A Competition State of Mind: Part 2

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Welcome back :) 

Having dived into the evolution of challenges in part 1 here, where now gonna step up the nerd factor by, well a shit load. Looking at both the new directions competitions have headed recently, as well as getting some perspective from the other side of the bartop, and looking at what is happening in the judges world

New Directions

When the river floods, all ships rise. This truism does however have one small addendum, in river full of boats, how does one stand out? As comps have become more prolific, so too does the need to stand out, attract talent and push competitors to new and different heights.

As a round, Chivas Masters has for the last 5 years had a wonderful means of ensuring all are involved to the end, even when you’re out, you’re not out! It goes like this, everyone competes, and after X number of rounds there is a Top 5 selected. However, the final challenge is then a team round, where the Top 5 now team captains, and then select those who didn’t make the cut to work with them to help them achieve ultimate success. The winning teams captain them becomes the overall winner, but the morale of that final announcement is all the more tantalising because everyone still has some skin in the game.

In case you’re VERY new to this website one thing we really care about is the environment and the “S” word ;) However one very unsustainable side to this industry is the travel. So Sombra Mezcal hit us up earlier this year, and are going to run a global cocktail comp, with zero travel. Intrigue? Good cos you fucking should be! There is a great article on it here and you can go enter yourself here. We’re stoked to see this format on the rise and while you’re reading this, go sign yourself up to Carbon Offset Program cos we could all offset the damage we’re doing a little more!

The Tahona Society, the competition run by Altos Tequila has just announced a fucking mega facelift. The competition is placing a huge emphasis on projects with a greater community purpose and its supported with a scholarship program that has some sweet fucking bank in it for the winner. Spirits Business wrote a great piece on it here, but this really is total game changer in terms of a brand stepping up, reacting to the current climate of our industry and identifying that as we seek to become more fully rounded professionals, engagement outside of the typical bar setting in not just necessary, but integral to progression. Kelsey is the 2016 Global Champion for this comp and having both judged it in 2017, it’s rad to see the way the brand has let this grow into something that is reflective of our industries needs.

Have you heard of the Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Bartending Championship? It bills itself as a “bartending competition not a cocktail competition!” and frankly you’d be hard pressed to argue. Everyone should attend one of these, and given the impact we’ve seen this comp have on others in its short tenure, seems we’re not the only one. You got general knowledge, double blind tastings, free pouring tests and speed rounds and while the old guard might start heckling from the balcony about that how it was in the good ol' days, that format had long been mostly dormant and awakening it for another generation is definitely a great thing, for variety if nothing else!

Fun fact, the original idea was that of former UK Am-Bad-Ass-ador (his words) Grant Neave, way back when he living in Edinburgh and Iain was bartending at (the fucking mighty!) Bramble. His late night over the bar chat originally involved such wildly non-CSR approved rounds as where you’d have to close down Garibaldi’s (the most unholy/awesome of late night ‘Burgh venues) and then be up at 9am, make a round of servable coffees then run an obstacle course with a tray of said coffees. Whilst such, ahh, less evolved ideas have remained on the cutting floor, the comp continues to remain true to its essence and is gaining traction year on year.

This final one we happened upon by accident. Having wrapped the South American leg of our tour last year, we took a long weekend in Lima, Peru. Though we arrived there to find many friendly faces in town as well for a wee comp. The Peru Spirit Masters were happening on Saturday night it turned out, a culmination of the national finals for Pernod Ricard’s Absolut, Chivas Regal, Havana Club & Beefeater finals. What we walked into was a venue holding 1500+ consumers on a Saturday night, a boxing ring with 360 degree large flat screen views in the middle that every hour hosted the national final of a different brand, and in the meantime bar selling signature cocktails with a few food trucks to boot and all finished up with iconic Cuban musicians the Orishas performing a killer set.

Competition or otherwise, it was a mega night out. To see the way a smaller market pooled their resources to throw a phenomenal event that championed the nations best bartenders, was filled with engaged consumers, at an event earning back the money it has outlaid and a really great party throughout the whole night, it had us leaving the night talking how this must be the future of competitions.


Judging & Ops

Yes really, there are some cool things to talk about from the other side of the bartop. Before we dive into that let us just outline a few basics that you must have to treat those you’ve brought in to be the authority with some common courtesy.

Spittoons. Because no one wants to actually take 3 sips of 30+ cocktails in a day and swallow them all (also if your brand manager doesn’t like them in picture then put a fucking sticker on it so it’s “on brand”). Chairs with appropriate back support, which basically means no fucking bar stools. It’s great to sit at the bar, it’s always the best seat in the house, competition or mid-service, but 4+ hours hunched over fucking sucks ok. Finally, and this one might seem a tad prima donna but trust us, a space for judges to sit that is quiet and separate from the general space. You’re fucking brain dead after 3/4/6/8! hours of judging, plus bus rides plus field trips and so the chance to grab a 15 minute reprieve (that isn’t in a toilet cubicle, yes that's really how desperate the need for silence and space can get) can really make all the difference, trust us.

So let’s get into it. Firstly a shout out to World Class for developing an app for judges, as this removes SO MUCH unnecessary paper waste. While we haven’t had the chance to play with it ourselves, the opinion of pals has been an overwhelming “hell yeah”. The back end on this must be a dream as it’s all done for you from a formula and no poor schlep stuck adding up every judges messy scribble plus it would be so easy to offer direct, private feedback to every competitor. Hopefully someone develops a blank template version soon that allows any brand to input their branding and criteria in to so all can get on board!

While we’re on the judging format, we honestly can’t say enough great things about the judging sheet those very cool dudes at Purficter in Sweden have. It’s a simple notion (aren’t all the best ideas?) that ensures a huge degree of consistency, something which honestly can be the biggest challenge for a judge. When you start a comp at 11am and have to judge 20-30 (or more) cocktails, remembering why the drink you saw first that you gave 6/10 on taste to, is the same/better/worse than the 30th you’re trying some 5 hours later, is the most important to ensure everyone is getting a fair chance. The score sheet, which with their permission we’ll be sharing here in the next few days, puts a simple statement next to every few points along the scale. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it makes the entire process about a million times faster as as well as making it easier to track your opinions from one drink to the next, it also helps show the judges what kind of statement the brand is looking to make about the drinks. Simple, easy, and really fucking helpful!

Something we felt very important to mention was the importance, we feel at least, of not having your ambassadors judging. Frankly it brings unnecessary biased into the judging, plain and simple. Judges turn up with a brief and a job to do. However ambassadors, understandably, have much more to be thinking of such a pouring deals with the venues being repped, personal relationships with the bartenders cos they’re in their bars much more often, and a boss who obviously wants to know the “best” bar won. If you can’t tip at a bar, you shouldn’t be drinking and likewise, if you can’t afford judges you shouldn’t be holding a competition.

The judging panel format of Legacy is something very tight and worthy of noting. A completely different judging panel at each round in important if competitors are to be making the same drink again, and a separate group that has the expertise to critically assess the marketing round fairly. While the “one drink to rule them all” style of competition is not for everyone, having a well balanced, diverse and well separated judging panels like they do is a real benchmark all should be aiming to hit.

Finally one thing we totally think there should be more of is event hosts. Competitions often equal a very long day or days, someone who is there purely to fill the silence between rounds, keep the crowd engaged and everything moving along brings so much value to the final product. It’s another cost so not all can consider it, but particularly if you’re filming the day, have an individual charged with MC’ing the days activities brings another level of vibes and momentum.

We'll be back in a few days with our final installment, looking at the bartenders themselves and considerable amount of time considering what might be next for the humble (LOL) cocktail competition