We were recently invited to witness the mother of all bartending show-off’s in Braamfontein, the Glenfiddich Bartender Show-off at a very fitting venue for the event dubbed the Thirteenth Floor.
This was Glenfiddich’s first global competition to find the world’s most experimental bartender which was held in August when six of the finest and most creative bartenders were selected to go head to head to show off their sophisticated art of mixing fine spirits together with their collaborators.
The competition aims to recognise and reward forward thinking bartenders who collaborate with ‘mavericks’ outside the traditional drinks world, such as musicians, chefs and artists, to develop a unique and inventive Glenfiddich drinking experience.
Michael Stephenson was crowned as the overall winner or rather “stag” for the show-off and he collaborated with Paul Figueira, a carpenter who created a Glenfiddich inspired ‘perfect serve’ titled “Valley of Time,” allowing the drinker to explore the various flavours and aromas of the whisky. They will be flying the South African flag up high at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Scotland as they venture on a weeklong all-expenses-paid once in a lifetime experience.
We were also privileged enough to interview the maverick himself, read on after the jump.
L: What’s the first thing you going to do when you arrive at the home of fine whisky in Scotland?
M: Take in a deep breath! The whole process of whisky-making is filled with so many incredible aromas from the barley to the fermentation and the wood.
L: Besides the trip, what’s your happiest moment with Glenfiddich?
M: I think getting to collaborate with Paul from Makers Union on this project was a pretty special journey. For me, so much of what we remember and appreciate in this industry revolves around interactions with people and this was a truly memorable experience. Getting to sit down with Paul after we had won and enjoy a whisky and toast to our achievement was a very happy moment.
L: Since you are a sophisticated barman, how do you usually incorporate Glenfiddich into a cocktail?
M: When using a great whisky such as Glenfiddich I like to let all the unique flavours shine through as much as possible so something simple like a good Whisky Sour allows the whisky to still come through while still giving the guest a refreshing drink. If you want something a little more complex and spirit-forward, then an Old Fashioned will allow you to soften the whisky slightly and highlight the aromatics and richer flavours in the spirit.
L: What do you think are the things that Glenfiddich would make easier in both your life and that of other barmen?
M: Glenfiddich has so much great history and heritage in their brand so educating bartenders on that and the unique qualities of their whisky allow us to relay that information to the guest and enhances their experience as well as helping them to connect with the brand.
L: What are you looking forward to or hoping to learn once you get there?
M: I am incredibly excited to spend time with the people who work so hard to produce these magnificent whiskies. Just getting a closer look behind the scenes of how it all gets done will yield plenty of unique insight and plenty more questions!
L: You are currently amongst the best bartenders in SA, what do you think set you apart from the pool of talent?
M: I think we had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do and set about incorporating all the elements that tied our drink together with the history of Glenfiddich. Also, the many years of experience gained from working in all the different sides of this industry also helped with the drink, concept and presentation.
L: From what I gather bartending requires a lot of creativity. Where do you source your inspiration from?
M: For me, it comes from many different sources. I am inspired by chefs, music, history, stories, walking through food markets with all the fresh produce and seeing great drinks from other incredible bartenders all around the world.
L: What can we expect from you now? What’s next?
M: Well after the trip it’s straight back to work! I own and operate a cocktail bar in Umhlanga so that usually takes up most of my time and we are heading into Summer season so I expect a rather busy one filled with loads of great cocktails.
Lerato: Which whisky among the Glenfiddich range do you enjoy personally and just which would you say makes the best cocktail mixes?
Michael: I really enjoy the Glenfiddich 15yr with its warm spicy notes and I recently got to try the Glenfiddich 26yr which was very special. I think that for mixing the 12yr has such fantastic pear & vanilla notes that make for some great cocktails.
To end the night on a high note the Glenfiddich brand also enticed us with the presence of a very special VVIP guest dubbed Project XX, which we will soon reveal details of in the near future.
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