Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Calling Competition: Aberdeen

It  would seem that recently, the bars and drinks industry in Aberdeen has been taking the nation by storm. From Orchid's general manager, Nick Gordon, winning the title of Mixologist of the Year, to Aberdeen's first gin to be distilled in the city in over 100 years taking home accolades, and numerous other individuals and establishments being recognised for their success', Aberdeen is basically the place to be when it comes to sampling the best cocktails in Scotland. 

Cocktail competitions have been growing in popularity in the area, more often bartenders are getting the chance to showcase their skills and knowledge, conveying just how much time and effort actually goes into cocktails and the menu's bars produce.

Now, thanks to the Jack Daniels Tennessee Calling competition (#tncalling), which was launched at the first Glasgow Sessions event to educate and inspire the next generation of up-and-coming career bartenders through quality and creativity, mixologists across Scotland will have the opportunity to compete to win an unbelievable prize.

Launching the Tennessee Calling competition, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey created the programme to inspire bartenders to push the boundaries and create unforgettable drinks. The prize for winning the competition, a life changing trip to the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg, and the opportunity to work behind the bar at the world's best cocktail bar, The Dead Rabbit.

A total of eleven cocktails were shortlisted, with four Aberdeen finalists announced, and lucky for me I got the opportunity to catch up with two of them. Aiste Valiukaite, from local restaurant, Native, and Elias Olaria Vives, from Rye & Soda, a restaurant/bar I often visit.

First up was a visit to George Street in Aberdeen...

Aiste Valiukaite of Native

The cocktail:
  • 40ml Jack Daniel's Old No.7 Brand
  • 15ml lemon grass infused syrup
  • 15ml lemon juice clarified with agar-agar
  • 25ml India pale ale (IPA) beer (Aiste used BrewDog's Elvis Juice)
  • 30ml chilled water
All of the ingredients were poured into a syphon which was charged with CO2, and then dispensed into a glass. Garnish included a stick of lemon grass and lemon verbena sprig.
Best served in a collins glass.
The method and mastermind behind the madness:
Arriving at  Native, Aiste immediately introduced herself and made me feel extremely comfortable. Set up in the restaurant she chatted to me about the competition and what her drink meant to her. She mentioned the theme around her cocktail was sustainability. Not only is it topical, and something many bars in the city are now looking into, but it's something she is very passionate about. After realising how many times she was taking bins out each night in a busy bar, she decided to find out why there was so much waste and found that a large proportion of the waste was in fact fruit - something which can easily be turned into garnish, or used to create unique syrups.

She mentioned she was inspired to see a large company like Jack Daniel's take sustainability to heart too. By recycling their coal which they use in the distillation process, selling it as barbecue coal when it is no longer beneficial in the process, the company's CSR ethos is great when it comes to reducing waste. Aiste also loved that Jack Daniel's had tapped into two very American traditions - Tennessee whiskey and barbecue.

I was excited and impressed when she mentioned she has made her own ice from scratch - no one had ever made me ice before. Using kaffir leaves and ginger peel she created an aromatic ice which  was an important element in her drink, allowing it to develop as it melted taking the customer on a journey of flavour. She mentioned how ice can make up 50-60% of a drink, so was a vital part to any drink. Creating a drink which stimulated all senses, it focused primarily around citrus flavours. To balance out the flavours she created her very own lemon grass infused syrup, which she infused over night, creating a slightly zingy, aromatic sweetener. She passed around the different ingredients, allowing me to savour the different flavour individually.

An advocate for responsible drinking in the bar, Aiste created a drink customers could enjoy a few of and still feel fresh. She wanted to create a traditional twist the classic Jack Daniel's and ginger beer, making it light and refreshing.

By using a syphon, the drink boasted a consistent flavour, was chilled perfectly and was extremely quick to pour, perfect for a busy Saturday night. No shaking or stirring needed here.

Creating the drink in front of me, she had let the ice sit for 10-15 minutes, slowly melting and releasing its floral blossom developing a delightful base. Mixing all of the ingredients together, she poured them into the syphon and released into the glasses in front of me, frothing slightly due to the beer used in the cocktail. She then added the stick of lemon grass to the drink and lining the rim of the glass with fresh lemon verbena sprig before topping it off with it.
Tantilsing the tastebuds:
Sampling the cocktail I was immediately surprised at how much I liked it. It was fresh, sweet, and boasted a real fragrant taste. With the ice being so well catered for, the flavours of the kaffir leaves and ginger melted into the drink, allowing it to further develop as I took my time, savouring every sip.

Due to Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey being an authentic, genuine whiskey choice for creating exciting cocktails, it was unusual to associate the whiskey with a drink so fresh. However, it was absolutely divine and for someone who wouldn't usually order Jack Daniel's at a bar, I was desperate for more when it had finished. In fact, I was so impressed with the drink that I recommended that it should be a permanent fixture on the cocktail menu.

The Jack Daniel's wasn't too overpowering at all, which I usually experience with whiskey based cocktails - I liked this a lot. It was sweet and refreshing, something I look for in a cocktail, and the garnish complimented the drink beautifully. Not only did it taste nice, it looked it too. The addition of lemongrass and the lemon verbena sprig also increased the intensity of the flavour, and made the drink look even more visually appealing.

It really did taste like a delicious tea and would be the perfect drink on a hot summers day. This was exactly what Aiste was going for, which meant she had accomplished what she has set out to achieve.

