In every aspect Gold Gin would be the perfect gin for a Bond villain. I mean take a look at that bottle, it utterly demands to be looked at, you can’t miss it, but at the same time you can’t read what’s on it. It’s complex and mysterious. Just like its origin story, listen to this:
“At the beginning of the 20th century, as excavation works were taking place in the Alsace region, a site containing antique valuables was found. Amongst them, there was a gold pot still. After these objects were proved not to have any historic value, they were put on sale.
One of the buyers was an amateur distiller, a man who immediately fell in love with the gold pot still and acquired it. This man had spent years of his life looking for the perfect spirit, the perfect distillation, an elixir as valuable as the material the golden pot still he had just bought was made of.
He finally created a gin with tangerine reminiscences and a delicate memory of vanilla and almonds. He named this special spirit Gold 999.9 as he considered it to be his liquid gold, the purest one.”
We don’t know about you, but our imagination runs wild when we read origin stories like that. Apparently the archaeological dig had stumbled upon the hidden stash of a local pharmacist who – due to the Franco-Prussian War – had put his valuables there out of fear of being looted by the Germans. Something terrible must have happened because the pharmacist obviously never returned to dig it back up again. Nevertheless all of these events culminated into Gold Gin.
The Belgian Finals of the Gold Gin Competition took place in the famous BarZar in Antwerp. Owner and head bartender Maxime Biot joined us in the jury together with Yannick from Njam. There were three finalists: Saif El Ouachem from Cocktail Dreams, Donald Simons from Black Smoke and Bruno Simons from BarZar.
We will not bore you with details and go straight to the results: Bruno won with an excellent Negroni style cocktail based on Gold Gin and Suze Aperitif. The drink fitted the bill perfectly! Honourable mentions go to Donald who made a very nice Gin Sour in which he added marjoram (that’s a herb). The herb did wonders with the gin. And let’s not forget Saif who made us an unusual cocktail made out of rocket salad…
Last week one of the cocktail competitions we judged was the Saint James Cocktail Competition. Fifteen candidates squared off against each other in the lovely ‘La Tricoterie’ in Brussels in the hope of winning one of the great prizes – amongst them one of the last bottles of Saint James 250 for Belgium.
Saint James Rhum is an underestimated product I believe. It is virtually unknown in Flanders (Belgium) even by people who call themselves rum-lovers and that’s a shame, because it is a wonderful product. Saint James is a typical rhum agricole with a very funky character. The very first incarnation of this rhum was called “guildive”, which actually means “Kill Devil” and that is saying something! Relax, it is much less “hellish” now than its 18th century ancestor, but it still carries the heritage. I had the good fortune to be able to visit the picturesque distillery of Saint James on the beautiful tropical island of Martinique and it was there that I really started to understand what rum is in my opinion.
You really can taste the island in its rum. And that’s no illogical thing to say, considering the wild yeasts and the sugar cane. My impression was that they approach their sugar cane like wine grapes, which is also reflected in their rum range with lots of ‘cuvées’ and ‘millésimes’. It makes more sense to me than some brands who try to approach their “rum” as a whisky, you know: ageing it for decades in a gazillion of different barrels hoping something tasty will come out. Knowing that the ageing process in the Caribbean goes at least twice as fast than it does in Scotland, the number on your bottle needn’t be so big. In fact their unaged ‘Coeur de Chauffe’ is one of the best rums I ever drank, that’s a lot of ‘hogo’ in one bottle.
Back to the competition. It was a very colourful competition, a wide spectrum of skillsets performing on stage (or trying to). I especially recall Michel Van Hecke‘s (Thon Hotel) variation on Ti Punch. I like Ti Punch, especially with a good agricole, it’s fun, it’s simple, it tastes great. But instead of going for the simple, lime, cane syrup and rum combo, Michel enthusiastically veered off course with chamomile and cucumber, amongst other things. My first thoughts when listening to him were: “Oh no, the horror!”, but actually it fitted together quite nicely. It was a very original take on the Ti Punch, quite daring, and he received a well deserved third place in the competition.
