater ice ball to create a light and floral drink which suited the weather perfectly.

Aberdeen’s Adam Gray then took to the bar to prepare ‘The Big Yin’. He had carefully created a huge ice bowl and served it in a coal bucket. The drink itself used a syrup which had been made with a combination of Tio Pepe sherry, Angostura bitters and blood orange bitters from fellow Aberdonian Jody Buchan’s new company ‘The Devil’s Club’ – all together they combined cleverly with the Naked Grouse and Adam’s big serve impressed the judges with bonus points noted for the side of cheese and biscuits…

Clockwise from top left: ‘The Fashionable Summer’, ‘The Big Yin’, ‘Please No More Snow’, and The Gent.

Acclaimed drinks maker Jon Lister from London’s famous PURL took calmly to the bar next and presented his ‘Please No More Snow’ serve. His intricate serve comprised of (from L-R): Naked Grouse and a damson jam and nettle cordial syrup mixture served in a small carafe coated in ice, Cocchi Americano made into a sorbet with liquid nitrogen and then an ice ball. The final serve came when the first two were served over the latter. The amount of thought that had went into all elements, combined with a strong display of his knowledge of the company and Grouse family of brands made everyone present applaud him.

Scottish born American and now Bristol resident ‘The Gent’ (otherwise known as James Bridges) had unfortunately lost his ice to some customs officials at the airport – not to fear, Mr Lister stepped in with a spare ice ball and the show carried on! His cocktail was entitled ‘Old Smokey’ and paired his homemade ‘Rock, Rye and Raisin’ bitters with oak smoked peach syrup and a gentleman’s measure of Naked Grouse.

Lastly it was the turn of Niall McGloin from Leeds to present his ‘Smoking Gun’. He had used the ice cube to make an Angostura bitters infused ice bowl in which he stirred together Naked Grouse with syrup and orange bitters which had been smoked with oak chips.

After watching the performances which had seen this set of six strong contestants claiming their place at the ‘Bootcamp’ against more than one hundred bartenders from all over the country, the judges were given time to have dinner and discuss who would be awarded the title of ‘Naked Grouse Champion 2013’. It was a close decision between James ‘The Gent’ Bridges and Jon Lister but after a long discussion we felt that Jon had earned it – especially due to his display of sportsmanship in giving James the ice and he was announced the victor. The evening carried on with a moonlight walk around the loch, a spot of rowing and fishing (mostly rowing) in the morning and a tour of the Glenturret Distillery before we all set off for home as rich as Naked Grouse after the experience!

I must say a massive thank you to The Big Partnership for taking care of all the arrangements and planning, to the team at Grouse/Maxxium for sponsoring and for being such kind hosts and lastly to Chris and the team at Edinburgh Whisky Blog for getting me involved.

Martin Duffy

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