Diageo’s annual global bartending competition, World Class, is one of the most prestigious out there attracting 10,000 entrees from around 60 countries, all competing to be crowned world champion. As such, it’s no surprise that the finals (based in a different city every year) act as a sort of trend forecasting event for the cocktail world. We met up with Great Britain’s World Class Bartender of the Year, and the runner-up in the Global edition, Daniel Warren, at Black Rock for a talk about future trends and a tasting session of the cocktails that got him named second best bartender in the world.
Black Rock is a favourite haunt of ours. The underground whisky den is the brainchild of cocktail greats, Tristan Stephenson and Thomas Aske as, since its opening in 2016, has sought to disrupt the whisky bar scene by doing away with traditional drinks lists and the uptight fustiness many associate with the category (read our review of Black Rock here). As such, it seems like a very fitting spot to meet Dan and our other host for the evening, Brand Ambassador for World Class and Tanqueray, the charismatic Jack Sotti.
Always directed towards innovation, Tristan and Tom have just installed London’s only whisky vending machine outside of Black Rock in celebration of their Whisky-Me subscription service (read about the unusual Whisky-Me here), from where customers can purchase pouches of rare & fine scotch whiskies effortlessly for only £7.95.
We take our seats at the ancient English oak trunk table/barrel that takes up most of the venue and are handed our first drink. Jack introduces us to the 27-year-old Dan, whose decade working the bar scene has taken him from Brighton to Australia; 5* hotels to dive bars; and a teenager pulling pints to on of the top bartenders out there. Now based in Nottingham (and due to begin work at an as yet secret location…), Dan has come down to London to talk trends, but first of all, he encourages us to try the high-ball in front of us.
As we sip, Jack tells us how the three cocktails that we will be trying tonight emerged out of the World Class Finals in Berlin and follow three main trends that were named there: NOLA (No Or Low Alcohol drinks), Sustainability; and Foraging.
The first drink is a bright marigold colour that Dan has dubbed The Monarch after a butterfly that graces the groves where Tanqueray 10 gets its citrus from in Israel, Mexico and California, and that comes to the UK every summer. Poetic though this sounds, he then reveals that this cocktail began its life as a Fanta and gin that his girlfriend (a bit harshly) called the best drink he’d ever made her. Simple and designed to be the next global serve for Tanqueray that anyone can make at home, it is made with Tanqueray 10, Belsazar Summer Vermouth – a vermouth with a base of German Riesling that contains pineapple, peach, apricot and a touch of mint – and is topped up with a sparkling orange juice. Light, bright and a low ABV easy drinker, this gin-based cocktail has a gentle syrupy texture and is perfect for anyone who doesn’t like tonic.
Our next serve – The Groundskeeper – tackles the trend of sustainability. Dan and the other finalists were challenged to design a cocktail that helped the community in some way. Choosing the sustainable-minded, premium Ketel One vodka as a base, he decided to work with one of Nottingham’s many local cafés and create a drinks program that would provide them with a different revenue stream by using their waste products – milk and spent coffee grounds. These two ingredients lent themselves to the developing of a twist on an Espresso Martini. He distilled the milk, so that he was left with something that looked like water but which had the aroma and taste of cream, and used this to create a coffee liqueur. As the used coffee grounds were cold brew and therefore not exposed to high temperatures, they retained their rich, robust flavour. Additionally, using the distilled milk instead of water meant that he was actually adding flavour to the drink as opposed to diluting it. A by-product of the process meant that no sugar had to be added to balance he drink, making this mindful in more ways than anti-waste. The whey has also been made into coasters that have the texture of plastic but smell of milk! What’s more, the cocktail is delicious. The milk ensures that, whilst it looks clear, it has the smooth, creamy mouthfeel of milk, and the coffee’s strong chocolate and roasted notes sing out, matching the character of the Ketel One.
Jack pauses our romp through Dan’s World Class portfolio to announce that tonight there will also be a screening of the new episode of World Class List – a series that follows the charismatic Australian musician, Carey Watkins, on an international adventure to create “the ultimate drinks list”. This latest show is the London edition, featuring Black Rock’s very own Tristan Stephenson as he visits Porter’s Gin’s Alex Lawrence to Dandelyan (winner of countless international awards, including Best Bar in the World) and the American Bar at The Savoy (another world’s best). As Carey drinks his way through some of London’s top venues, we’re presented with our final cocktail of the evening that Dan describes as his “favourite from the competition as it really hits home”.
“When I lived here in London, my favourite part of the day was walking home at night-time and seeing the urban foxes playing together and foraging and scouting around for food in the streets. I thought it was funny because it’s so out of place for me. Now, living in Nottingham, I get to see them in their natural environment in the woods. When I go for a walk I the woods by the lakes there’s this abundance of natural ingredients that you can use, which is really underutilised.”
Urban Fox therefore has its roots in London but the ingredients, other than Johnnie Walker Black Label, have been collected by Dan from the woods near his house. He created a woodland cordial out of roasted acorns, fig, lichen and top soil that he distilled in the same way as the milk in the second cocktail. This he added to the whisky and stirred it down with a dash of bitters, serving it like an Old Fashioned. The soil gives the drink a powerful aroma somewhere between biscotti, cork and rain. Watery but smooth, the strength of the ABV is felt without being overpowering and a pleasant dryness comes through after the first couple of sips. Our favourite of the evening, it is no wonder to us that Dan was one mere point away from winning the global competition.