Another cocktail I liked a lot was the drink made by Cathy Mutis (Boos Bar). It tasted so different from all the other cocktails (i.e. it wasn’t too sweet and/or drowned in fruit juices), it was refreshing, a little sharp even. There was a strange note that went very well with the Saint James, but I couldn’t immediately lay my finger on it. She had used ‘essence de muscade” from Martinique itself! Ah, rum and nutmeg, always a good combo.
And then the winner, Mr. Filoo About from Vagabond Barrr made us a very yummy Tiki in nice glassware with a beautiful garnish. A Tiki with Tonka syrup and Thai bitters served in a skull, we couldn’t say no to that!
And we close this article with a final remark: next time there is a Saint James competition, please allow the competitors to bring their own home made syrups instead of using commercial ones and make it mandatory to use freshly squeezed fruit juices, instead of commercial ones. Saint James Rhum deserves no less.
Sometimes you really start wondering, seeing these countless and delicious variations and dedications. Quite a few people go very extreme in this, resulting in the unavoidable remark by someone: “is this still a Negroni?”. The question is, if not, what is then? The answer must be sought in its clouded and disputed origin…
The official recipe as we all know, is equal measures of gin, Campari and red vermouth. And logically, when we want to make a variation on it we start to substitute one of the ingredients for another. starting with the spirit, this resulted quickly in rum Negronis, whisky Negronis, bourbon Negronis, cognac Negronis, genever Negronis and so on. Next we switch Campari for other amaro like Cynar or Averna or others. Finally we can change the vermouth from red to dry, white or even use quinquinas and other stuff. Also measurements can be adapted, bitters can be added, glasses can be rinsed, perfume or smoke can be used, etc, etc…
Actually it is fantastic to see this unbridled, unlimited passionate creativity of bartenders playing around with this famous Italian aperitif cocktail. Recently we had the BeNeLux Negroni Competition organised by Campari and even though the jury contained several very experienced Negroni lovers like Salvatore Calabrese en Mauro Mahjoub, it must have been very difficult reaching a decision on the winner (in this case Sofie Ketels from Sofie’s Living Room, De Panne, Belgium) seeing and tasting all these different and delicious Negroni styles. But what when you encounter a recipe in a book, that contains gin, sherry and Galliano; then you really start to wonder, delicious as it might be, is this still a Negroni? And if not, why then?
We recently had the good fortune to attend a workshop concerning the famous Negroni cocktail. The workshop was given by the great Luca Picchi from Florence, Italy, who wrote a hefty 221 pages about the Negroni, focussing on its origins. We like the book a lot, we read it with pleasure and delight and eventually learned and deduced something that was new for us about the origin of this iconic cocktail.
Most of you already know the origin of the Negroni, featuring the famous Count who gave his name to this delicious red libation. Camillo Negroni probably was indeed the original reason for the creation of the cocktail. There are pictures of him drinking (a Negroni?) at Casoni Café and more importantly there is a letter, dating 1920, from a friend who advises him not to drink more than 20 ‘Negronis’ a day. This letter actually proves that there was a drink in 1920 named after him. Much more interesting is: what’s in it and how did it became to be (the drink, not the letter) in the first place?
‘Americano’ is not just one cocktail
The popular story is that count Camillo, whilst in Florence, walked into Casoni’s and asked Fosco Scarselli, the bartender, to…erm…”spike” his ‘Americano’. Now here the story starts. I always thought the actual Americano cocktail was meant here and only to be told later that it was in fact a Milano-Torino, which was called Americano afterwards (so they say) due to the high popularity with Americans (tourists, businessmen or soldiers you can choose between stories here). In my strictly personal opinion ( I do not claim this to be the absolute truth, it’s just a theory of mine) he did not mean the actual Americano cocktail. Americano just means ‘American style’ and refers to the then rather new fashion of mixing one drink with others. That is what we’ve learned from Luca Picchi.
