Bartenders from across the county headed to Brighton’s Shelter Hall on Monday 5 June to cheer on the finalists at the annual Sussex Bartender of the Year competition, writes Nick Mosley.
Throughout May, bartenders at around 40 cocktail-led bar, hotel and restaurant venues were challenged to create a bespoke drink themed on ‘all things Sussex’ that used at least two of the ingredients in the competition box of sponsored products including Arbikie Nàdar Gin, Brighton Gin, Arrowtown seltzer, Ramsbury Gin, Slake Spirits Wild Elixir, Madame Jennifer Oak Aged Gin, St Maur Elderflower Liqueur, MDTEA, Wilding Water Kefir, Redroaster Coffee and Dedbest Distillery Contractors Gin.
Entrants submitted their Sussex cocktail and the inspiration for it via social media which were then filtered by the judging panel down to four finalists who appeared live on stage at Shelter Hall – alongside host Myles Cunliffe of Mixology School – to make their cocktail in front of industry friends and colleagues.
“The standard of all of the cocktails was really high this year”, said Zoe Cunliffe, chair of the judging panel. “We’ve run the competition for a number of years, and I think its fair to say the increasingly sophisticated cocktails we reflect that our region has some world class bartending talent”.
Zoe was joined on the judging panel by Allison Ferns from BBC Sussex and respected bartender Lainey Larkin.
The finalists included Lyndon Roper from Embers in Brighton, Kitty Morgan-Smith from Heritage in Slaugham and John Bowe from Orange Beach in Haywards Heath.
Alex Durdle from Level 1 in Worthing was crowned the ultimate winner, with their ‘The Sussex Sting’ cocktail that included Brighton Gin ‘Seaside’ 57% strength, Slake Spirits Wild Elixir Bacchus, and Sussex pollen washed with honey syrup amongst other ingredients.
“It’s a riff on the classic cocktail called the Bee's Knees”, said Alex. “That drink traditionally combines gin, lemon juice and honey syrup. My Sussex Sting incorporates local flavours and adds a touch of excitement to the original recipe. It’s a cocktail that is a tribute to the beauty and abundance that surrounds me, capturing the very spirit of the Sussex Downs”.
The competition was supported by Shelter Hall and Fevertree premium mixers, and co-organised by Sussex-based Mixology School who provide certified bar training to the hospitality industry in the UK and BITE Sussex, the local food group championing all things good to eat and drink across the county.