2008 Cocktail World Cup in Queenstown New Zealand
About a year ago I went to New Zealand to compete in the Cocktail World Cup. This years preliminaries are coming up and I thought I’d let other bartenders know what them are in for. Below is what heppened:
how’d I get to go? I made this drink.
Good Night Sweet Prince Cocktail Recipe
1.5 oz 42 Below Vodka
1 oz Drambuie
.5 oz lemon juice
1 egg white
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes my house made bitters
muddle thyme, rosemary and red pepper flakes
shake and fine strain into a cocktail glass
garnish with flamed orange zest
The 42 Below Cocktail World Cup is not somewhere I was supposed to be. To keep it brief, I was invited to the party for the competition on the day of the deadline for recipe submission. I entered a recipe I made up in my head, tweaked it a little, and never made before I set it in front of a judge. Even then, after I won, I was told by my rep that I won because 2 of the 3 judges said my drink was great despite 1 of the 3 hating me and actively saying it shouldn’t be me. Anyway, I’m in New Zealand now. And things around here are crazy as hell.
Upon checking into LAX, all of the American contestants were sent to the first class lounge. After getting cleared by security, curious that we were flying coach, we were given the directive to eat, drink and shower as much as we like assuming that every half hour or so one of us goes to the fully stocked liquor cabinet and make about 12 drinks. For free fresh mussels, a shower, triple cream Brie and the copious beer we all drank we got off cheap for making just a few drinks.
If Tales of the Cocktail wasn’t proof enough, all bartenders look the same; seating us all together an in Airport seems a joke, like we are (and we are) some esoteric sports team. We all refuse to shave. Those who aren’t wearing jeans and black shirts are wearing shorts and black shirts. The guy from Milk and Honey and I are wearing the same hat. The guy from Chicago, the same limited edition Frye boots I wear. We are all generally tattooed and drunkenly friendly. Everyone has been liberally sharing techniques, stories of triumph and Xanax. Some of, myself for example, are old-fashioned and drink quarts of beer to get through the flight.
New York, San Fran, and Chicago were all at Tales of the Cocktail this year and we have all heard of each other. The guy from Austin is actually from New York. Some of them I already know by root archetype, Charles from Chicago for example is one of those used to be punks that now that punk is dead transferred the same energy and intensity to tending bar. Normally that kind of guy becomes a chef. I was told that 500 American bartenders entered, making it the toughest market. Compared to Queenstown New Zealand for example, who hosts the event having their own team. Queenstown, pop. 15,000.—I later found out there are 150 bars in New Zealand and they deserve their own team.
Despite all warnings otherwise, one of my teammates brought and apple to New Zealand. The specific warning was given (by me, and the event staff); they can put you in jail for an apple. Fortunately an adorable little beagle caught him before he reached the next checkpoint. The same cutie pie was also very interested in the shirt in my bag and my other teammates bag that had been in contact with the apple. Every American took stock of what had been destroyed and confiscated, so far its just one bottle of Domaine de Canton, but raises the question, “did they hit his bag with a hammer?” The Domain de Canton bottle could break a car windshield.
Upon getting off the plane, we were told to put stickers on our bags and throw them in trailers headed to the hotel. And that despite what you heard, just because its raining and 40 degrees does not mean that bungee jumping isn’t in 30 mins. 30 minutes later the surrogate bartender was first to jump of the 140 meter bridge above the canyon river. The surrogate bartender is a camera hat brought by one of the two man film crew from Aukland. Mostly, its worn by one of the contestants to create first person films. We all went one at a time. Some people doing swan dives, a handful were pushed. I went close to last when the crew was bored, they asked,
“you want to touch the water right Andrew?”
“So water then is it, brave one you are.”
“You are telling me and not asking, right?”
Silence. Anyway I hopped to the edge, looked over, waited for my cheer from the other Americans, and bunny hopped off. I had meant to swan dive but the cowboy inside me pushed me off before the sensible person chickened out and would have embarrassed me. I thought as I was falling,
“ok, you can jump now,”
As a hit the water, perfectly submersing only my head, I became very self aware. It was really fun bouncing around after I found that I had actually jumped. A raft unties you then it’s a timed run up the canyon you jumped off to a free pour accuracy with crazy slow New Zealand pour spouts. Which must be why the drinks here are so fucking weak. Everyone that wasn’t from New Zealand, Australia and Southeast Asia was pissed about this. But, Southeast Asia, was one of the teams that got pushed off the bridge so they had their own problems. I hit the first two pours perfect to the milliliter, then a little off on the second two.