The drink in this case probably just being vermouth, which was extremely popular in Italy at that time. “American style” meant ‘the way they drank drinks in America’ and the very popular ‘American bars’ in Europe. So it probably has nothing to do with American soldiers after the war – a story which I hear and read frequently. Americano was probably nothing else than saying “cocktail” in Italian. You know, mixed with a spirit or amaro over ice. That information was new for me.
Vermouth as a base
So Camillo probably ordered a simple Italian vermouth (which was extremely popular by then), but had it made American style to strengthen it. The bartender, Fosco Scarselli, chose gin and then Camillo himself chose to add some bitters – Campari most probably – and thus created his signature drink. We deduce this out of an interesting interview with Fosco himself in 1962 about the Negroni. He (Fosco) literally says: “I added a few drops of gin to fortify the drinkand then the count had the habit of adding a few drops of bitters“.
Eventually other guests at Casoni were curious and also ordered an Americano ( meaning, I think, as much as ‘vermouth cocktail’ or just ‘cocktail’ in general), Negroni style. And so the birth of one of the most famous cocktails in history came to be. I think the story is very credible knowing that the count spend more than seven years in the USA in the exact ‘golden age of cocktail making’ before he came back to Florence and ordered his drink. Also, the vermouth back then, was served in small liquor glasses (about 1 or 1,5 oz), which explains the “drops” of gin and bitters and the sentence in the letter that warns him not to drink more than 20 of it each day. Also when you consider his words, he says he adds two things (gin and bitters) to something he didn’t mention. Something so obvious that he needn’t mentioning it and I think that’s vermouth.
And the story of Gaspare Campari who made his famous red amaro “americano” to make it more palatable and trendy for the Milanese high rollers at that time is a different story that eventually converged into the Negroni drink. The theory makes sense, I think, also considering the way Negronis are made today. By which I mean all the variations on it. What really defines a Negroni? Is it the gin? Surely not, it is the first thing they replace by something different. Is it Campari? Although most Negronis are made with it, it can also be made with other bitters and even though chances are high that the first one was made with it, we’ll never know for sure.
So actually it’s two different kinds of Americano coming together: one being gin + vermouth, the other being: amaro + vermouth. Of which the common element is the vermouth. In the end it gives us our answer to the question as to what defines a Negroni. In my opinion it is – very simply like the recipe says – a combination of spirit, vermouth and amaro. May you break this rule and create something else? Sure! Can you call it a Negroni? Well, it’s a free country, so you can call it whatever the hell you want, as long as it tastes good. Because, no matter how many Negroni “families” you create, the real Negroni will always be remembered as equal measures of London Dry, Campari and red vermouth.
Speaking of Negroni families… how about the other count Negroni? You know, General Pascal Olivier de Negroni, which one of them is the real Count? Well, why does one of them have to be fake? It is perfectly possible. A letter written by Pascal mentions a vermouth cocktail which was received well by the other officers. Perfectly possible, although it would be interesting to know more about the ingredients.
In the end it doesn’t really matter who invented the drink, eventually somebody somehow would have come up with gin, Campari and red vermouth. You know, I prefer ‘countless’ Negronis over Count Negroni, any time.
Although he didn’t make it to the final 6, Belgian bartender Jurgen Nobels managed to successfully impress the jury of the Diageo World Class Global Finals on several occasions with his excellent drinks, unbridled creativity and amazing speed. It heralds the start of a busy, but interesting year for Jurgen.
Diego World Class is the most prestigious cocktail competition in the world. To be elected and join the 54 best bartenders in the world 2015 is quite an honour. This year the battle of the best was held in South Africa, where the 54 competitors would undergo 5 challenges. One of them is the speed challenge.
