It’s been a little while since I judged a cocktail competition. And I admit, as this one popped up out of the blue, I was feeling rusty.
Well that, and a long morning in the office that seemed interminable, and left my brain feeling a little woolly. Nothing like an office crisis to keep you feeling fresh and on it.
Also, this small batch rum was rather new to me. Don Papa is made in the Philippines, inspired by the story of Dionisio Magbuelas (known locally as “Papa” Isio), one of the unsung heroes of the Philippine revolution, fighting to free his home, Negros, from Spanish rule.
And it’s possibly one of the sweetest I’ve sampled, and yet, for all it’s sweetness, it still holds lots of flavour – honey, vanilla and a lovely soft orange dominate the palate. It becomes rather moreish.
The competition was being held in Hold Fast in the Northern Quarter, one I must admit I’ll be popping back to just as soon as the diary allows, because I loved it’s industrial, subterranean, almost sub-marine like feel to it. Think basement bar meets pirate radio ship.
First up, was Jamie, veteran of both the bar and competition scene in the city with his cocktail, the Solana.
NB. I’m totally expecting to get into trouble for that line above, but we’re about the same age, so I’ll buy him a drink and let him refer to me as an old lady, and it’ll be fine. Right Jamie?
Inspired by the national fruit of the Philippines, he combined mango puree, with a good 50ml of Don Papa, chocolate bitters and lemon juice, and his own creation, a chilli and salt gomme, before shaking. Intrigued, a few of us sampled the gomme and whilst it had a tickle of heat, it was more about the pepper flavour, than the spice.
Our second contender, was Manny (Monachain) from the Monk Cafe Bar in Buxton (I’m rather fond of their drinks philosophy and complimentary drinks condiments).
Manny’s drink, the Don Papa Punch, was based on a punch and was inspired by his Filipino friends and their family, having taken the time to dine with them as research for his drink. It also had one hell of a lot of ingredients, which worried the judges a smidge. Ripe mango was muddled with rosemary, before he added pineapple, coconut, rum and lime. He then added a shrub that he’d created at home which included pomegranate and tarragon.
It was finally dusted with a touch of paprika and grated vanilla bean and was served in a punch glass. The bonus to this drink was it’s scalability – it worked on a large scale, so would be perfect for a party or event, being served in a large punch bowl.
Our third contender was Adam, of Under New Management, formerly Corridor bar and one of the city’s best kept secrets.
Adam took Don Papa’s own life as inspiration, his journey from the sugar cane fields, to his transition into a man, into a revolutionary, for his cocktail, the Papal Conclave.
His cocktail combined a pimento dram, which added an allspice flavour to the drink, with a lemongrass infused sweet vermouth, orgeat, and Don Papa. To serve, he spritzed the serving glass with lemongrass and sprinkled it with smoked sea salt to add balance to the drink.
Our penultimate challenger was Jose of Hotel Gotham, who found the flavours in Don Papa reminded him sweetly of his grandmother’s fruit cake, so he tried to replicate those in his cocktail, the Didsbury Daiquiri.
Don Papa was infused with apricots and was added to Yellow Chartreuse, lemon, vanilla syrup and egg white, before being shaken twice and served with a dried orange slice.
Up last was Amir from Hotel Gotham (who has now confusingly left and gone to the bar in Harvey Nichols). I also must now apologise for the picture of Amir, because it is dreadful. Sorry.
Along with Don Papa, he added Dubliner, chocolate bitters and for a hint of bitterness and tropical fruits a swizzle from Big Wave beer. His cocktail, the Old Fashioned Revolutionary, was served garnished with an orange twist to play on the citrus backbone of the rum.
The judges (including me and my poor maths skills) retired to the back room to cogitate and for me to retrieve my phone and start using the calculator.
But we had a winner. Or two. Because we couldn’t just choose one.
Our runner up was Jamie, but our winners were Manny and Adam, who now go through to the national final.
Manchester (and Buxton?) represent…
With thanks to Claire, the chaps, Hold Fast and Don Papa Rum, for an afternoon of cocktails, and poor handwriting.