We then went to a traditional Maori greeting ceremony that was in cliché fashion, held on a sheep farm. After they did their ceremony they invited the men on stage to perform a Haka, their winning dance. There was much smacking of chests, and flicking of tongues like a drunk telling you a whale rider synopsis.
Then the first of several kick ass dj’s began spinning, after a few deep but wise cuts, a 5 ft nothing bartender got up on stage and “spit hot fire,” as the kids these days say. He kind of sounded like a Chinese Ad Rock with a touch of Eek a Mouse. I have no idea where he got his style. They refused us booze at the bungee bridge, and everyone is trying to make and trying to make up for it now. Well, everyone attempted intoxication at the welcoming ceremony, none succeeding because of the prolific amount of juices in all the drinks. Most people had been awake for 24 hours and just jumped of a bridge and the Europeans, had been up for a day in a half. This made it a quiet night in for most.
At 7:30 the next day, we ate proper English breakfast and were sent off to the next event that had most people scared: The classic cocktail knowledge of history and technique. But knowing that all of the drinks would be vodka based “classic” is indeed a short list. My team went first, randomly drawing: the cosmopolitan, the capriroska, and the flame of love. Seemingly a normal drink with two unknowns, not so though. I knew all the drinks, and their history, the flame of love being one of my old favorites. It was a drink created for Dean Martin that is in effect a double flame zested vodka martini. The twist was, Joel got the cosmo, the man whose bar has a “no cosmos” rule. But he nailed it (its just a fucking cosmo!) and spit the history right back at the judges as I told it two him, down to Dale DeGroff adding the flamed orange zest during his stay at the Rainbow Room. Randy, from LA made the drink, and well as instructed, and better presented than I would have bothered. He fumbled a bit through the history, but his judge was Japanese, speaks little English (the drink has a Brazilian history, which if you tried to explain to me in Japanese, I’d walk away.) and his drink looked good. My judge was the Italian whom I had already befriended, I was proud that I got a drink that I later saw two other teams perform incorrectly. Yet I was embarrassed because we were wearing the “Team America Fuck Yeah” shirts, made by Randy. So my history of the drink was a little labored and the hat cam that I was wearing during that round made my history lesson, well, robotic.
the footage from the head cam will be at the end of this
The next round took place at a vineyard, no twist on this one, just 3 teams at a time on stage making punch, by the way all rounds are 10 min or less. We let Randy take this one with his pre bottled plum compote that his company (Couture Cocktail) makes, mixed it with spices, marsala wine and vodka. Joel and I took care of making it look good, he cut about a hundred stars from orange peels, while I boiled my bar spoons in water, using them to drill holes in a huge block of ice and doing ikebana with stargazer lilies. I also froze pureed plums to crushed ice to chill the punch. I have to say, it was pretty good.
The Scottish spilled their entire punch twice, they did this by having a tiny girl hold a gallon sized shaker, then picking her up and shaking her. After the second time, I had to leave. This was also the point where some people began to be annoyed by the Brits The whole team is kind of everything wrong about the biz, cocky assholes that smile at you too much, a place across between a used car salesman and a date rapist.
I hiked up to the top of a hill with a cup of potato leak soup and a fistful of venison. The vineyard was 1 hour out of a town of 15,000 people. So I could see for miles in every direction. An Italian climbed up too and we smoked and talked about life and times, there are a few normal people here and there that can’t be “on” the whole time. It was good to meet another one. We walked down the hill at the end of the competition, and were cuffed in pink bracelets. The party was awesome, a forty foot long bar where 5 bartenders got up at a time (us and the judges) and made whatever drinks we wanted for a huge party backed by a very well stocked bar.
Apparently last year, people got drunk, trashed the vineyard, partied all night and maybe had a fight? The only way they could have 42 below back was if they agreed to put a bracelet on that they could cut off if you got too drunk. Well, we all know how that kind of thing turns out.
