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I’ve been working for Imbibe, a magazine that goes out to the drinks industry professionals, since October last year. This is an advertorial I wrote for drinks marketing company CASK that went in the magazine. 

The culmination of the Cask Roadshow UK Cocktail Competition saw fierce competition and plenty of hearty laughs, topping a year of success for the new marketing company

‘It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it,’ thought Stuart Ekins and Richard Herbert, directors of drinks renegades Cask Liquid Marketing, as their roadshow rolled into Cognac. They’d reached the end of the road, and had landed in the hometown of one of their beloved brands, Merlet, for the culmination of their nationwide search for a bartender worthy of hero worship.

This quest saw them scour every corner of the UK, running a competition that received 2,000 initial entries, with 80 of these entrants eventually competing in six regional heats, before the cream of the crop were hijacked and smuggled to France to prove their worth in a tough final.

The brief for the Cask Roadshow UK Cocktail Competition final was simple… kind of. Each entrant had to make three drinks: a twist of the Sidecar using Merlet Brother’s Blend cognac, a cocktail using Ocho Tequila, and another cocktail using one of the Elements 8 Rum range. On top of this, they had to include Merlet Fruit Liqueurs in two of these drinks.

On your marks…

Gathering at Cognac’s distinguished golf club, it was a case of bar spoons at dawn as the seven bartenders still standing took to the floor to show everyone why they were there.

With a trip to either St. Lucia or Mexico on the table for the winner – to see the home of either Elements 8 or Ocho Tequila, the stakes were high for entrants, and nerves visible.

With a five-strong judging panel that included Ekins and cocktail guru Tony Conigliaro, every point mattered, and every spilt drop scrutinised.

Relative newcomer Nick Capote from 8 Bar in Falmouth wowed the panel with his Ocho drink, The Foreword. ‘I chose to work with Ocho Reposado, which has a nice dry, soft, palate, a salty flavour,’ he said, before adding green chartreuse, Merlet Crème de Peche and lime juice to the shaker. The resulting drink was one that was sharp, refreshing, and perfectly balanced between those sweet and sour notes

Zany Tiziano Tasso from The Club at The Ivy boggled everyone present by managing to create his three drinks within the tight 10-minute time frame, AND fit three costume changes in. All three of his drinks shone, but his twist on the Sidecar was particularly strong, served in metal goblets of varying sizes to represent the motorbike and the sidecar.

Not wanting to stray too far from the original classic, he added some Merlet Crème de Peche to lift the drink, giving it a fresh fruitiness.

It was Julie Doumer’s Elements 8 drink, the M[8]T that captured everyone’s attention out of the rum cocktails. Hailing from Syon Park Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley, the talented bartender presented the drink both hot and cold, working with Elements 8’s Spiced Rum ‘because it’s my favourite to mix with, it’s very easy to work with, and uses 10 different botanicals,’ she explained. The cocktail was fantastic at both temperatures, but the hot version with its baked apple and blackberry pie aromas was particularly excellent.

Heading off to deliberate, the judges eventually decided that Tasso’s creativity, likeability and quality of drinks had won him the prize, with Julie Doumer receiving a special commendation.

And so it was that Tasso progressed to the Merlet Sidecar European final that same afternoon to battle it out with representatives from across the continent, only to be crowned champion of the whole day, also winning a trip to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans next year.

Bright new future

The Cask Liquid Martketing roadshow final wrapped up a busy 2011 for the exciting new company. Since launching in April last year with four brands on board at the start, it has already expanded to boast a another three in its portfolio, on top of recently hiring a further three members of staff.

And Ekins and Herbert are not stopping there. ‘We’ve been having talks with other brands recently,’ says Ekins. ‘We’re still interested in finding further companies to join our fantastic group of products, and we also have plans to launch our own brands in 2012.’

With such a great atmosphere between the guys from Cask, the different competitors, brand representatives and journalists on the Cognac trip, it’s clear to see that their unique approach is already building the company a strong family of people who will be loyal to not just them, but their products as well.

‘For us at Cask, it’s all about fun, but also about how you interweave that brand message while also having fun,’ Ekin explains. ‘So, for instance, hopefully people will go away from this competition and think a little bit more about Merlet, Ocho and Elements 8, and that will translate into them buying the products.’

And it’s that kind of thinking that makes perfect business sense to Ekin and Herbert. After all, what fun is worrying about the bottom line without creating a bit of a party along the way?