If I remember correctly the objective is to make at least 8 cocktails in just 10 minutes. If this already seems daunting to you -and it should – it gets a bit more complicated than that. For starters you can’t just make 8 Gin Tonics and call it a day. (People will laugh and throw strainers at your face)
You want to make 8 totally different cocktails using as many different techniques as you can (shaken, stirred, built, swizzled, maybe even thrown). Furthermore, these cocktails need to taste better than good (duh!) and last, but not least you have to make a decent presentation too.
You can’t just say: “And now I’ll be making a rum Old Fashioned…it has rum, syrup and bitters in it, exciting isn’t it!” It isn’t! The room is filled with bartenders and you’re judged by four cocktail demigods, they know what a rum Old Fashioned is. Chances are even the camera man knows what an Old Fashioned is. (so people won’t like it and stab you with swizzle sticks)
You’re goal is to entertain and impress the jury and this should reflect in your presentation (often centred around sprezzatura). So in fact there’s a huge pressure on you. When the most basic of all cocktail competitions would be ‘to make a good drink’, this challenge requires you to do that 8 times in just 10 minutes. As you can see it is considered the most dreaded of all challenges in World Class.
Jurgen didn’t make 8 drinks… he made 10. Including a Ketel One Bloody Mary with…goatmilk, which he affectionately called the ‘Bloody Mèèèèry‘. In fact this drink impressed the jury so much that Julie Reiner – herself not a big fan of Bloody Marys – immediately asked for the recipe! 10 fantastic drinks in 10 minutes with a fantastic presentation earned him the award of “Best Competitor – Speed Challenge“.
So he didn’t make it to the final 6 candidates, but he can return home proudly, holding a prestigious award in his hands. When asked what will come next he immediately replied “a couple of weeks of rest & recreation with family and friends are on top of the bill now and then it’s back to Uncle Babe’s (a famous Burger Bar in Ghent)!”
Enjoy your well deserved rest Jurgen! I can foresee hordes of curious customers storming Uncle Babe’s to get a good look at you, so you will certainly be able to put your speed talents to good use!
P.S. Also congrats to Tess Posthumus from The Netherlands who made it 7th best in the world! And of course Michito Kaneko from Japan who can call himself best World Class Bartender of the Year 2015!
Wow! Ladies and gentlemen, what a match! If you think bartending is easy feel free to enlist next year in what is commonly known as 'the Olympics of Bartending' - Diageo World Class! After more than 10 hours of competing, Belgium finally has a candidate to send to the Global Finals in South Africa: Mr. Jurgen Nobels!!!
Photography by Johan Van Droogenbroeck
Monday 1st of June 2015 was D-Day. All Ten Finalists gathered at the amazingly charming Vaudeville Theatre in Brussels to show their passion and skill set by conjuring the best drink they can under tremendous amounts of stress and a hawk-eyed jury. Mind you, making drinks is not the only thing a bartender must excel at. Besides cocktails, also drinks knowledge, tasting skills, presentation, creativity, technique, complexity and expression of spirit are put to the test.
At 10:30 the candidates started a written examination on common knowledge about cocktails and spirits of the Diageo brand. 40 yes or no questions to answer, 40 points to earn. And not only your knowledge is challenged, but also your attention – we all know that attention and observation are prime skills for a bartender – for example: “Mr. Vasquez, master distiller of Zacapa, has constructed one of the most complicated solar systems world wide“. True or false? Well, everything seems all right with this one, except for one small detail… it’s Mrs. Vasquez not Mr. And if you ever met her, you would have remembered. A most charming lady, with a profound knowledge on distilling.
Next up was the blind tasting test. Three drinks of each base spirit – gin, whiskey, rum, tequila – and you had to be able to pick out the Diageo Reserve Brand. Extremely difficult. Only 4 bartenders out of 10 managed to score a 4 out of 4 on this one, which is amazing!
