It was the battle of the bartenders in Belfast this week as 11 finalists representing bars from across Northern Ireland competed in theHennessy Connoisseurs Challenge, each vying for the chance to win a prestigious training scholarship with the world’s most iconic cognac brand.
Designed to uncover the movers and shakers in Northern Ireland’s cocktail scene, the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge was created by drinks company, Dillon Bass – owners of the Hennessy brand in Northern Ireland – to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the cognac brand.
The international judging panel, included Vincent Borjon-Prive from Hennessy; Swanand Korgaonkar, head bartender at The Berkeley Hotel,London; Northern Ireland food critic, Joris Minne and Joel Neill, operations director, Hospitality Ulster.
— Love Belfast ❤️ (@love_belfast) August 18, 2015
The judges put the bartenders through their paces, assessing them on two signature Hennessy drinks – one classic cocktail and one creative cocktail, as well as product knowledge, personality and ability to represent the brand in Northern Ireland.
Eleven finalists were shortlisted to compete at the Hennessy Connoisseurs Grand Finale at Robinson and Cleaver, Belfast on Tuesday 18thAugust. Following a nail-biting competition, three bartenders have been awarded the prestigious title of Hennessy Connoisseur.
Nathaniel McAuley from Muriel’s Cafe Bar, Belfast impressed the judges with his ‘energy, theatre and captivating personality’. His classic serve ‘The Café Royal – The Illumination’ featured an intoxicating mix of Hennessy Cognac VS, Olmeca Dark Chocolate Tequila, Demerara Syrup and fresh espresso, whilst his creative cocktail ‘The Rimbaud’ combined Hennessy Cognac, DeKauyper Amaretto, Cinnamon Syrup and Poached Pear Puree. Judges commented on the ‘creativity and exceptional balance of both drinks.’ Both drinks were inspired by the literary works of one of France’s most famous and respected poets, Arthur Rimbaud, author of Les Illuminations, which was brought to life with a stirring rendition of his poem, The Cupboard at the beginning of Nathaniel’s performance.
Roisin McErlean from The Albany, Belfast wowed the judges with her ‘knowledge, research, skill and precision.’ Her classic serve ‘The Irish Officer’ paid homage to Hennessy founder, Irishman, Richard Hennessy and featured a heady mix of Hennessy VS, Redbreast 12 year Old Irish Whiskey, nutmeg, cinnamon, freshly squeezed orange juice and sugar syrup. Her creative cocktail serve, ‘By Royal Appointment’ included Hennessy VSOP, egg white, homemade orange sherbet, fresh ginger extract, lime juice and orange bitters. JudgeSwanand Korgaonkar, head bartender at The Berkeley Hotel, London said: ‘Roisin is a very precise bartender, with great presence and her perfectly constructed cocktails demonstrated great technique. I felt like I’d been transported back to 1904 watching one of the great, classic bartenders in action.’
The third Hennessy Connoisseur, Frankie Cosgrove from Sixty6, Belfast amazed the judges and people in attendance with his classic serve – a deconstructed Bloody Mary, featuring Heinz Beanz sauce, Hennessy, lime, lemon, salt & cracked pepper, basil leaves and oregano, served in a bean tin and garnished with fresh oregano, a celery stick and a side plate of toast with honey and crackers with jalapeno relish. His creative serve featured Hennessy, Peachtree De Kuyper Liqueur, lime juice, bee pollen syrup, fresh strawberries, Moet et Chandon champagne and rhubarb bitters, garnished with fresh strawberry in a smoke glass with apple and mint tea leaves.
Judge and Northern Ireland food critic, Joris Minne said: “Frankie looks upon cocktails as a chef designs and prepares a meal. It was a revelation to see someone create a savoury cocktail; it was even better than the classic Bloody Mary.”
Commenting on the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge, Joanne O’Hagan, marketing manager at Dillon Bass, said: “As we celebrate 250 years of Hennessy, we were proud to mark the occasion with our Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge, which recognises and rewards the talent of Northern Ireland’s best bartenders.
“The Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge was designed to support bartenders by providing a career-enhancing training opportunity and to share the talents of our incredible local mixology stars with the rest of the world. We wanted to show the flexibility and versatility of the Hennessy brand – a brand steeped in rich history but which is undergoing a renaissance, with a range of contemporary mixed drinks and cocktails bringing Hennessy to a wider spectrum of consumers.
“Our international judging panel had their work cut out for them, with an exceptionally high standard of entries. The passion, skill and enthusiasm each of the finalists demonstrated for their craft is nothing short of amazing.
“We set out to discover Northern Ireland’s finest and most talented mixologists – those who can embody the spirit of Hennessy. The history and heritage of Hennessy was embraced and celebrated by the bartenders with innovative and exciting contemporary creations produced. Our congratulations go to each of our newly named Hennessy Connoisseurs and all the finalists who made it a thrilling and highly competitive competition.”
The winners will receive a once in a lifetime immersive training experience that money can’t buy.
All three Hennessy Connoisseurs have won an impressive prize package, courtesy of Dillon Bass, which includes a VIP trip to Cognac to visit Maison Hennessy and Chateau Bagnolet, where they will receive one-on-one training, including a tasting with Hennessy’s master blender. The Connoisseurs will also receive a bespoke training session with an Ambassadeur de la Maison Hennessy; tickets to a special Hennessy 250 dinner in Belfast and the opportunity to have their signature drinks showcased by the brand.
Frankie Cosgrove from sixty6, Belfast will also get the opportunity to attend the Hennessy Art of Mixology event in Cognac in September, having been singled out by the judges as an ‘outstanding’ talent and ‘the next great creative mind in the Belfast cocktail scene.’
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— Love Belfast ❤️ (@love_belfast) August 19, 2015
The winners of the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge were:
· Nathaniel McAuley, Muriel’s Café Bar
· Roisin McErlean, The Albany
· Frankie Cosgrove, Sixty6
The eight finalists in the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge were:
· Ryan Adair, The Merchant Hotel
· Dominic Armstrong, Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast
· Francesca Dalton, Miel et Moi
· Adam Duff, The National Grande Café
· Patrick Graham, The Albany
· Nicole Kane, The Merchant Hotel
· Ian McCandless, The Northern Whig
· Ashley Williamson, The Cloth Ear