Although Agua bartender Simon Crompton is still tweaking the recipes of his entries for the Diageo Reserve World Class finals, he gave a preview of some of the cocktails he plans to prepare for the first round of that competition at a lunch with Jacques Scott’s Jo Austin and Sarah Howard.
Agua Bartender Simon Crompton has been creating new cocktails for years, but this year his cocktail imagination has been working overtime.
Crompton won the Cayman Islands’ segment of the Diageo Reserve World Class cocktail competition in early May, culminating four months of preliminary rounds and earning him the right to represent the Cayman Islands in the World Class finals on a Mediterranean cruise aboard a luxury ship in July.
As difficult and nerve-wracking as the Cayman segment of the competition was, Crompton knows that the finals, where he will compete among 50 of the world’s best bartenders, are even more intense.
Although the all-star bartending cast of judges for the finals will be looking at all aspects of what makes a good bartender – including technique, personality, speed and showmanship – Crompton will also have to present imaginative, balanced cocktails that taste good to have a chance at winning the title of the World’s Best Bartender for 2013.
The competition involves several rounds, with some competitors being eliminated during each round.
Crompton, who travelled to Panama for a week of intense training with Diageo bartenders and brand ambassadors in June, had already decided on four of the cocktails he planned to prepare during the first round of the finals. Since Jacques Scott organized the World Class competition in Cayman because they distribute Diageo’s spirit brands in the country, Crompton gave the company’s Jo Austin and Sarah Howard a sneak peak of what he had planned.
Nothing starts a morning, afternoon or evening event better than Champagne, so Crompton’s first cocktail was a take-off on the classic French 75, which was created at the New York Bar in Paris in 1915.
One of the preliminary ‘waves’ of the World Class competition had the theme ‘Retro Chic’, in which the bartenders were asked to create a new cocktail that was based on a classic, but given a modern twist.
Crompton’s ‘Soursop 75’ was such a take-off, using a syrup made from fresh local soursop puree, something Crompton uses regularly at Agua.
“Soursop is our best-selling martini, so I thought I’d use it for a Champagne cocktail,” he said.
In addition to the soursop syrup, the simple cocktail only has five other ingredients: Tanqueray Ten gin [Jacques Scott retail price: $42.99], lemon juice, a little simple sugar syrup, Elderflower liqueur and Champagne, which in this case was Louis Roederer Brut Premier [$59.99]. Served in a Champagne flute, the cocktail was garnished with a lemon twist.
Although the Soursop 75 is made with three different alcoholic beverages, it was surprisingly light.
“This would be a great brunch cocktail,” said Howard of the Soursop 75’s light and refreshing character. “But they would be dangerous.”
One aspect of World Class that wasn’t involved in the Cayman segment because this was the country’s first appearance in the competition was food pairing with cocktails. Food pairing is something that will be a part of the later rounds of the finals and it is something Crompton learned more about during the training in Panama in June. However, Crompton already had a basic understanding of what kind of foods go best with certain cocktails.
“Generally, light cocktails go better with light foods,” he said. “If the food is very light, you don’t want something very punchy because it will overpower the food.”
Agua is known for its various ceviche dishes and Crompton thought they would be an excellent pairing with the Soursop 75 cocktail. Howard thought it really worked with the citrus conch ceviche of the day,
“It’s a really fun pairing,” she said.
Gin, vodka and Scotch cocktails
In the first round of the World Class finals, the bartenders have to create cocktails with certain themes. One of those themes is the Mediterranean, where the competition will take place.
Crompton’s Pompelmo Bacio – Italian for ‘Grapefruit Kiss’ – will be the most complex cocktail he will create in the first round, using more than 10 ingredients and based around Tanqueray gin, vermouth and limoncello liqueur and served in a martini glass.
The cocktail uses a lot of citrus flavours beyond limoncello, including fresh grapefruit juice, lemon and lime juice and orange blossom water. It is also rimmed and garnished with orange zest, which give Pompelmo Bacio its predominant aroma. The citrus flavours, along with fresh basil, add to the refreshing taste of the cocktail, making it a good pairing with seafood dishes.
Another theme for a cocktail Crompton will have to prepare in the finals revolves around icons of the red carpet – famous movie stars of the past. The cocktail he will prepare will pay homage to Elizabeth Taylor and the Blue Velvet martini that was created in her honour. Made with Ciroc vodka [$50.99/Litre or $36.95/750ml] the cocktail also contains the liqueurs Crème Yvette and Crème de Cassis, fresh blueberries and fresh lime juice. It was served in a long-stemmed bowled martini glass and garnished with a bamboo spike of fresh blueberries, giving it and elegant look.
“This is what I’d serve Elizabeth Taylor if she were still alive and came into my bar,” Crompton said.
Howard noted that the cocktail, while dainty and feminine, was also very sophisticated and complex. The complexity of the cocktail came through in its pairing with food, where it was great with the beef short rib and rich brown gravy.
One of the most difficult aspects of creating cocktails for Crompton is coming up with names for them. He was still undecided what to call his blueberry martini for the World Class finals. The working name he had was ‘Violet Velvet’, a nod to the cocktail’s colour and Taylor’s iconic film “National Velvet’, but Crompton said that could change.
The last cocktail he made for the lunch was based on Johnny Walker Blue premium Scotch whisky. Because of its strong flavours and the smokiness it gets from aging in oak barrels, Scotch can be a difficult spirit with which to make complex cocktails. However, one of the preliminary waves of the World Class competition was devoted to showing that Scotch can be the base of some wonderful cocktails.
Johnny Walker Blue is an expensive spirit to use in a cocktail, with a retail price in Cayman of $218.95. But it makes cocktails that are set apart from other Scotch-based cocktails by their extraordinary smoothness.
“I’m doing a play on a whisky sour,” Crompton said.
The twist comes in with his use of sweetened Morello cherries soaked in Kirsch cherry brandy, another very expensive ingredient in the cocktail.
“If you’re using Johnny Walker Blue, you have to use good other ingredients,” Crompton said. “You can’t just throw anything into the cocktail.”
Partially because of the cost of the ingredients, Crompton served this as a ‘short’ cocktail meant to be savoured in small sips.
Scotch isn’t a spirit that generally goes well with food – it’s better before or after dinner – but because this cocktail had cherry flavours, it was excellent with chocolate desserts, particularly Agua’s Sacher Torte.
“It’s almost as if the cocktail makes the dessert taste more chocolatey,” Howard said.
This was another cocktail of which Crompton hadn’t decided a name yet, but something Howard said gave him an idea.
“It’s like a cowboy in a tuxedo,” she said, referring to the rustic smokiness of the Scotch mixed with cherry flavours and an elegant egg-white foam that gave it a velvety mouth feel.
With that in mind, Crompton thought he might call the cocktail Johnny Wayne, a nod to Johnny Walker Scotch and the legendary Hollywood cowboy, John Wayne.