Then at 12:30h the first public round was about to start: the speed challenge: create 4 different drinks under 6 minutes, while scoring not only for speed, but also for taste, balance, presentation, creativity, complexity, etc… It’s a challenge that separates the boys from the men so to speak and only 5 candidates would go through. This is a very difficult challenge, I mean try this at home and see how difficult it is and then try it in a theatre with 200 people watching you, amongst them 4 judges busy breathing over your fingers, a daunting task. It is very important to keep talking while you’re at it, which isn’t easy. If you stop talking, you lose out against anyone who doesn’t in presentation (most of the time, unless the speaker was blurting out gibberish or just plain bullshit) and maybe more important, because you stop talking all the judges’ attention goes to your technique and you don’t want that in a speed round I think. Also, mind you from speed pouring, it might help you making your drinks faster, but it’s even more difficult to get your drinks right and balanced out.
And there it was, the first elimination. These 5 remained: Hannes Desmedt from Hertog Jan ***, Didier Van den Broeck from Dogma, Ran Van Ongevalle from Pharmacy, Dries Botty from Josephine’s and Jurgen Nobels formerly from Old Fashioned. Next up is one of my favourite challenges: the mystery box.
All candidates are put in front of a mystery box filled with ingredients and they have to make 2 contrasting cocktails with it. They have 30 minutes to come up with 2 good recipes, stories, names and presentations. This tests the bartender’s creativity and skill to improvise. Like Didier for instance, who made a Dolphin garnish out of a banana for his Tiki drink. It was Jurgen however who made the perfect contrast between his two drinks.
There was only place for three candidates in the final round so two had to go. At this point as a jury, you become very nervous, because if there’s any discrepancies between scores you’ll end up discussing for hours.
So there’s a little bit of nail biting involved when the scores were added up (without pre discussion). The jury consisted of the amazing Spike Marchant (Global World Class Ambassador), Carl Van Droogenbroeck (Reserve Brand Ambassador & Belgium World Class winner of 2013), Geert Van Der Bruggen (Michelin star Chef) and yours truly from The Cocktail Nation.
Spike really is amazing, the man has been in the business for so long and has judged every Global Final there is, I think. Also, I’m sure that he must have swallowed an amplifier at one point in his career, because his voice booms so loudly that microphones cringe in fear when his head comes near.
Carl also deserves a lot of respect, not the least for enduring my company for more than 5 weeks and crossing the country several times in order to finish 2 bursts of in-bar judging to be able to select the 10 finalists. This guy’s thorough and dedicated insight in the profession of a barmanager is truly impressive. Also his unshakable calmness (at least in perception ;)) is so characterising that it should get a Facebook page in itself.
Geert is a very charismatic person and an excellent star chef. Although not very experienced in cocktails, he has an uncanny experience in flavours, aromas and textures. I truly believe it’s always a plus to have a non-cocktailian in a jury and score everything from a specific point of view. And he did perfectly. Also, I don’t think he will ever drink a Moscow Mule again 😉
And I was there too… Now, amazingly there were no discrepancies and we ended up with the same top 3, unanimously. Much to our own relief and after a lot of eyebrow sweat wiping, Spike announced the 3 finalists: Ran Van Ongevalle, Dries Botty en Jurgen Nobels.
These 3 were faced with the final challenge: create the ultimate World Class drink while trying to engage as much senses as you can.
Dries made a remarkable vodka drink. We take our hats off and bow to you sir! It takes balls to pick vodka for a sensory challenge and you pulled it off. What’s more, you probably created the best vodka drink I ever had.
Ran had spent 4 weeks on a safari in the amazonian Dune forest at the coast and he plundered it to make us a self foraged drink (he said he forgot to bring his ants and I am very glad for that 😉 ). Your presentation was spectacular! While the man was preparing his drink, next to him a sous chef was making no less than 4 different side dishes, which were as great as the drink itself.
