The Boutique Bar Show held in Edinburgh, 22 October 2014, at the Mansfield Traquair, finished with the Great Scottish Shake Off Competition in which four teams competed to make the best gin punch. (A fifth from Newcastle was unable to attend.)
Judging a punch-making competition is different to judging wine. Wine tasting involves drinking the finished product, aiming to taste in as neutral environment as possible, to allow for judgement on taste alone. Judging punch (and cocktails) is completely different. (See blog entry on the principles and traditions of judging punch in connection with the Show).
For punch, a balanced drink – not too sweet, not too weak, complex flavours, with good structure – needs similar tasting rules. But, the main difference lies in the story behind creation and the presentation. For punch, theatre is crucial; the consumer has to be intrigued and attracted to the drink being made.
Evaluating punch by deconstructing the ingredients and creating a story around the making of the punch is a traditional format.
Luckily all three of the judges, Scott Gemmell, Adrian Gomes and myself, were in complete agreement with the results.
The winning team, from the West Coast, created a punch to accompany oysters with a spicy sauce. I am not an oyster eater, so cannot comment on how well the two went together, but my co-judges were very enthusiastic. Oysters were a popular dish in the eighteenth century, often eaten with gin. A letter describing an evening in an oyster cellar in Edinburgh in the late eighteenth century relates how plates of oysters were consumed followed by bowls of rum or brandy punch.
‘Lydia’s Case Punch’
- 200ml Death’s Door Gin
- 100ml Cocchi Americano from Asti
- 6 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
- 2 sprigs of fennel
Death’s Door Gin was chosen because of its coriander, fennel and anise character. The fennel character was further emphasised by adding the fennel sprigs. The Peychaud’s bitters provided flavour and the hint of shell-pink colour. The punch was designed to be a base onto which cocktail makers could add other flavours, but I loved its fresh, pure simplicity as it was.
Tasting note: Presented in carafes in a sea chest with a plate of oysters and sauce. Poured in the glass without a garnish allowing the glorious shell pink colour to shine. On the nose aromas of fennel, juniper and coriander. On the palate the punch was refreshingly dry with a sweet twist aromatic twist on the finish. Served in a small coupe glass.
Served with West Coast oysters and an Ayrshire picante made from 50ml Arran blonde beer, 100ml tomato juice, 12.5ml lemon juice and 5 dashes of Tabasco. The picante was to be added to both the oysters and the drink to change the flavour over time.
The winning West Coast team included Grant Bowie, Head Bartender, Harry Savory, Bar Manager and David Howie, Bartender, all from Buzzworks, Calvin Ross bartender and Kieran Collins, front of house both at Elliots.
Joint second and third teams came from Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Glasgow’s Gin and Berry Punch was made with Berry Brothers & Rudd No.3 London Dry gin, red berry tea, and Campari Bianchi. Their story followed the balance of punch of sweet : sour : strong : spice and the theme of berries.
They presented their punch with great humour and served with enormous style. In fact we laughed so much I hardly wrote any tasting notes.
The historical theme was continued with the pale pink punch poured from a silver ‘punch’ pot, into martini glasses garnished with strawberries.
Tasting note: A deep berry pink colour and served garnished with strawberries contributing aroma. On the palate surprisingly dry with red berry fruit and fresh berry acidity. However, it needed a fraction more acidity; the citrus character from orange peel gave intense fruit character more than acidity.
The Aberdeen punch, Two Birds and a Journey followed a story around the Mediterranean. The gin they planned on was unavailable so they skilfully adapted their recipe at the last minute to suit Rock Rose Gin. The Mediterranean theme included bouquet garni herbal aromatics, lemon juice from Amalfi, Mediterranean honey and a touch of bitters. Sweeter than the first two punches but still well balanced.
The punch was also presented in a travel chest and poured into flutes with soda, giving a dark pink fizz. It was served with oat cakes and tapenade.
Edinburgh came fourth with their George Street Punch. Their story followed a Scottish-English theme following the recent referendum. Edinburgh Gin, elderberry syrup from local hand-picked elderberries, a reduction of English cider, rhubarb juice and flavoured with nutmeg. The gin added juniper and coriander spice. The aim was to give a sophisticated character reflecting Edinburgh as the capital city. The punch was served in a flute, deep berry red fizz.
Tasting note: Leafy, dried rose, herbal aromas. On the palate the punch was a fraction too sweet with red fruit jam fruit. It was meant to be carbonated, but the soda siphon was not working well; it may have tasted lighter and fresher if colder and fizzier.
All four teams showed great teamwork and sense of humour which made for a very theatrical competition – and an essential ingredient for bartenders. They also all demonstrated considerable research into the history, and experimentation with flavours and ingredients.
I thoroughly enjoyed judging the punches in this competition!