A competitive contest was underway this week as 11 of Belfast’s greatest bartenders battled it out in the grand final of the second annual Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge.
And it’s a prize anyone with an interest in mixology would be dying to get their hands on – a prestigious training scholarship with the world’s most iconic cognac brand.
Designed to uncover the movers and shakers in Northern Ireland’s cocktail scene, the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge was created by drinks company, Dillon Bass in 2015.
Following its huge success, the competition returned for a second year, aiming to uncover the next generation of NI’s top mixology talent.
An international judging panel – which included Vincent Borjon-Prive from Hennessy; Edmund Weil from the award-winning Nightjar and Oriole Bars in London; Julie Dupouy, brand ambassador for Moet-Hennessy, recently named of the world’s top three sommeliers and Joel Neill, operations director, Hospitality Ulster – decided the winners.
The judges put the bartenders through their paces, assessing them on their Hennessy cocktails, as well as product knowledge, personality and ability to represent the brand in Northern Ireland.
The Hennessy Connoisseurs Grand Finale at Belfast’s famous Ox Cave provided a nail-biting competition, but three bartenders were eventually awarded the prestigious title of Hennessy Connoisseur.
They include Darren McEvoy from The Albany, Belfast – who impressed the judges with his creation ‘An Gaelige Alexander (The Irish Alexander)’ an Irish twist on the classic, Brandy Alexander – one of the most well-known cognac cocktails.
Inspired by the Irish lineage of Richard Hennessy, the inventive drink mixed Hennessy with Jameson Caskmates and Crème de Cacao, honey and cream to create a rich, full-bodied dessert cocktail, which captivated the judges, along with Darren’s winning personality, and his ‘impressive knowledge, with clear research leading to a composed and compelling delivery.’
Jonathan Magennis, from Deanes EIPIC in Belfast wowed the judges with his signature ‘Force of Nature’ Hennessy cocktail, which was presented on a board with a taste of Hennessy Fine de Cognac, chilled ice water, double espresso and homemade fudge.
Jonathan’s digestif style cocktail was created with the connoisseur in mind, with the added elements designed to enhance the true flavours of Hennessy. A classic twist on a Tipperary / Sazerac drink, the judges felt Jonathan’s stirred cocktail was an ‘elegant and beautiful creation’, which ‘perfectly embodied the spirit of Hennessy.’
Last but by no means least was Ryan Adair, from Belfast’s famous Merchant Hotel, who amazed the judges with his inventive ‘Wild Rabbit’ signature cocktail. His creation was inspired by the ethos of ‘Never Stop. Never Settle – The Evolution of Success’ – a nod to the evolution of Hennessy throughout the years and to his own development as a mixologist.
The judge’s felt that ‘Ryan’s passion, skill and clear talent’ shined through in his drink with a ‘well-research and engaging narrative’ that won them over.
Indeed, Ryan had competed in the inaugural Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge in 2015, when his girlfriend, Roisin McErlean was named one of the three victors, alongside Nathaniel McAuley from Muriel’s Café Bar and Frankie Cosgrove from sixty6, Belfast.
A true mixology power couple, the pair can now share the esteemed title of Hennessy Connoisseurs.
Judge Edmund Weil, from London’s award-winning, Nightjar and Oriole Bars said: “Having judged cocktail competitions around the world, I was blown away by the talent on show in Belfast tonight. The standard of entries was just incredible and the three newly crowned Hennessy Connoisseurs could walk into any bar in any city in the world, such was the incredible standard of their drinks.”
A big congratulations also goes to the eight finalists in the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge!
• Christopher McQuillan, Saphyre Restaurant
• David Kelly, Filthy McNastys
• David Mulholland, Love and Death Inc
• Eoin Devenny, Love and Death Inc
• Jefferson Minglanilla, Hadskis
• Liam Hall, The Northern Whig
• Matt Fox, Love and Death Inc
• Nathan Evans, Secrets Nightclub, Magherafelt