Food & Drink

Bombay Sapphire Stirs Creativity at the Most Imaginative Bartender Competition

Bombay Sapphire - Most imaginative bartender competition

SINCE ITS INCEPTION, THE USBG MOST IMAGINATIVE BARTENDER COMPETITION — SPONSORED BY BOMBAY SAPPHIRE GIN — HAS WORKED WITH MIXOLOGISTS WHO’VE GONE ON TO ADVANCE THEIR CAREERS AND BE KNOWN AS SOME OF THE TOP TALENT ACROSS CANADA AND THE U.S.

Written by Chris Metler

In scouring North America for its greatest emerging virtuosos — and boundary-pushing creations — the MIB program doesn’t just endeavour to highlight cocktail making as a pure art form, but further exhibit cutting-edge levels of craft. From one edition to the next, the innovative work of its participating bartenders continues to propel the industry forward.

That said, to regard MIB — now entering its 12th year — as an event to merely demonstrate artistic supremacy in the realm of spirits would be to sell the entire affair way, way short.

Bombay Sapphire distillery Hampshire England
Bombay Sapphire’s iconic distillery in rural Hampshire, England

It’s a platform that celebrates Bombay Sapphire’s storied heritage.

Bay Street Bull learned this first-hand when tagging along for last year’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. Soon after touching down in London — the United Kingdom’s capital and most populous city — we converged with the 2017 MIB finalists at Bombay Sapphire’s BREEAM-certified Laverstoke Mill Distillery in rural Hampshire. The reason? To embark on an immersive experience with the brand.

Led by the Bombay Sapphire’s Senior Ambassador, Global Ambassador and North American Ambassador, the lot of us were privy to a direct engagement with the gin’s unique vapour-infusion distillation process, as well as the ten exotic botanicals showcased within Laverstoke’s dazzling dual-climate glasshouses.

Bombay Sapphire is, of course, the headline spirit of MIB. Every libation eligible for contention requires it as a primary ingredient. What better way, then, to make sure the gin’s decades-old tradition stays positioned at the forefront?

Bartender Chris Morris Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition
Bartender Chris Morris (Houston, TX) puts his skills to the test

There’s an unparalleled commitment to inspiring cocktail artistry.

Once again, we need only reference what we had the opportunity to observe at 2017’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. That instalment officially commenced via a first-ever “Artistry Challenge,” which began with a curated tour of one of London’s famous art galleries. The finalists then had to select works to serve as the muse for crafting avant-garde recipes, each intended to illustrate the collision between art and mixology.

An “On-Air Challenge” followed the next morning, putting the finalists’ presentation skills to the test by prompting their ability to create a cocktail, all while engaging an audience during a filmed demonstration. Later that night — in a “Guest Shift Challenge” — they were further tasked with sourcing local ingredients throughout the city, batching three different gin-forward offerings and designing a bespoke drink menu across leading London bars.

Lastly, in the “Final Cocktail Showcase” — held at the sleek and revered Connaught Bar — every finalist presented an original Bombay Sapphire gin cocktail, while also sharing the motivating forces for their special creation.

All told, the invigorating showdown resulted in 72 mind-bending, visionary libations — from Chris Morris’ Still Life (with Bombay Sapphire, lavender soda, black plum and hibiscus shrub), to Timo Salimaki’s Red Hanoi (with Bombay Sapphire, Vietnamese herb-infused coconut milk, pineapple juice, lime juice and spiced pomegranate soup), to Andrew Lue’s London Café Con Leche (with Bombay Sapphire, distilled Cuban coffee, clotted cream vodka, brown butter syrup, one egg and two drops of saline). And that’s just the tipping point!

Annie PIerce Most Imaginative Bartender Competition
Annie Pierce (Columbus, OH) scoops top honours at MIB 2017

The lives of its perennial contenders continue to be impacted for the better.

In the aftermath of winning 2017’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, Annie Pierce became GQ’s first official Bartender in Residence. She now collaborates on a new series of innovative cocktail videos, in addition to acting as their in-house cocktail and culture expert throughout the year.

Pierce is just the latest in a growing list of MIB top dogs to translate the program’s prestige into professional prosperity. Since seizing the 2016 title, Schuyler Hunton has been working on launching his very own bar program, which is set to open in the heart of Boston. 2015 champion Justin Lavenue also unveiled two of Austin’s hottest cocktail spots upon his respective conquest. And 2014 winner Ran Duan transformed his family-owned business into one of the most buzzed-about cocktail bars in the States in the wake of his victory.

Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition
In 2018, sixteen finalists will again travel to London, England to vie for the MIB title

MIB shows no signs of slowing down.

Submissions opened in early-March for the 2018 USBG Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, again presented by Bombay Sapphire. Regional semi-finalists will be announced later this month, narrowed down to 80 top bartenders from across Canada and the U.S. These regional finals are going to take place over the months of May and June, thereby determining who will challenge for a chance to represent their hometown against opponents from across the continent.

Then, for the third year in a row, the sixteen triumphant finalists — up from twelve — will travel back to London in September to vie for the vaunted prize.

What transformative surprises Bombay Sapphire has in store for them there is anybody’s guess.