In the last week of August it was time to hop on a sidecar again in the form of "Sidecar by Merlet" -cocktail competition. After winning the Finnish qualifications with Jenna Mansikka, we have been getting ready for the Scandinavian Finals. We flew to Stockholm with our fellow Birdtenders ready to support and cheer for us on site - thank you Merlet Finland for making it happen! Unfortunately Moona forgot to bring her team cap so she was ordered to carry a bunch of sage from bar to bar as a punishment. We named the sage "The Sage of Shame". Yeah, it was funny!
Moona and Jessi helped us polish and assemble our bartending tools and glassware.
Pauliina is in charge of Birdtender's social media, and she was constantly processing images, picking hashtags and perfecting filters!
The competition took place in Reisen Hotel located in the banks of Old Town. Such a beautiful place with a very welcoming staff, we felt immediately like at home there! Luc Merlet introduced us to the rules of the Scandinavian Finals before releasing Tony Conigliaro for his Master Class.
I have seen Tony many times this year, but somehow he always manages to keep his performance interesting and different even when talking about same subjects. He took us on a journey into the imagination with examples about where to get inspiration from. Tony's Drink Factory in London focuses on creating new innovations with experts from different industries: perfumeries, artists, photographers, scientists, doctors, you name it.
After drawing our performance order from the hat, it was time to begin the competition. Jenna was the lucky number one to start the show. The Scandinavian finals followed the same pattern as national qualifications: each competitor had prepared a twist on a classic Sidecar Cocktail, and made their second creation with one of the Merlet liqueurs. Before the Scandinavian finals we received also a list of classic cognac cocktails including drinks like Sazerac, Continental Sour, Brandy Crusta and Stinger. We were supposed to make one of these drinks for the judges to prove our knowledge also in the field of classic cocktails.
Before the competition Moona was supporting Jenna and making sure she had everything she needs. Jenna drew "Brandy Crusta" from the hat for the classic cocktail challenge. We had gone though all the classic drinks at home before the competition, and this was the one we both feared the most, not because of the drink but for the tricky garnish it has: wide sugar rim and lemon peel attached to the inside of the mouth of the glass.
Jenna was first introduced to the Sidecar Cocktail when she started her bartending career in the town where she was born, Rovaniemi. That time everybody drank their cognac neat, and when Jenna was trying to have some of her regular customers to try this cognac based cocktail, they would just look at her in disbelief and say "Young girl, you never mix cognac with anything". Finally she got one of them to taste it, and last time she saw this guest they were still loving Sidecar, after all these years!
Anna-Kaisa was filming our presentations for us to go trough later so that we can learn from our mistakes and success.
For her Sidecar twist Jenna had created a cocktail combining sage and homemade lemon sherbet to cognac and triple sec. "Sage in side" was served in a coupe glass rimmed with salt and sugar and garnished with sage leaf. For her own creation Jenna had decided to use Merlet Sour Cerises, which is and excellent cherry liqueur with very authentic flavor. Paired with cognac, lemon juice, mint and Angostura Bitters, this was a perfect julep for autumn!
Next up Fredrik Wallin from Nytorget 6, Stockholm. For his Sidecar Twist he had decided to use ingredients he loves the most: cognac, figs and Banyuls. He was aiming for a drink with more depth than the classic version. Served with crispy figs and French cheese, "The AOC Sidecar" surely delivered that depth Fredrik was after. For his second creation "Napoleon" he used Merlet Peach liqueur, Peach bitters, St. James Heritage, lemon and simple syrup. With about 30 seconds in the clock he still had to prepare Sazerac, and as you guess he didn't make it to the 8 minutes time limit. He wasn't the only one though, since only one competitor managed to present without going over time!
My turn was on after that. I always prefer to have my presentation in the beginning of the competition. I feel more relaxed that way, and I can also concentrate on other competitors performances and learn after my own turn has gone already. I was lucky to draw "Continental Sour" as my classic cognac cocktail, since it was one of the drinks I felt more confident preparing. I learnt that drink many years ago in American Bar in Hotel Torni Helsinki. Our head bartender Mika Vitikka liked this drink a lot and often recommended it to the customers even when it was not on the menu.
From classic cocktail I moved forward to more modern direction. I drew inspiration for my Sidecar Twist from my favorite meal: breakfast. And since we were talking about cognac competition, it had to be French Breakfast and not Full English. I had fat washed my cognac with brown butter to give it croissant type of flavor. Croissant is nothing without orange marmalade, so I had to use it with a bit of blood orange and lemon juice. Shaken together, this "Lady Marmalade" was served with brioche, orange marmalade and popping candy.
Merlet is a very family focused brand with Luc, his brother and father working together for the cognac, so I wanted to introduce them to my family a little also. My granny Aino used to grow black currants on our summer cottage and make super tasty juice out of them. We always drank that from enamel cups with cinnamon buns. For my "Aino" cocktail I used Merlet Creme de Cassis to re-create that black currant flavor together with Zubrovka, cardamom syrup, lemon and cranberry tea.
Mattias Borg from Haymarket's American Bar in Stockholm had created orange and lemon oil foam for his Sidecar Twist. In a stirring glass rinsed with Merlet Triple Sec, he mixed cognac to acidified lemon sugar, stirred and poured on a clear block of ice and finished "Bobby Car" with the foam. His second creation "The Martinique Shuffle" combined Merlet Poire to Pussers, falernum, barbecued pineapple juice and lime. Out of the drinks I tried, this was one of my favorites! Mattias was also the only one to finish his presentation on time.
Michael Florindon from Pluto, Copenhagen, had drawn inspiration for his Sidecar Twist from his childhood. He and his brother used to play a lot in their garden, where their mother had planted lavender. Unluckily their neighbors had an apiary, and the bees living there loved the lavender. After all the bee stings he still remembers those times with happiness. Merlet cognac paired with triple sec, lemon, lavender bitters and honey re-created those memories for him in the form of "Lavender Sidecar". In his second creation "Poire and Oil" he used Merlet Poir with cognac, olive oil, cynar, eggwhite and pinch of salt.
The only competitor from Norway came from Thief Bar, Oslo. Slavomir Kytka prepared his Sidecar twist with Merlet cognac and Triple Sec, Mandarin shrub, lemon and cacao bitters. This "French Courage" was served with a festive edible flower. His second creation was named "Succes", and it was made of the ingredients you need to be successful: working hard, being loved and traveling. For this drink he stirred Eau de Vigne, Merlet Creme de Mure, Umeshu, and Merlet C2 Cafe liqueur and sherry reduction.
Last but not least it was time for Goran Aziz from Ström, Copenhagen. He was wearing the most cool bow tie made of bark with some moss growing on it! Goran twisted his Sidecar with ingredients sourced from trees: maple syrup and amber. The drink was called the "Family Three".
His second drink was dedicated to his girlfriend. She had been asking to join him on a vacation in Mexico, but Goran had told her that it is trip only for bartenders. He decided to make up by naming a drink after her, but not her first name but the second one. "Who is Louise?" was the question she asked when Goran told the name of the drink - she hadn't even realized it meant her! The drink was made of ingredients inspired by Mexico: blanco tequila, Merlet Poir, lemon, marzipan and eggwhite.
After the competition it was time for some actual Sidecar and painstaking wait of the final scores.
And the winner was........ Goran Aziz from Ström! He is traveling to Cognac region in January to battle in the International Finals for the grand price: a trip to the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Good job Goran, go and show them what the Nordics are made of and bring the trophy home!
Thank you Merlet and Stockholm for having us, it was a blast like always!