Jurgen‘s presentation was a bit of a surprise to me. I’ve always known Jurgen as a very calm and sympathetic gentleman, maybe even a little bit shy I dare say. What happened there? This man turned into cocktail creating whirlwind, a mixonado as it were (should that become a word…probably not). I almost didn’t had a chance to write down notes or even scores. We were tasting 5 different things while having to solve a quiz! Yes, a quiz! In the meantime he had deconstructed his own home brewed beer and turned it into a tequila and genever based beer cocktail which totally blew my mind. Get that beer out on the market, it’s sheer bliss!
And now, to put it in the words of our wonderful presenter Hannah Van Ongevalle (who also did a wonderful job), “without further ado”, we went upstairs to calculate who had won the finals. I don’t think it took us longer than 20 minutes and everybody agreed on the result.
Mr. Jurgen Nobels wins the Belgian World Class finals of 2015 and will represent us at the Global Finals in South Africa! ‘Baie lekker, Bro!’
8 things we remember from the finals:
- Shrub is surprisingly popular lately!
- The contrast of an ice cold drink poured in a room temperature glass brings out more flavour.
- You can make a dolphin out of a banana!
- I forgot my Nobel's Beer at the Theatre.
- "You don't have to shake it, you have to wake it!"
- Taste by the spoon, the straw or the hand... the discussion continuous.
- Never stop talking, unless it's for breathing!
- Presentation is important, but the drink is king!
After an intense two round preselection we finally selected 10 contestants who will compete against each other for the title of Best Belgian Bartender and only one of them will win a ticket to the World Finals of the most prestigious cocktail competition in the world which will take place in South Africa. Your's truly was elected judge and here's a short introduction to the Belgian candidates. Photographs by The Cocktail Nation.
Judging is not easy. It’s not all fun and games. After about 5 weeks of in bar judging, we finally were able to make a selection of 10 bartenders who will compete in the Belgian Final of Diageo World Class 2015. The prize is a chance to compete against some 50 other countries and become one of World’s best bartenders. Last year this honour was bestowed upon Charles Joly from Chicago. Maybe this year it will be a Belgian bartender, who knows?
First, however, we have to find out whom we’re going to send to the Global Finals. And this will be decided on the 1st of June 2015 at the Belgian Finals. Venue for this incredible event is the impressive Vaudeville Theatre in Brussels. If you would love to be there and see the whole thing live, please register your attendance at the following website: www.worldclasscompetition.be
And now, without further ado, our beloved candidates…
10. Alexis Mosselman – Odette En Ville, Brussels
A relative newbie to the competition who positively surprised us with lots of creative energy and enthusiasm. He created his own vermouth for this cocktail and threw in an entire bbq, some boomerangs and the unavoidable straw hats…some swear to have seen a kangaroo hopping past the window during his presentation. Honestly, I can not wait to see his presentation on the finals.
9. Maurice Vroonen – Casbar, Sint Truiden
Upcoming cocktail talent Maurice Vroonen decided to ‘Tikify’ Napoleon. Once we got our head wrapped around that concept we feared a second Waterloo, but that just didn’t happen and somehow he pulled it off. A surprisingly balanced and tasteful creation: “Vive l’empereur!”
8. Didier Van den Broeck – Dogma, Antwerp
This man is a drinks wizard and Dogma is a Cocktail Nation’s favourite. He turned a crappy vacation drink into something that should be guarded by beautiful mermaids or the Kraken himself, using vodka infused with a fat-wash of peanuts and his own memoires as an inspiration. This man is the alchemical jedi of mixing drinks.
7. Jim Geurts – Triple J, Bilzen
Everybody loves Jim, it’s a huge teddybear with a ‘huggability‘ factor of 11 out of 10. He mixed Michelangelo and Gaz Regan into a jaw dropping array of Negronis. Absolutely stunning, Triple J really can make your day! By the way, one of Jim’s Negroni recipes was just published in Gary Regan’s book: “Negroni”.
6. Bassche Didden – Dogma, Antwerp
Bassche made a drink inspired by “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, so he created a handcuffed pineapple grenade that delivered a flavour explosion. This is the second Dogma bartender in the Belgian finals, do you realise now why you should visit that bar when you’re in Antwerp? Please do and be mesmerised !
