US triumphs in Opihr Gin cocktail competitionBy Melita Kiely
American bartender Mariena Mercer stormed to victory following a fierce final in Marrakech to claim the top accolade in the 2015 Opihr World Adventure Cocktail Competition.
A total of 11 finalists, hailing from the UK, Ireland, the US, Spain and Portugal, were flown to Marrakech, Morrocco, last Thursday for the grand final that took place on Saturday.
Contestants were challenged to create an original cocktail using Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin, and given a budget of 300 dirham (roughly £30) to source all other ingredients and drinking vessels fresh from the souks of Marrakech within a two-hour time frame.
Mercer blew the judges away with her drink Classy Lassi – a play on the Indian lassi milkshake – made using Opihr Gin, mango purée, passion fruit purée, kalamansi, yoghurt, “Marco Polo” syrup (made from green cardamom, ginger, pepper corns and coriander), and a handful of lemon verbena.
Her drink was garnished with a caramelized orange chip, with “snake oil” of vanilla, white ginger and eucalyptus.
“The competition was such a surreal experience,” commented Mercer, of The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas.
“Each bartender was incredibly talented and it was such a pleasure to watch and learn from each one of the competitors – we are all winners here.”
Chosen at random, the 11 finalists were split into two teams, with group one comprising Mercer; Joe Macbeth of Rub Smokehouse & Bar, Nottingham; Stephanie Shen of The Meeting House, Dublin; Francois Morrison of Cherche Midi, New York; Bryan Gerrard, of Smack Shack, Minneapolis; and Valentina Vadici of Boutique Hotel Do Reial, Barcelona.
Group two featured David Wade of Vodka Wodka, Glasgow; John Burns of Intercontinental London Park Lane, London; Steven Maduro of Spoonbar, California; Alvaro Martin of Hotel ME, Ibiza; and Tiago Sousa of Casino Lisboa, Lisbon.
Judging the first heat was Raj Ravalia, Marblehead brand development, and Kate Harrison, international brand manager at Quintessential Brands, with Judith Garcia, Opihr Gin brand ambassador for Spain, and Melita Kiely, senior staff writer at The Spirits Business, forming the second panel of judges.
After lengthy deliberations, third places were awarded to Shen and Wade, second places were given to Macbeth and Burns, while first place positions were bestowed upon Mercer and Martin.
Mercer and Martin were then tasked to go head-to-head before both the judges and their peers, who together cast the final votes, which saw Mercer named the 2015 champion.
“We work in an amazing industry and everyone here is exceptionally talented,” commented Ravalia as he announced the results. “At the end of all this, I would love you to keep entering cocktail competitions, keep meeting people from around the world and learn from each other.
“The standard has been phenomenal and we all had a great time judging the cocktails.”