Copperhead Gin is the creation of the fictional ‘Mr Copperhead’, a notorious alchemist, searching for the elixir of life. During his pursuit, and much to his own surprise, he conjured up an exquisite composition, using a copper pot still and a recipe based on five botanicals: angelica, juniper, cardamon, orange peel and coriander seed.
Not satisfied with his first creation, he went on to become obsessed by the elderberry and it’s protective effect on the immune system. Balancing this with black Ceylon tea, he created the Black Batch – a deeper, slightly more floral version of his original creation.
Using these two gins, and the additional botanical blends – Energeticum, Apertivum and Digestivum, Copperhead recently challenged bartenders of the North of the UK to create two cocktails. One palate cleanser, and the second a drink to be enjoyed with a food garnish.
And I was lucky enough to take part in the competition as one of the judges. As ever, there was a time limit for the creation and presentation of the cocktails, competitors had to display a knowledge of the spirits, and of the market itself, and creativity in their drinks.
And obviously, it had to taste good.
One a cold (!) August afternoon, we had four competitors taking part. One from Lincoln, two from Leeds and local bartender Massimo. Palates whetted by a G&T, we started at the beginning.
First up was Sam from Pintura Kitchen
His palate cleanser was made with lemon, Copperhead, fresh cucumber, Violette liqueur, gomme, topped with Cava (a nod to his host bar) and garnished with raspberry and cucumber.
Light, clean, refreshing, it was a great start to the competition.
His main drink featured the Copperhead Digestivum blend, Copperhead Black Batch, Campari, Fino Sherry, basil gomme, lemon juice and garnished with a basil leaf.
Herbal, lightly bitter it toned down the intense garlic of the guacamole that was served with it – salmon cured in star anise, copperhead and lemon with guacamole on sourdough.
Second was Massimo (previously of most of the bars in Manchester at one time or another, now sadly running off to Canada. We’ll miss you Massi).
This was everything in one! Black batch gin, both the Energeticum and Disgestivum blends, fig and fennel shrub, lemon juice, whey and eucalyptus, a syrup using toasted grains, Encanto Bianco, shaken went to make the main cocktail. This was served with a large cube of ice made from the remainder of the liquid leftover from the white chocolate – which was the garnish, a white chocolate granita. The palate cleanser was the lightly astringent foam on top of the cocktail, which refreshed the palate just before you sipped the cocktail.
Alex from Jake’s Bar was our third contender. His palate cleanser included lemon granita, cardamom bitters, Coppherhead Gin, Aperitivum blend, and 1724 tonic, garnished with lemon peel. Another with a light fresh acidity that worked well ahead of the main event.
And his cocktail showed some real creativity. Ingredients included the Black Batch Gin, Elderberry shrub, squid ink, saline, lemon juice and egg white. Fruity, deep, rich, slight sharpness, it worked well with the octopus he served next to it. Just for colour alone, it was a stand out.
Finally, we had Tom from The Strait & Narrow in Lincoln (if I ever needed an excuse to visit my uncle there, I just found it).
His palate cleanser was a blend of Copperhead Gin, Rhubarb and grapefruit Prosecco syrup, stir and top with tonic water, before dusting with ground ginger. Astringent, slightly more spicy than the others, it woke the palate nicely.
His cocktail included the Black Batch gin, shrub and the energeticum blend and garnished with a star anise. Light acidity that cut through the richness of the duck that was paired with it. The duck was pan fried, then roasted and had a juniper and blueberry paste under the skin and served with cucumber.
All were great. All showed fantastic creativity, met the specifications of the competition and gave us food for thought. But as ever, going through to the final in Belgium, there could only be one winner and for this heat, it was Massi.
As his last cocktail competition in the UK (and he claims ever), it was a fitting end to his time in the city.
As for me? I love the creativity that goes into these events. I love hearing the thought processes, the ideas, and the experimental nature of bartenders. And the chaps taking part in this event (for many of them their first) will go onto win. I’ve no doubt.
And you’ll find me perched at their bar at some point, asking all about it.