5. Naushad Rahamat – Cocktails@NINE, Antwerp
Naushad created a literal treasure of a drink with Zacapa rum and chocolate cigars. The gentleman’s experience in a drink! This bartender has ‘world class’ written all over him.
4. Dries Botty – Josephines, Antwerp
This man is a World Class veteran and knows what a jury wants, so Dries opened up a rabbit hole and propelled us into Alice’s well known Wonderland with a Tanqueray 10, syrup made from carrots and grapefruit soda drink.
3. Hannes Desmedt – Hertog Jan ***, Bruges
Hannes, best sherry sommelier in the world, decided that cocktails are the next challenge and delivers brilliantly. This man blew us away with a tequila sour inspired by The Perfume and made with ice cubes created with Spa Reine water. An extraordinary experience of flavour and aroma. Remember this man’s name!
2. Jurgen Nobels – Old Fashioned, Ghent
This man is passionate, humble and f***ing awesome at what he does! He mixes a wicked drink wherever he is, no matter the circumstances. A true disciple of the art. Hospitality, creativity, passion and skillset define him. We’re a fan, did you notice?
1. Ran Van Ongevalle – The Pharmacy, Knokke
Ran is the brother of last year’s famous finalist Hannah Van Ongevalle and he surely keeps the family’s reputation on par! This guy is miracle wonder kid in Belgium’s cocktail world and keeps on delivering wonderful drinks. We expect an amazing presentation by him on the finals and you should rank him amongst your favourites. Foraging the dunes on the Belgian coast side he created an unreal drink and earned his place among the top finalists for the Belgian finals.
That’s it and if you are as curious as I am, I’ll be seeing you at the Belgian finals on the 1st of June in the Brussel’s Vaudeville Theatre!
It’s almost a year now that you can visit a new exquisite cocktail bar near Antwerp’s Cathedral. Head bartender and owner is Didier Van den Broeck who became third at Diageo World Class Belgium 2014. This guy is a hurricane, he manages two or three different conversations and making five individual cocktails all at the same time and you know what? They’re fabulous.
Seriously, the first thing, stepping into this bar, turned a smile on my face. I love the wooden bar ,the wooden backbar, the floor, the seats, the layout, the lighting, the music… everything. We were welcomed and sat down at the bar. A glass of water and a handwritten menu was offered at once. I was really tired that day and actually I already knew what I was going to drink before I entered Dogma. Old Fashioned, please! …Damn good! Geertrui had an amazing Manhattan, one in my top three ever tasted as a matter of fact. Deliciously complex, yet not unbalanced.
We were on a tight schedule, but decided ‘to hell with it’ and stayed for another hour. It’s that kinda place you know, you just can’t leave immediately. Everything in this bar breathes love for the craft, especially the bartender of course. Didier was almost a professional cyclist (Dogma is named after a certain kind of sport cycle), but injury forced him to take another track. He ended up in the diamond trade business, yet his heart longed for the art of bar tending and cocktail making. So he took the big jump and started his own bar. Alone, at the start of it, and we take our hats off for that. Serving craft cocktails for 60 people all by yourself is a serious physical and mental challenge. But Didier “Mad Dog” Van den Broeck pulled it off.
The more we talked, the more enthusiastic he became and it’s really a sight to see this man working his drinks. Stuff almost starts to levitate around him. There’s a really contagious positive vibe in this bar and The Cocktail Nation marks it off as one of his personal favourites. A must visit for any cocktail aficionado.
Shaking your way to the top 12 best bartenders of the world in less than 2 years is not an easy feat, especially not in a Competition like World Class. Hannah Van Ongevalle (The Pharmacy, Knokke, Belgium) did it, not to mention as 1 of the only 2 remaining women in the Top 12. Below you can see 3 movies of the different challenges in the competition.
