Words by Nicole Sykes and Sammy Hemmings
"The cocktail scene here is great," says Nicole Sykes, the general manager at London's Satan's Whiskers. "There are great cocktail bars in every neighbourhood and each is doing something different to the next. We are pretty spoiled for choice in London."
Born in the little town of Lanark in Scotland, Nicole got her start as a bartender in Edinburgh. Her career includes stints at award-winning Voodoo Rooms and London's Lyaness, before moving through the ranks at Satan's Whiskers.
For Nicole, cocktail competitions offer the opportunity to connect with the broader bartending community. She represented the UK at the Patrón Perfectionists 2018 global final, and has since won the UK final of Bacardi Legacy 2019, a competition which challenges bartenders to create simple drinks that are easy to replicate.
The name of Nicole's cocktail, Ladder, refers to the career-defining support given in the industry. "We all start at the bottom," she says. "So, in the beginning, someone has to be there to show you the ropes, to hold the ladder to help you take the next step...My legacy is all about strength in hospitality by climbing together, support from the beginning and learning until the end."
A blend of just five ingredients, including Bacardi Carta Blanca, pink grapefruit juice and crème de pêche, Nicole will showcase her cocktail at the UK final in February 2020. "I'm currently in the middle of my campaign which is quite nerve racking but exciting," she explains. "The competition structure this year is allowing us to work together with our campaigns so we can all help each other out a little."
And her concept has fuelled her motivation. "It's challenging but that's why I entered," Nicole says. "I am representing something I am passionate about and something I believe we can all relate to so I am excited to get people talking about it."
Martini Racing Ciclismo
While bartenders can compete in various international competitions, opportunities which embody health and well-being are less common. Martini Racing Ciclismo, the global bartending-cycling community, was a physical challenge for Nicole, as well as for other bartenders around the world.
"This isn't alcohol led and it really opens your mind up to new things," Nicole says. "Something I keep saying but can't stress enough is how rewarding this is, something I don't experience often with other incentives. It really is something completely different."
Besides group rides and workouts, Martini Racing Ciclismo host an annual ride, La Classica, and invite the most engaged bartenders from each participating country to take part. Having reached the requirements for the ride, Nicole was offered one of the highly-coveted spots.
"I was pleasantly surprised and obviously excited," Nicole recalls. "I began to enjoy cycling so much I didn't realise how often I was training and that I'd done the miles to be selected."
Nicole trained hard before the big ride. "I was training before work but honestly after the first few big rides, I felt great for it," she says. "It's something I knew I had to do prior to the 300km in order to not embarrass myself."
The experience has been hugely rewarding. "I'd never been challenged in that way before and I guess you could say I'm quite lazy when it comes to exercise," Nicole says. "Perhaps I thought It would have been easier than it was but at the end of it I've never felt so rewarded. It's pretty cliché but it's amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it."
La Classica hosted 50 bartenders on a ride from Florence to Rome in just three days, reaching the finish line at the Roma Bar Show. "The highlight was when we all met at the cycle path in Rome to cycle into the centre together," Nicole says. "It was so humbling to see a sea of us cycling by the river, chatting in groups and entering the Bar show together."
For her cocktail, Nicole selected Martini Ambrato, alongside tequila, sherry and elderflower liqueur. "This was inspired by something a group of us craved as we entered the Roma Bar Show," she explains. "We had some time to kill so we discussed what we 'all want right now'. The first was a shower, the second was cheese, closely followed by something stiff and boozy but easy to sip on, with our cheese."
Nicole has no regrets. In fact, cycling has become a part of her lifestyle. "I still cycle everyday as part of my commute, I find it very therapeutic," she says. "It's good for me both physically and mentally. We have a group from La Classica that we cycle with at least once a week, so we've already started training for next year."
Garnish: Orange twist
2 dash Peychaud's Bitters
7.5ml Manzanilla sherry
7.5ml St Germain
12.5ml Martini Ambrato
50ml Patron Silver