We’ve often said that gin as a category has greatly benefited from the continued interest in cocktails. When cocktail culture is strong, so too is the public’s love affair with gin.
It is because of this that we’ve always been interested in distillery’s hosting their own cocktail competitions. In doing so, they promote each others craft and when centered around a gin’s personality, the results are almost always inspiring and downright tasty concoctions.
This was certainly the case for Shortcross Gin’s Signature serve competition held in Belfast in May. Eight finalists shook, stirred, strained and served their way through the evening, each presenting their ultimate cocktail to harness the inherent flavours of the Northern Irish craft gin. With hundreds of guests watching on from around the bar and having already made their way through various heats to make it to the finals, the stakes were high. Bartender competitions don’t happen often on this scale in Belfast. Incidentally, given the calibre of bartender competing on the night and the passion they all have for the industry, it’s a mystery as to why there are so few distilleries who are actively creating inroads there.
Whilst there could only be one winner, three serves captured our attention as not only were they cocktails that would be best sellers on bar menus, each made the most of a different yet unique part of Shortcross Gin‘s flavour profile. At their best, Signature Serves are a perfect balance of bartender ingenuity in creating an innovative cocktail that works harmoniously, combined with an ability to convey the base gin’s personality. They need to accentuate inherent flavours while also telling a story about where or how the base spirit is made; the signature part of the title gives this clue away. They are tailored to the gin they are made with.
The winning drink –
Combining effortless presentation with a nuanced flavour journey, Micheal Brown from the Merchant Hotel created a cracker of a cocktail.
9 Hour Bill
Chill glassware by adding ice. Add all ingredients to shaker and dry shake to incorporate egg white. Add ice and shake hard. Empty ice from your glass and fine strain your drink.
Serve with an orange twist.
Harnessing the orange and citrussy aspects of Shortcross with impeccable poise – the 9 Hour Bill has a certain delicacy. It’s bright and refreshing but manages to also remain complex (with the depth of flavour provided by the Campari and the sherbet as opposed to just using sugar syrup). Best of all, with a bit of time, it’s easy to make for those at home too!
To make the citrus sherbet zest 2 oranges, 2 grapefruits and 4 lemons, and macerate the zest in 400 grams of caster sugar for 2 hours. Add this to the strained juice of the zested fruit along with 100 ml of water and cook on the lowest heat possible for 4 hours. Allow to cool, pass through a fine sieve and bottle.
The runner up – Jack Pendleton
Slightly bitter drinks have been steadily rising up in popularity for the past 18 months. No longer reserved to Negroni’s and the Aperol Spritz, the trend for cocktails to have a bitter edge has become more widespread across cocktail menus. This one however, is a cocktail that has additional depth by adding fresh ginger.
Flash shake ingredients with ice and then strain over cracked dry ice in a copper cup. Serve with an 8″ straw and garnish with blood orange and lemon coils, around mint and elderflower sprigs.
Missing out on the winning place by a whisper, the Rademon Cup is a belter and one we have already recreated on multiple occasions. While there were three judges on the night, each with their own reasons for choosing one cocktail over another as their winner, the overall consensus was that it missed out because the spirit this cocktails makes shine, is as much the Campari as it is Shortcross Gin. The blood orange accentuates the bitter orange note in Campari to perfection. In some ways it’s all the better for doing so and arguably, has a more complicated flavour as a result – but in an incredibly tight competition this most minute of margins made the difference on a night that was about accentuating the gin.
The fresh ginger adds a piquancy that lengthens the finish too. If you like your cocktails full with flavour and to pack a punch, this is a must try. It’s balanced yet complicated.
Our personal favourite – Created by Chris Boyd from Hadskis
This cocktail isn’t just impressive in the way that it combines two flavours most would assume wouldn’t work together, it also has a depth of flavour and a visually impressive ensemble. It was a favourite for us as, on paper, this didn’t sound like the kind of drink we’d look forward to. However, the result is simply amazing. For those who like Clover Clubs, this is a drink for you.
Just like the classic cocktail, the rich mouthfeel and deep blueberry has you feeling fulfilled yet the gin and rosemary backbone brings it back from the edge of sickly sweet and adds a length of finish.
Blueberry, Rosemary and Gin Sour
Muddle fresh blueberries in Boston tin add lemon juice, rosemary syrup, Shortcross Gin and egg white then dry shake. Add ice and shake for 15-20 seconds then double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a rosemary sprig with 3 blueberries on the end.
The rosemary sprig planted into a blueberry isn’t just a pretty garnish either. The aroma of rosemary leads you into the cocktail, which is then sweet and fruity to taste. It brings out the unique piney juniper and elderberry mix inherent in the gin, not by replicating the two ingredients but by adding depth to each with complimentary flavours.
In the context of a competition how reflective a drink is of the gin it was created for, this cocktail is very well considered. It took the botanicals that are unusual in Shortcross and enhanced them. Moreover, it feels like it’s the brainchild of a long ramble around the Rademon estate. Sweet, luscious and in full of character- just like the grounds that surround the distillery.
We’re not usually fans of fruity and sweeter cocktails but this is one of the few which made our shortlist and that is the exception to the rule!
Congratulations to all those who competed on the night and to Micheal Brown for winning. Our congratulations to the Shortcross Gin team as well, that was quite a way to celebrate a 1st birthday. If anything, the competition served as a timely reminder that the level of cocktails being made throughout the UK and Ireland has come on leaps and bounds. We are long past the days of being restricted to a few expensive bars in each city making good cocktails. The overall quality of bars across the board is raising fast and the product understanding of the teams who work within them, especially in places like Belfast, is quite inspiring. Combine this with craft producers making high quality, local spirits like Shortcross Gin, exciting times lie ahead.
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