Recently I was asked to be an expert judge on a panel adjudicating the London finals of the Wild Turkey bourbon Cocktail Competition.
The prep was easy enough, I simply read the judging criteria over and over on the competition website and pondered to myself; ‘what would I want to experience from the cocktail and mixologist of the year’.
When the day came though it was a different story.
After a short briefing from Martin Taylor, Wild Turkey’s UK brand ambassador; it was a case of getting stuck in and seeing what happened, in a good way.
In total there were fourteen competitors and each one really wanted to win.
The day started with a couple of entrants trying hard but ultimately knowing they were not getting to the final but were keen to learn and grow and come back stronger next year.
We heard embattled stories of the Wild Turkey either evading capture or being lunch fodder, along with competitors painting a picture of how the brand and company had evolved over the last two centuries.
All of which was great to hear and added to the sentiment behind each cocktail so we could have the emotive images and journeys in our heads as we focus on the resulting Wild Turkey based cocktail.
Nothing prepares you to hear the ‘gobbler’, essentially a phallic-shaped device that emits the exact gobble sound a turkey makes when shaken. Seriously.
The best, and ultimately shortlisted competitors all eluded to the background of not only the bird but the brand, and took that knowledge to the next level by creating an experience from it in cocktail form.
Be it the Kentucky Rye Chicken, the Black Turkey or Pop Goes The Turkey, all delivered on a semblance of what a Wild Turkey whiskey cocktail could be. I’ve never experienced such incredible liquids from the heat stage of a competition.
There were competitors from:
The Blind Pig
The Cocktail Trading Company
The Ace Hotel
and a couple of others.
All of which brought an increasingly dynamic and interesting element to the competition.
After four hours and a lot of sipping, sampling and suggesting, there could only be three who went through to the National Final in Manchester on the 27th of August .
All of whom took not only the liquid but the terroir of Kentucky to hand with an interesting, not so depreciating, way of communicating that took the judges on a journey instead of ‘just’ creating a fantastic drink. A point we then conveyed back to the non-shortlisted competitors afterwards, though a couple contested our decisions, the general consensus was that the right three people went through.
GreatDrams wishes the finalists Josh Reynolds, Ali Reynolds and Sam Kershaw the best in the nationals and would give this small semblance of advice; the liquid will be brilliant, that’s what you do, but the journey that emotively links Wild Turkey to provenance to liquid to glass is the story that will make or break you.
Get it right, learn it well, gobble the gobble.
This is how you will win, and remember; everyone in that room wants you to do well, they are on your side.