The next morning the bus moved 5 feet before the first person sprinted to the door to vomit. This was a long ride to the jet boats. This was the coldest rainy day yet. The first test was to create a non- alcoholic “mocktail” with whatever ingredients we were given in under 5 minutes. We made a drink that was: half a muddled kiwi, white grapefruit juice, elderflower syrup, an egg white, toped with soda and an orange rose. Joel and I planned this drink while Randy said various semi- racist things about Asian ingredients that were options. This method of trash talk, I’m still fining my way in, Randy is a master how ever. Joel cut the garnish the whole time, I instructed Randy which ingredients to pour and in which order to add them to egg whites. I shook the drink for the whole 5 minutes, not straining it until there was 10 seconds left. It tasted like drinking silk.
Jet boats are giant jet skis that burn 2 liters of gas per minute. They are the grossest thing you can do to the planet save burning actual endangered species with napalm. They are also fucking awesome. Jet bout can turn on a dime, so that the pilot can in effect drive straight into a rock wall, putting you inches from it before turning in a perfect circle. People do die doing this, not from running into the wall, but from not holding on. How could you not hold on? It was 40 degrees in the rain for a half hour of this. Very painful, very cool and no one on my boat threw up, but the was the exception and not the rule. As soon as the life vests were off we were given a box with basil seeds, lemon grass, honeydew melon, star anise, a still unknown black syrup, and vinegar. We had to make a drink using at least four of these things in 5 minutes. Its not that the drink we made tasted terrible, its that it was the color of day old French press coffee. This time Randy (having bowed out) cut a garnish for 5 minutes, managed to cut me while doing so and did not finish in time, for which we were penalized. This crappy showing dropped us down to 8th place. This made our only chance at making it to the final round the dreadful “your team” VS “12 New Zealand bartenders paintball battle to determine the wild card entry into the finals. But this was a whole day away.
Before we fight the kiwi tenders, we have to work with them. We were sent to 15 bars to work a shift. My bar (skybar) was across between all of the bars I already work in, except they were having a toga party. I turned the kiwis on to the Aviation Cocktails, they had never heard of them, and I made them all night polishing off half a bottle of dusty crème du violet.
With most of the competition over, most teams took this night as an opportunity to make a lot of mistakes. Free champagne is an offer not a mandate, same as shots, I kept respectable. I both drank deep to represent the company that sent me here but kept tidy. My roommate, a model took that as his chance to bed the faux breasted magazine editor who if not literally, was figuratively, covered in drool of the legions of people lusting after her. This made him less popular with everyone but he allotted for no bragging, he had respect and discretion, she didn’t but that’s her choice. After putting up what I consider was a (as I said before) respectable number of vodka shots I hiked (waiting for a cab meant more shots) home using an umbrella as a cane, I ground of about an inch. A bank sign told me it was 12:30 and 4 degrees Celsius,(!?!?) it took less than a hour and was beautiful, I walked a bit off road by streams that run down our suit and through a little wooded area. It was serene and needed.
The Scotsman, I was told, had the same idea as me, though he had it about 3 hours later and regretted his dark nature walk when he fell off a 15 foot high wall. Rising at 7:30 am as I did everyday, I walked to breakfast and the pavement was checkered with many other gastric failures, some vodka based, some washed away easily, others lingered, they were meat pies and beer. So I assumed, though I didn’t spend much time checking.
Random note: nobody knows how so turn off the fireplace. It has now been on for 5 days.
At 5 am on Friday (I think), I just returned home from hanging out with the CEO, and accountants of 42 below.
1. I counted in the mirror, I was only shot 11 times, likely the best of the thirty odd contestants that had to play paintball for wildcard entry. As of now 4 teams have a member in the hospital, Scotland winning that, but more on that later.
2. The CEO of 42 below routinely says “you’re fired,” to those employees and rep he feels aren’t partying hard enough at 4 am.
3. The accountant reflects a company with this philosophy (blond, 5’8, 115 lbs, drunk).
This is how it happened.
Before the paintball was the second set of lectures (9am). Some chef at 2k a night lodge spoke, blah, blah blah. No doubt he is a bad ass, I had breakfast with him and discussed his life and future plans, he is no doubt setting the world aflame. His charisma for insipid, hungover bartenders at 9 am, was too light. I’ll gladly talk, in depth, about subtle flavour layers in oil from different regions of the world. But I wouldn’t do it in front of other people. More importantly, the seminar was a 3 parter that was held atop a 6,000 foot mountain only accessible via gondala. The view was stunning, punctuated by random para-sailors floating by.
