20 August 2014

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Hennessy's Cognac Cocktail Legends finalists


The Hennessy Fine de Cognac Cocktail Legends competition asked bartenders to create the best Cognac cocktails in the UK. But who would be the ultimate champion?

With some of the top bartenders from around the UK taking part, the final of the Hennessy Fine de Cognac Cocktail Competition was poised to be an epic showdown. The final eight, whittled down from 35 hopefuls in fiercely contested regional heats, were called to the suave and sophisticated Hennessy Clubhouse pop-up upstairs at Callooh Callay bar in Shoreditch to face the judges; and so began a superb show of craftsmanship and innovation.

Hennessy, the world’s number one selling Cognac, in partnership with Square Meal and barchick.com, had challenged the UK’s bartending fraternity to create an original cocktail using its elegant Fine de Cognac. Hennessy was looking for drinks that would perfectly showcase the character of this balanced Cognac, which is characterised by floral notes and fruity accents, given added complexity by subtle ageing.Hennessy competition - JOS2013071D00115_web.jpg

To notch up the pressure, each finalist also had to explain how this unique character of Hennessy Fine de Cognac worked in harmony with their other chosen ingredients – and do this while making their cocktails under the watchful eye of the judges.

Tasting the drinks and picking the winner were Hennessy’s UK brand manager and ambassador Max Helm, drinks writer Andrew Catchpole for Square Meal, and Suzie Dowty, editor at bar guide barchick.com. With the prize of a trip to famous drinks festival Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in 2014 on offer, the finalists aimed to deliver their best…

In the mix

Some sensational cocktails set the bar high from the start and all of the bartenders showed a keen understanding of the qualities inherent in Hennessy Fine de Cognac. The wide range of drinks that were created on the day demonstrated the versatility of Hennessy Fine de Cognac – from fresh, citrus numbers to richer, seasonal autumnal drinks by way of gently Asian-spiced creations.

Some bartenders also added a food element to pair with their drink. For example, Michael Braun from Smokestack in Leeds served his Miss Rosie’s Flip with a camembert and chutney canapé; while Jefferson Coltro from London’s Hakkasan Hanway Place matched his Botequero cocktail with Fine de Cognac-infused macaroons.

Hennessy competition - JOS2013071D00073_web.jpgBlazing performance

With such creativity on display, the standard was consistently high. It didn’t make for easy judging, but after much deliberation the panel declared Sam Sareen of Aquum in London the champion. His Hennessy Fine de Cognac Chai Blazer won over all three judges with its combination of rounded spiciness, balance and easygoing charm.

His cocktail drew inspiration from a family-owned spice plantation in India and a celebration of the English love of tea. These two themes were cleverly woven together with Cognac, historically the tipple of choice of the English ruling classes.

A delighted Sareen said: ‘I really wasn’t expecting to win, as there are so many great people here who are at the top of their game. But I’m obviously delighted with the result. I tend to be a much more instinctive bartender, but I have a feel for flavours and know how they all sit together, how to combine them and create a harmonious whole. The key was to allow the Fine de Cognac to come through, supported by the other flavours, but not to be overwhelmed.’

You can try Sareen’s Hennessy Fine de Cognac Chai Blazer at Aquum bar until Christmas (address below).

Square Meal would like to thank Callooh Callay for hosting the Hennessy Fine de Cognac Cocktail Legends final.

The Finalists


Hennessy competition - JOS2013071D00077_web.jpgHennessy Fine de Cognac Chai Blazer by Sam Sareen, Aquum

  • 60ml Earl Grey-infused
  • Hennessy Fine de Cognac
  • 5cm fresh stem ginger
  • 5-10ml Sweetbird Chai Syrup
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Glass: Teacup

Method: Infuse an Earl Grey teabag in the 60ml of Fine de Cognac for up to a minute. Add it to a Boston shaker with the ginger, syrup and bitters. Flame a twist of orange into the shaker and then light the mix. Pour from tin cup to tin cup three times to mix.

Strain and serve with a twist of lemon.

This feature was published in the autumn 2013 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.

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