Blend Of Worlds
The competitors had to show their own personal cocktail statement blending the traditions of whiskey, their own country, identity and heritage. This is filmed in the beautiful Gleneagles Hotel in Schotland.
Five Star Classics
The bartenders had to choose 3 cocktails out of a list of 8 classics. They are allowed to interpret and craft their own variant. One of the cocktails has to reflect London, either its history or cocktail culture. This challenge took place in some of London’s most famous five star luxury hotels. Hannah was lucky, she was assigned the Savoy. This means she would be the first woman in about 90 years to stand behind the bar of the famous Savoy. Before her, there was famous Ada “Coley” Coleman, who had invented the Hanky Panky in the Savoy. Shaking in the Savoy, Hannah enjoyed this to the fullest!
This challenge was to test the bartender’s ability to pair cocktails with food. They had to make two cocktails to pair with a preselected dish, one of them had to be made with Zacapa rum. Any style of cocktail could be chosen, but the candidates had to show versatility and were advised to go for contrasting types.
This was filmed in the Shard, tallest building of Europe. The elevator didn’t go down, it just fell…in a controlled manner. At least that’s how it feels. Going up on the other hand was more like being launched from Cape Canaveral. The location was a bliss for the already very nervous, smoking bartenders. Each time they wanted a smoke they had to go down, because there wasn’t a terrace (it would have blown you away, both by panorama and the fierce wind). After 3 cigarettes however, your brain was in your shoes and your feet got stuck in your ears.
Right at this very moment, Hannah – our Belgian contestant and among the 16 final contestants in the competition – is presenting her Written Word challenge on the most famous of all cocktail competitions: Diageo World Class. Frankly it is very hard for me to write any words at all, because I am baffled. I think that’s the right word for it. The challenge was to create 2 cocktails inspired by famous writers, both nationally and internationally.
Jokingly she announced that she would dedicate her first cocktail to Ernest Hemingway. “But no,” she said, “that would be too obvious”. She chose David Wondrich, famous cocktail writer and blogger for Esquire magazine. Inspired by him Hannah created a cocktail based on bourbon, cognac, Benedictine and lapsang syrup. For the second cocktail she was inspired by … well … me. I assure you, your knees get all wobbly when you hear that. It is too much of an honour. Personally I don’t think that I deserve to be named next to Wondrich or any other famous writer. But hey, it’s kinda nice when it does happen, *cough, cough*. I am a whisky man, she said, and that’s true – points for that. But she put some Mexico in this cocktail. I got softened down with so called ‘lady-sherry’, which I don’t mind and was graced with some lapsang syrup too. The cocktail is named the Edison Revived, after a band called Combustible Edison, that inspired me to name this blog: The Cocktail Nation. The Cocktail Nation is the title of a manifest written by the bandleader.
Hannah, you don’t need to be afraid of bloggers. We love you, especially being chosen over Hemingway. You just keep fishing old man.
There it is! Our own Belgian candidate, Hannah Van Ongevalle (The Pharmacy bar, Knokke) has been chosen to join the final 16 contestants (out of 48) for the most prestigious cocktail competition in the world!
The tension was enormous, the competition is very tough, but she made it. She deems it a personal victory to be amongst the final 16 and together with Japan the only female contestants left. Her already strong confidence is only growing bigger and she has alot more cards upon her sleeve, she said. So we are very excited to see how she will perform on the next challenges. There are four more challenges untill the next elimination tomorrow. Her goals are to best female candidate at the least and of course to win the whole damn thing alltogether! Her father Jan Van Ongevalle – bartender and owner of The Pharmacy bar, where she works – is with her and very, very proud. So far she gave outstanding performances with delicious cocktails and always a characteristic little surprise at the end, involving card tricks and multimedia interactions mixed with great storytelling and an overdosis of charisma. Considering the fact that she has less than 2 years of bartending experience, this girl is really rocking the show and a favourite amongst the crowd. Keep checking the Cocktail Nation for further updates.