Imagine Lord of the Rings (which was shot right outside of town) but instead of ringwraiths and orks, its bloody marys and espresso. After oily mcgee shut up, Hueno San , owner and head bartender if “High Five” in Japan took the stage. Only a few (myself being one) knew who cool this would be. On an observation deck where
(sorry, whilst typing it just happened again, and I have to point it out: New Zealanders fart when ever and where ever they damn well please. Its awful.)
anyway, where god carved a pristine little punch bowl a top a mountain, miles in every direction is where the worlds ‘purity seems to come from, in all this view, it only took about 2 minutes of very quiet lecture for the entire room of 2 hundred people to get up and crowd the stage. Sorry god, Hueno San can take engine block sized ice, and cut any shape off of it perfectly as if we would cut bread. He is also able to cut a chunk off, oh lets say a perfect cube the size of a softball and cut into it like an expert lapidarist, creating flawless fist sized ice diamond, which are cut to order for any spirit severed on the rock in his bar. This was indeed amazing, and it amazed people, but I knew that the best had yet to come. Hueno San is world famous for his interpretation of a drink called a white lady, its nothing special, but he uses the “hard shake” technique to produced this drink.
I could go on for several pages explaining the hard shake but its like if sasquatch walked up to you and explained his genealogy, or if Eddie Van Halen had let you watch 2 hand tapping when you were 10 years old, knowing that with 20 years of practice you could do it too. He did not explain the hard shake, and it was over in 10 seconds, but it was something (despite whatever the internet would show you, or anyone would try to show you) that can not be seen anywhere else. My favorite thing he said, when asked about ouching the ice with his bare hands, he replied, “I’m from sushi country.” In your face other countries. After this an English wanker got up and talked shit about most of the bartenders in the room, I was happy he did so because he basically called bullshit on many industry standards. I was fortunate enough to not be a target, but the styles and bars of most people were. His name? Sasha Petrovsky.
The first 6 rounds now over, they announced the teams going to the finals, we missed qualifying by a couple points. The finalists were shipped back to the hotel and most of us were given white full body tyvek suits, a brief lecture on helicopter safety and then 6 at a time, whisked away via tiny sofa sized helicopter to the paintball gauntlet. All scores were set to zero, winner of this round gets a wildcard entry into the finals. We were given guns loaded with 100 paintballs (a lie) and had to hit five checkpoints in 7 minutes before leaving the woods. The woods have 15 New Zealand Bartenders. This did not go well for us. Joel is a heavy smoker with the shakes, He made it to the first checkpoint but after the second, he needed to take one minute breaks at ever check point. At check point 2, I found my gun had only been loaded with about 20 paintballs, empty, I took Joel’s gun, fully loaded and took half his ammo. I lead off every time, letting randy pass me (he would have passed me anyway) and I shot behind me to cover Joel while he slowly jogged. This actually worked. The course was very small, set up in way that it was impossible not to get hit. Getting hit more than 10 times meant you began to loose points. At the 5th Check point we were almost out of time, and Joel could barely move. We let him rest until 30 seconds remained and Joel’s sprint turned into badly sprained ankle with and epic tumble in an unseen hole in the high weeds. He couldn’t move, shooting stopped long enough to carry him off and but he couldn’t stand. I cut his suit off with my pocket knife and tied a iced bandage with a scwag bandana offered up by redbull. We carried him over to the final event, a take on the modern martini: 5 minutes, no rules. We sat Joel on a bucket, I let him measure for our drink, I wasn’t bleeding so I made the drink. Just to be clear, my body fat kept my wealts from bleeding, were you in shape like Randy for example, you’d be bleeding. Vodka, genipai, and cointreau, big orange zest it was a great drink to lose by a half of a point, knocking us out of the final to loose to Scotland. Then the reports started coming in, Scotland was 2 elves below 5 feet tall and a William Wallace look a like. He was hurting on the paintball field and took heavy fire, after they finished the drink he was airlifted out. Ben had a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding, such was the diagnosis after he made it to Aukland. He may not have known about the spleen had he not been shoot so many times. But worse than Joel or Ben (Scotland) there was a kiwi bartender whose friends were on the field and they gave him hell. He was lean, which looks like its worse, about 20 bloody welts covered only his back. He had more, this was all we saw. Planning was poor and the organizers, all champs, were for the first time visibly angry and sweating bullets. Collectively and unconsciously, we all walked over to them yelling out congrats for the whole event, thanking for the helicopter ride and trying to not bleed upon them. The party continued. Until about 4 am as I revealed at the start of this story.
