SB meets… Sumaiyah Connolly, Beefeater

7th February, 2018 by admin

As the global final of this year’s MIXLDN approaches, we caught up with Sumaiyah Connolly, Beefeater global brand ambassador, to get the lowdown on this year’s competition and the latest trends shaping gin.


Sumaiyah Connolly is global brand ambassador for Beefeater gin

MIXLDN is in its seventh year, can you let us know how the competition has evolved from last year?

It’s been my first year as global brand ambassador, so there’s the first change! The popularity of gin has continued to explode in the last year and we’ve seen this coming through in the competition. The challenges are harder than before and we’re really pushing bartenders out of their comfort zone, which is exciting to witness. The competition has gone from strength to strength and has grown from 50 entrants representing four countries back in 2011 to more than 1,500 from 31 nations this year, making it the largest gin cocktail competition on the planet.

What’s the biggest trend you’ve seen across the board at this year’s MIXLDN?

Something which has been coming through in the recipes is the exploration of balancing flavours using savoury ingredients. In particular, bartenders have been trialling fat-washing variations and umami flavour profiles, a trend which is becoming more prevalent in our bartenders’ recipe lists. The search for this flavour profile in cocktails has seen a rise in the creation of shrubs where the combination of the fruit, sugar, and vinegar creates a flavour that is both tart and sweet. The impact on the cocktail is that it stimulates the taste buds and appetite while quenching thirst. Often these shrubs have been made with locally sourced ingredients and it’s so interesting to see the resourcefulness of the bartenders when making use of local ingredients. There is definitely an increased focus on sustainability.

Can you give us some examples of innovative bartending from your time on MIXLDN?

That’s a tricky question as we’ve seen so much and it’s so varied. This year’s theme has allowed our competing bartenders to put a unique spin on their cocktails and the impact of the bartenders’ local cities has been fascinating. We’ve also had people fermenting their own ingredients, which is where it really starts to get exciting as the flavour combinations are endless and intriguing too – you never know what to expect!

Every day is a school day when you’re working on MIXLDN – you travel the world and discover unusual and creative new things. For example, when I was in Mexico for the local final, one of the bartenders had listed tuna as one of his ingredients, which raised a few eyebrows…it turned out there is such a thing as a tuna fruit, which is quite delicious.

Do you think the growing interest in gin has affected the bartending industry?

Absolutely, we’re currently in the new golden era for cocktails and we recently released our report into this, showing how ‘Gineration X’ – millennial gin drinkers – are seeking out the artisanal side of gin and taking an interest in its wide range of botanical flavours.

The first era ran from 1870 until the roaring 20s, and this second surge in interest started around 2008. During this time, gin has become the number one trend in cocktails around the world. Not only have cocktails undergone a huge transformation, but bartenders are now being seen as cultural intermediaries.

How has the bartender’s role changed in the past year?

A bartender’s role in society has started to grow in focus and gain a larger following. We’re seeing them as earlier adopters of trends from other industries, becoming ambassadors for change and in some cases leading trends that are having a wider impact on society. One focus area of this societal ‘ambassador’ role is sustainability. Bartenders are bringing the importance of sustainability to life for consumers and not just focusing on business impact. The use of locally-sourced ingredients is helping to reduce the footprint of cocktails and this is what many consumers want to see more of. It’s humbling to think that the actions of a few UK bartenders removing straws from their venues has helped to inspire a national in this country.

So, would you say that bartenders are more talented nowadays?

I think there has always been a remarkable level of talent in the bartending industry, especially if we think back to the times of Jerry Thomas, who was leading in this field when it was in its infancy. We’ve seen an evolution in the techniques bartenders are using, which is allowing for more creative and innovative drinks. What’s more, the rise in the perception of bartending as a profession has led to an increase in the pool of talent as more people look to get into the industry. In my opinion, the main shift we’ve seen is in consumer appreciation. Now, more than ever, people are respecting bartending as a profession and respecting the art form. This is giving bartenders a platform to demonstrate their capabilities and educate their customers on new flavours and drinks.

The trend for food and drink being ‘Instagrammable’ is growing – has this played a role in bartenders’ creativity and the artistic flair we’re seeing in cocktails?

Yes and no, as it really depends which bar you go to and who you speak to. Yes, consumers are paying more attention to the theatrics and the visuals of cocktail-making and social media is a tool through which content of beautiful cocktails is spread, but it’s not always about the show. The most important thing, in my opinion, is the taste and the experience. If we take a Negroni or a Martini, they are classic and visually simple but deliver on taste every time.

Previously, vodka has been the ’go-to’ for cocktails, why are bartenders turning to gin now?

Gin is beautifully versatile and each one brings something unique and different, so it’s exciting for bartenders to play with. The botanicals can be highlighted and complemented through their recipes in countless ways. There is a gin out there for everyone, you just need to find which flavours and characters work for you. If we look back to the 1920s, gin was thirving but somewhere around the 60s and 70s, people stopped wanting to taste the alcohol in their long, sweet drinks and, as a result, vodka became the go-to spirit in cocktails. Nowadays, we have such a range of consumer tastes, that both can play an equally important role on cocktail menus.

Where do you see the bartending industry in five years?

Wow, this is a hard one! If we go off what we’ve seen in the last 10 years, then the future is certainly bright. There are avenues which the industry is yet to fully explore, like sustainability, and these could have a marked impact over the next couple of years. I’m just excited to be part of the industry during this time, working with the world’s most awarded gin and the world’s best bartenders.

What do brands need to do to help continue the growth in the gin category?

Every brand has a part to play in helping to sustain the interest in gin, and by listening to consumers’ needs and tailoring our products we can help grow the next ‘gineration’. Innovation is important for continuing growth, but the biggest way we can make an impact is by working with bartenders to broaden consumers’ tastes and getting more people to try different spirits, such as gin. This is what we’re trying to achieve with MIXLDN – we’re driving creativity and demonstrating the versatility of gin, whilst giving bartenders a platform to grow their profiles.

* The global winner of MIXLDN 2018 will be announced tomorrow (8 February)

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