It was the battle of the bartenders in Belfast this week as 11 finalists, representing bars from across Northern Ireland, competed in the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge at Robinson and Cleaver.

Each put their best cocktail making hands forward as they vied for the chance to win a prestigious training scholarship with the world’s most iconic cognac brand.

Following a nail-biting competition, three bartenders have been awarded the prestigious title of Hennessy Connoisseur. They were…

Nathaniel McAuley

Nathaniel McAuley, Muriels Cafe Bar (2)

Nathaniel McAuley from Muriel’s Cafe Bar impressed the judges with his ‘energy, theatre and captivating personality’.

His classic serve ‘The Café Royal – The Illumination’ featured an intoxicating mix of Hennessy Cognac VS, Olmeca Dark Chocolate Tequila, Demerara Syrup and fresh espresso.

His creative cocktail ‘The Rimbaud’ combined Hennessy Cognac, DeKauyper Amaretto, Cinnamon Syrup and Poached Pear Puree.

Judges commented on the ‘creativity and exceptional balance of both drinks.’ Both drinks were inspired by the literary works of one of France’s most famous and respected poets, Arthur Rimbaud, author of Les Illuminations, which was brought to life with a stirring rendition of his poem, The Cupboard at the beginning of Nathaniel’s performance.

Roisin McErlean

Roisin McErlean, The Albany (1)

Roisin McErlean from The Albany also wowed the judges with her ‘knowledge, research, skill and precision.’

Her classic serve ‘The Irish Officer’ paid homage to Hennessy founder, Irishman, Richard Hennessy and featured a heady mix of Hennessy VS, Redbreast 12 year Old Irish Whiskey, nutmeg, cinnamon, freshly squeezed orange juice and sugar syrup.

Her creative cocktail serve, ‘By Royal Appointment’ included Hennessy VSOP, egg white, homemade orange sherbet, fresh ginger extract, lime juice and orange bitters.

Judge Swanand Korgaonkar, head bartender at The Berkeley Hotel, London said: “Roisin is a very precise bartender, with great presence and her perfectly constructed cocktails demonstrated great technique. I felt like I’d been transported back to 1904 watching one of the great, classic bartenders in action.”

Frankie Cosgrove

Frankie Cosgrove, Sixty6 (2)

Last but not least, the third Hennessy Connoisseur, Frankie Cosgrove from Sixty6 amazed the judges and people in attendance with his classic serve – a deconstructed Bloody Mary, featuring Heinz Beanz sauce, Hennessy, lime, lemon, salt & cracked pepper, basil leaves and oregano, served in a bean tin and garnished with fresh oregano, a celery stick and a side plate of toast with honey and crackers with jalapeno relish.

Frankie Cosgrove Sixty6 (3)

Having been singled out by the judges as an outstandingtalent and ‘the next great creative mind in the Belfast cocktail scene’Frankie’s penchant for baked beans, alongside some serious creativity and thinking outside the boxed helped crown him the overall winner. Earning him the unique opportunity to attend the Hennessy Art of Mixology event in Cognac in September.

His creative serve also sounded incredibly tempting – featuring Hennessy, Peachtree De Kuyper Liqueur, lime juice, bee pollen syrup, fresh strawberries, Moet et Chandon champagne and rhubarb bitters, garnished with fresh strawberry in a smoke glass with apple and mint tea leaves.

Judge and Northern Ireland food critic, Joris Minne was amazed with the out-of-the-ordinary recipe, “Frankie looks upon cocktails as a chef designs and prepares a meal. It was a revelation to see someone create a savoury cocktail; it was even better than the classic Bloody Mary!”

The 8 runners up were…

The eight finalists in the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge were:

Ryan Adair, The Merchant Hotel

Dominic Armstrong, Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast

Francesca Dalton, Miel et Moi

Adam Duff, The National Grande Café

Patrick Graham, The Albany

Nicole Kane, The Merchant Hotel

Ian McCandless, The Northern Whig

Ashley Williamson, The Cloth Ear

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