Competition highlights: The party band was an erector set programmed to hold a guitar a bass, keys and a drum set. A computer program operated the engines that moved the robots of rock, and the tune was pretty good. But the set up was amazing. The food was yakisoba noodles, venison burgers and oyster shooters. Team and performances of note were London, who made beer out of vodka on stage (the inverse of witch is easy too) garnished with fresh fried chips. Scotland, whose surviving mates deiced to create the feel of host a cooking show, creating a Scottish style breakfast in a glass. And Southeast Asia who made a drink with over proof rum, fresh cut ice balls and vinegar, this was the best drink I had all week. London took the competition after much debate from the judges. Most off the bartenders were relieved to be off the hook to hate vodka again. My team and I went to a bar covered in ice that was – 10 degrees, were we did employ the ice luge.
We had giant venison steaks. Then I ran away to a tiny 14-seat whiskey bar that I found to watch what was the biggest rugby match of the century, which happened to also be on the same night. New Zealand v Australia for the tri cup, New Zealand won, making the old grinders in this bar only mildly applaud not wanting to disturb the nose on their whiskey tulips. After that the owner showed me his antique poker table with vintage Jack Daniels cards and chips. We played until 4am drinking only the finest scotches.
I now know why absinthe was illegal for so long, aside from spelling errors, there are major side effects, one, perhaps, I currently feel as though I am floating in a sphere of vegemite suspended in zero g’s, in some excerpt from ender’s game. My lips tingle, and I still maintain consciousness, though I do so alone. Note to self, the is no “k” in consciousness and my computer will likely not “glow” in the morning, New Zealand has the shortest pours ever, Really, all of the Americans took shots of absinthe to catch up with the kiwis and Irish.
An hour later, you could say “the next day” but that would make it seem like people went to bed, Jacob Briars, the organizer, MC, an dall around bad ass made corpse revivers for all those still standing. Breakfast was dead silent and the lovely hotel staff had finally soured on us. Had the used cattle prods instead of words to communicate, no one would have been upset or would have noticed. The Australians for example stole patio furniture from every suite creating a burning man worthy 2-story sculpture complete with cocktail shakers and empty bottles.
Then it was a shower, 24 hours travel and home. The final analysis: 42 below = good. Against all odds the organized a massive week long party, competition and summit that landed only 4 people in the hospital and made everyone happy. Team London = meh. I wasn’t alone. Of course Scotland got the biggest of stage receptions, they had screwed up at every turn, partied really hard and were good to everyone. How could you not love these little elves? But all of the teams mixed, and supported each other and it seemed like people from their own homeland filled the whole event. But when London took the stage the applause was very perfunctory. And though they did amazing things, they got almost zero applause leaving the stage. And they bar hopped around all night clearing out which ever bar they entered. Like the story of the grasshopper that slacked all summer and the ant that worked, the English were cocks all week and had no one to love them. Lastly there was Bacardi, which needs its own page.
Bacardi can fuck right off and I will never sell their products again. I used to tell the story of how when prohibition began they created a public company and sold shares for the same price as a case of rum, when they were out of cases, they dissolved the company. Bravo. Now? Well you will see hardly any photos of any teams competing because everything was so censored. Media covering the event were sent daily emails removing photos from the web, editing the documentary crew’s footage, and removing language. I doubt that it is possible to cut 5 days of footage into more than an hour. Some of, but far from all of the censorship was:
No fire could be filmed though only 2 events had no cooking
Rather than blur any branding, any brand other than 42 below or Bacardi products were cut
Any photo or film in which the contestant poured more than a 3 count (1.5oz) was cut
Team New Zealand dressed up as super heroes to jump: cut
Perhaps the worst team America central went on stage as a priest a rabbi and a nun (walk into a bar, get it?) for the final and before they were even off stage, all contestants were rounded up (out of a huge crowd) to check the validity and offend-ability of any further costumes.
If you ask me, a liquor company, responsible for countless unplanned pregnancies and other mistakes is being a bit conservative here. So to them I say no. Thanks for the trip were I made countless invaluable contacts, had a huge blast and wasted your money, but what you really did was take me on a blind date and talked about your political beliefs the whole time and tried to make me feel like a sinner.
But again, without shame and guilt, I win because I’m happy.
Here is the head cam video, it is very accurate
by the way Tali took care of us the whole time we were there, the good folks at 42 below knew that every team needed a camp mum, ours was the best, thanks Tali.