The perfect serve
Most cocktail competitions are about serving the perfect cocktail. The Nikka Perfect Serve competition however is about serving a cocktail the perfect way.
The guiding principle for Nikka Perfect serve is the Japanese concept of Ichi-go Ichi-e – meaning “one moment, one encounter”. The challenge for the competing bartenders is to master the moment by being attentive to their guest’s wants, needs and state of mind in order to offer the most suitable service and appropriate cocktail. The process of serving is as important as the cocktail itself.
The Scandinavian finals recently took place at Lidkoeb in Copenhagen, where a panel of three experienced judges acting as guests was charged with the responsibility of finding a Scandinavian champion for the global finals.
Carsten Andrè Korsnes: The criteria we were rating the bartender’s according to were: How they would welcome us, the level of service, how they read us as “guests”, and how they would interact with us.
The drink itself was not as important as understanding our preferences and making us feel welcome, while owning the bar with his or her personality, expertise and professionalism. Basically, we were looking for a good host.
The top three stood out in the way they made us feel at home. They had a certain warmth and made us forget that we were judging a competition.
Lidkoeb bartender Baijie curdt-christiansen owned her home turf and won the day closely followed by Michael Olson from 1656 in Copenhagen and Maroš Dzurus from Himkok in Oslo.
We interviewed them all after the competition to learn about the experience:
Baijie: I wanted to do this competition because it forces you to think quickly and improvise rather than bringing a pre-made cocktail and presenting it to judges. The scenario feels more genuine and mimics a normal evening at work.
Sometimes when you focus all your energy into just one cocktail, you get lost in all the showmanship and homemade tinctures/smoke-guns/dry-ice/party-hats/ etc, it’s nice to have a competition where you can dedicate your focus to listening to your guest and making a realistic, honest and tasty drink.
Can your share with us one of the drinks you served?
Baijie: I served a twist on the classis Remember the Maine. It’s basically a Manhattan with a bit of cherry liqueur and a rinse of absinth. I did a twist on it by making cherry foam in a siphon to lend some texture and extra sweetness to it.
2,5 cl sweet vermouth (I used Belsazar red)
5 cl Nikka Coffey Malt
stirred and strained into an absinthe rinsed coupette. Float cherry foam* to the top and garnish with 3 cherries on a stick.
4 cl rich gomme
2 cl Cherry Heering
Maroš Dzurus: It was an honour to participate – the Nikka Perfect Serve competition is very unique. The bartenders must present a complete package, both bartending skills, knowledge, hospitality, controlling the situation and reading the guest. It was a lot of fun to participate and I hope to be back next year!
The cocktail I served was inspired by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. I took inspiration from the warm atmosphere in his art, which reminded me of summer and based my cocktail on the traditional japanese cocktail Mizuwari.
I didn’t want to change the cocktail too much, only bring it a touch of summer. I created my own Murakami bitters, with apple, plum and chocolate, and combined this with Nikka From the Barrel and water.
The cocktail combines traditional Japanese ingredients and drinking culture with ingredients local to Norway, such as plum and apple.
5 ml homemade Murakami bitters
40 ml Nikka From the Barrel
40 ml Water
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass and stir for 20 seconds. Serve in a highball glass with one solid block of ice. Garnish with dehydrated apple.
Michael Olsson: I have been competing in many different competitions but the Nikka Perfect Serve always stood out. In my book service and being a good host accounts for 60% of what makes a great bartender.
The roles the judges play may be absurd, but absurd things happens in a bar. Last time I competed in this competition I had to physically carry one of the judges out for “stealing”. In what other competition can you kick a judge out and still win second place!?
Nikka Perfect Serve isn’t about how nerdy your drink is, it is about listening to the guests in front of you and being in the moment just like their mantra Ichi-go Ichi-e.
Can you share one of the drinks you served and explain why you chose to serve it?
I chose a drink we just put on the Fall menu at 1656 – “Easy as 1,2,3” a pop reference but also the recipe. Easy on the bitters, 1 cl Heering Coffe Liqueur, 2 cl Amaro Montenegro, 3 cl Nikka From The Barrel.
Easy as 1,2,3
3 cl Nikka From The Barrel
2 cl Amaro Montenegro
1 cl Heering Coffe Liqueur
2 dashes Scrappys Chocolate Bitters
Stir with ice. Garnish with a pink Grapefruit Zest.
Cheers to all the competitors and good luck to Baijie who will be representing the Scandinavian countries in the European final in New York on the 4th of December!
Carsten Andrè Korsnes: An advice for those who might like to compete next year: They should not be afraid to engage in conversation and interact with the judges. Make it personal. Show that you are in your element. There’s nothing wrong about not knowing the answer to a question – it’s all about the charm!
About the Nikka Perfect Serve competition
The winner of the local contests will represent their country in the European finals on December 4th 2017 in New York. The winner and runner up of the finals will be invited on a trip to Japan to experience the Tokyo bar scene and visit the Nikka distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo.
Each bartender has 15 minutes in front of the 3 judges who will act as guests as if in a real bar situation.
Judges will score participants based on the entire experience: service, hospitability, attention to detail, product knowledge, as well as the choice of and quality of the cocktails.
2 cocktail judges and 1 whisky judge
The first two judges will ask the bartender to prepare a Nikka cocktail (one cocktail each), which should be improvised based on the role they are playing. These can be classic cocktails, originals or twists, based on ingredients available at the hosting bar, and one of the available Nikka Whiskies: Nikka From the Barrelm Nikka Coffey Grain and Nikka Coffey Malt
The third judge will ask the bartender to serve him/her a glass of Nikka From the Barrel whisky, to which the bartender can add only 1 or 2 drops of a “secret ingredient” which he or she can prepare from home. This ingredient should not become a dominant taste, but only subtly change it to bring out a new dimension to the straight whisky.