A memorable drink and an even more memorable finalist, I was very impressed with my first #tncalling experience and was looking forward to the next.

Native also provided us with some delicious nibbles which were perfect for indulging in after. Top marks all round.

Check out Aiste's cocktail here...

Next up was a stroll down to Belmont Street last Saturday evening to pay one of my favourite bars, and well-known face on the Aberdeen drinks scene, a visit.

Elias Olaria Vives of Rye & Soda

The cocktail:
Heather Crowe
  • 40m Jack Daniels No.7 Brand
  • 10ml Benriach (peated) single malt Scotch whisky
  • 20ml heather ale syrup
  • 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 whole egg (white and yolk)
Dry shake all of the ingredients (without ice) and strain into the shaker - transfer into a small jar. Garnish by smoking the cocktail with applewood smoke and seal the jar until ready to serve to the customer.
Best served in a small jar glass.

The method and mastermind behind the madness:
Taking inspiration right back to the 1970's, I knew Elias would have something interesting up his sleeve. When I visited, Elias was actually on annual leave, which meant I was in the trusted hands of his colleague, Andy Stewart, who would be creating the drink as Elias and I talked all things Jack Daniel's on the phone.

Heather Crowe is a smoked flip traditional style of drink and is unusual as it boasts an entire egg, yolk and all. As you can imagine, my face was quite the picture when I realised a whole egg was used in his drink, however, I'm familiar with Elias' handy work so knew he would be on to something great. Taking inspiration from Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks in using a whole egg I was intrigued to taste this tipple.

With Jack Daniel's celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Elias wanted to create a classic style cocktail which was fashionable many years ago. Back in the day it was popular to name a company or a brand after the person or the place where it was established, hence Elias named his cocktail after the person behind the inspiration to his drink - famous activist, Heather Crowe. A Canadian waitress who was the face of Canada's anti-smoking campaign, she was one of the first activists who fought to protect all those working in the hospitality industry from second hand smoke.

After being diagnosed with lung cancer as a result of inhaling second hand smoke for over 40 years whilst working in smoke-filled bars and restaurants, Heather took a stand against the companies she felt were responsible for her poor health.

The concept of Elias' cocktail was simple, a tribute to Heather Crowe and her dedication and commitment to improving the conditions for workers in hospitality industry.

Like a brand, the name of a bartender can become very popular very quickly. They are the people customers come to visit. They develop relationships with customers, who then go on to spread their tales and experiences with friends and family through word of mouth. this process of becoming well-known and popular seemed very familiar to the way Jack Daniel's would have started out. There is many an occasion when individuals visit a bar because of the person behind the bar. This is becoming much more prominent in Aberdeen, and many of the bartenders are known by everyone due to their charismatic and caring personalities. The drinks and service industry is much more focused on making connections with customers now more than ever, and Elias is very aware of this.

He mentioned that his cocktail is a perfect serve as an after dinner drink, boasting a velvety, smooth and smoky taste. It's much more palatable and is made sweeter to soften the whisky liquor. By making it creamy and softer to drink, it gives the traditional Jack Daniel's we all know a different, yet familiar taste.

But why smoke the drink? Not only does smoking enhance the flavour of the drink, it strengthens the original  concept of the drink related around second hand smoking. Elias wanted to incorporate this method into his cocktail as it was important for him to showcase this element.

Elias also spoke of how he was excited about the competition incorporating bloggers into its promotional activities as they see a different side to the whisky industry and trends, bringing a new outlook into the mix. He seems the competition as a great opportunity for bartenders across Scotland, challenging them to push the boundaries and learn from one another's skill sets.

Tantilising the tastebuds:
Boasting a smoky, peaty flavour I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the cocktail. Much thicker than Aiste's drink, it was extremely smooth and rich on the palate. the Jack Daniel's was much sharper in his drink, and much more prominent too. Dry shaking the cocktail meant the drink wasn't chilled (I think this was for the egg's benefit) and resulted in a frothy consistency being formed on the top.

Designed to be a night cap drink, I would be inclined to say this drink is to be sipped slowly and enjoyed. Its flavours caress the palette, and with the addition of smoking it, the cocktail stimulates all senses.

The whole experience of smoking the cocktail was mesmerising. I watched as the smoker pushed the applewood smoke into the jar as Andy quickly captured it inside, letting it dance around in the glass.

Due to Jack Daniel's being a well-known brand which everyone knows, the mellow No.7 was the perfect whisky to incorporate into the drink. The heather ale syrup and freshly squeezed lemon gave it a slightly sharper edge, as did the Jack Daniel's.

All in all I was extremely impressed with the concept of the drink and how much thought had went into everything from the name, right down to the smoking of the cocktail to mimic second hand smoking. A great drink designed by a great guy. Very impressive.

Check out Elias' cocktail here...

A keen cocktail drinker, I can hands down say I would happily drink both of these cocktails. Aiste's Clever Jasper Tea with my girlfriends at one of our summer BBQ get togethers, and Elias' Heather Moore in a hotel lounge settled in front of a log fire with a good book.

I'm delighted that four individuals from Aberdeen will be representing the city in the finals of the competition. I wish all of the participants the best of luck and look forward to finding out who makes the top three. It takes great skill and knowledge to develop cocktails, however, it's the concepts behind these drinks and the stories associated with them which made me fall in love with them...

You can find out more about the Tennessee Calling competition and the other finalists on the Difford's Guide website.

  For Now...

Just Julia


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