For mixologists and bartenders, it's no longer enough to be good — you have to be great. You can't just whip up a Whiskey Sour or martini and expect praise nowadays. With countless experts creating new cocktails every day, a new breed of bartender has come forth, one that isn't content to simply give out the standards. Everyone wants to create a drink to put their business on the map, and now bartenders worldwide are being given the chance to prove they're the best — but only one will come out on top at this year's Beefeater 24 Global Bartender Competition. Twenty six of the best mixologists are gearing up to travel to London to compete in the Global Final on November 7, with the winner getting an all-expenses paid trip to Japan in 2014 to learn about the country's bartending culture and the teas that are necessary to Beefeater's taste profile.
Judge and renowned mixologist Tony Conigliaro has quite a lot to say about the future of cocktails and shared some tips about his own process when it comes to making drinks. “My specialty is to look at the structure of how different things are made and then bring about that same technical approach to the art of making drinks. For example, how you can deconstruct perfume, breaking down how it is made and then apply that same expertise to drink?"
Conigliaro knows how to pair food with the right drink much in the same way a scientist will look at a formula. “What I am doing, and what other bartenders will do more of, is to work more scientifically with flavors and liquid to create new drink experiences. Basically there are rules — but bartenders are bending the rule book and are starting to create drinks their own way," he explains. He predicts that bottle-aged cocktails will be huge in the future, much in the same way as vintage wine and whiskey are revered.
Though vintage cocktails will be different from creating a cocktail live in front of a customer, Conigliaro isn't worried about the bartending craft being phased out. Instead, he believes the art of mixing will be relied on heavily to create more sophisticated and eclectic tastes, furthering the ongoing trend of fresh ingredients and unexpected flavors. “It may sound very 21st century in terms of the methods being used, but I don’t think that the science will get out of hand. The heart of the cocktail is romance and the theater of creating it in front of a customer who wants more than just a straightforward drink," he says.
He also predicts that in the next 14 years, attention on simplicity will grow, and it will be more about the person behind the drink than the equipment used. “You can make fantastic drinks by increasing the application of science, but this is not the be-all and end-all. What is even more powerful than quirky methods is the passion of those who create the drinks. Bartenders are like magpies; they collect gems as they go, a little bit like chefs.”
Combining different flavors won't be as important as the quality and sophistication of the experience. Instead, Conigliaro believes that the cocktail should be "a little story in glass, with its own real sense of narrative." Currently experimenting with new ingredients, like plant resins and frankincense, he is striving to bring forth a new generation of cocktails and can see an exciting future ahead.
With his predictions about the cocktail being about ambience and experience, it's pretty obvious that venues are going to have to become more multidimensional — especially in terms of the relationship between food and drink. "Cocktail drinking will become more of a union between the senses and the stories behind the experience will grow."
Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge is Beefeater 24's Global Brand Ambassador and competition judge, and is witnessing firsthand these changes Conigliaro is speaking of. Hamilton-Mudge points to the internet as being a major game changer, allowing people from all around the world to connect and inspire one another. He sees the bar and restaurant community combining at a rapid rate, with more and more bars trying to stand out by using local ingredients. "This is important as, while there may be a long list of cocktails being served around the world, the number is set to mushroom in future years as bartenders strive for something that is both different and local. You could easily see a few million different cocktails being served on any one night within the next few decades."
Hamilton-Mudge agrees with Conigliaro regarding pre-bottled cocktails, making it easier to enjoy a drink with food. "The theater of cocktail making is less important at the table because you don't see the bar," he says. "That said, the quality has to be retained in the production method, and some cocktails will still need to be customized to a customer’s taste, such as the martini, but other less so; for example there is a new bar in San Diego [Polite Provisions] where a chocolate-infused Negroni is on draft at the bar!"
Last year's winner, Nathan O'Neill, feels that pre-making cocktails will be seeing a boom in popularity as well. “Seasonal ingredients are being used more and more, and an increasing number of unusual ingredients are also being introduced, from herbs like tarragon and coriander, to olive oil, which adds a savory note to a drink. Techniques will also allow us to replicate flavours of seasonal and locality specific ingredients; we will replicate flavors using phosphates and acids, which will allow cocktails to be made all year round as they won’t be reliant on any one type of fruit that only grows in one part of the world and at a certain time.”
Having been first introduced in 2010, the Beefeater 24 Global Bartender Competition has grown in popularity and stands as the premier competition showcasing bartending talent and innovation. This year's competition has highlighted people from 26 countries, including France, Australia, the U.S., the U.K., and Hong Kong. Anyone with even the slightest interest in cocktails will be wanting to pay attention to the winner, as the Global Final will certainly be picking out the best the world has to offer.