Above the clouds

Above the clouds

Aylin Öney Tan
Above the clouds Exhausted I was! When I found myself ordering a gin and tonic on my flight back from London to Istanbul, overlooking the clouds beneath, I thought “Oh God, I need an urgent detox!” Imagine spending a week with the world’s finest bartenders, all 48 of them, mixing, shaking and pouring constantly for five days. The WORLD CLASS™ Bartender of The Year competition is just over, and I feel above the clouds having witnessed a week of magnificent mixes and tasted a great number of them. “Above the Clouds” was also rightly the name of the signature cocktail of Charles Joly from the United States who clinched his championship with his unique signature, which carried the judges to a journey above the clouds. My reason to be above the clouds was more because of intoxication, of course.

Joly from The Aviary in Chicago mesmerized the judges from the very first cocktail he poured and cemented his name in cocktail history by being the sixth World Class Winner. His signature cocktail, Above the Clouds, crafted for the final Punch and Glass challenge was a showstopper. Throughout the week Joly consistently proved his winning credentials to the esteemed panel of judges that included legends and luminaries from the cocktail scene such as Dale DeGroff, Julie Reiner, Steve Olsen, Gaz Regan, Salvatore Calabrese, Peter Dorelli, Hidetsugu Ueno and the formidable Spike Merchant. I was lucky to spot Joly in his very first presentation in Scotland, when he was creating a storm in a glass for his Sensory Challenge. He had his two judges obeying him childishly to open umbrellas, his team helping him to create the atmospheric ambiance: one waving a board in the air to create wind, one flashing lightning, another throwing grains over umbrellas to create rain sensation, and Charles telling his story as thrilling as the crescendo of music playing on the background and voila, the storm is over, the sun shines and the cocktail is served along with the delightful Primavera of Vivaldi.

He sure was well-prepared and fixed to win as he explained later: “This journey didn’t start today at the ceremony, this week at the finals, or even last year when I entered the heats – it started many years ago when I first started working in a local bar. The flavors, the smells, the sounds, the techniques, the history, the theater – I realized I did not want to create just another drink. I make drinks with my heart and it makes me happy to see customers happy. The possibilities open to a bartender are limitless, not just in terms of your career but your creations – the only limit is your imagination.”

Matteo Fantacchiotti, global vice president of Diageo Reserve, said: “Right from the beginning Charles’ passion, creativity and unrivalled mixology skills blew the judges away. His desire to create unique [concoctions] that combined sophisticated tastes with innovative modern twists never faltered at any stage of the competition. It’s a real honor to have Charles as our ambassador, and I look forward to working with him in the future. Together we hope to inspire a new generation of mixology talent across the world, helping raise the profile of bartenders to where chefs are today.”

Joly became the sixth bartender to be awarded the revered “Bartender of the Year” title, following in the footsteps of mixologist giants who have gone on to influence cocktail culture around the world, including David Rios, Tim Philips, Manabu Ohtake, Erik Lorincz and Aristotelis Papadopoulos.  It was a week of fierce competition, incredible craftsmanship, unrivalled creativity and exceptional cocktails; many who got eliminated were all so great, I’m sure I’ll be writing and recalling their creations for many weeks to come, when I return to sobriety, and land on the ground.

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: “Above the Clouds” is not a cocktail that can be easily replicated at home, it uses dry ice and home-made syrups, but I give the recipe anyway, just for an inspiration. Combine in a beaker over a heat source 1.5 oz. of Ron Zacapa, 0.5 oz. of Benedictine, and 1.5 oz. each of ver jus rouge and gingerbread dream rooibos syrup (imagine and create your own). Pour into globe glasses and drop in a small amount of dry ice to chill.

Fork of the Week:
One single amuse bouche that had me over the clouds was the salty caramel-chocolate ganache created by chef Jason Atherton to match Ron Zacapa “Above the Clouds” session. Ron Zacapa rum is produced above a 2300 m. altitude, literally above the clouds, meticulously blended by one of the very few female master blenders in the world, the lovely Lorena Vasquez. The match was amazing; all restaurants of Jason Atherton will be on my top visit list next time I’m in London.

Cork of the Week:
Maybe it is because it is summer and we all long for cocktails that bring a breeze and chill to our glasses, but I was totally inclined to clear spirits throughout the week. I was practically torn between Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray No. Ten gin, and Don Julio tequila. They are all amazing on their own on rocks with a twist of citrus, in cocktails, and with tonic. La Primavera cocktail served at the award ceremony was a cucumbery fresh delight with Don Julio that kept me surviving throughout the night. Let them be your three bottles that’ll make your happy hours fresh, crisp and clear.