Words by: Jane Ryan
It was a home victory for the winner of the Fourth Annual Tahona Society Cocktail Competition, held in Mexico last week, where Jose Luis Leon, from Limantour bar in Mexico City, was named champion and crowned on the rooftop bar at the Demetria hotel in Guadalajara.
There was a strong showing from the UK, with second and third places in the competition going to two British bartenders, but it was Jose who stole the show with a phenomenal punch-style drink called Mama's Soup, which harnessed the rich flavour of agave, and an unrivalled elegance. "That was the biggest moment in my professional career. I still can't believe yet that I am the winner," he said. Jose was awarded with a trip to New York and Chicago to visit and work alongside some of the top bartenders in the US.
Steffin Oghene, Global Brand Consultant for Olmeca, paid tribute to the home-grown champion. "Jose Luis is so highly skilled. He's never worked abroad which is unusual for a bartender of his skill-set. He is self-taught from reading and watching videos of international bartenders, it's incredible."
Second place went to Emma Tanner from Wahaca's Mezcaleria in London, for a balanced and refreshing twist on a Tommy's Margarita and third went to Chris Mosey, from Hula in Manchester, who turned the competition on its head with an exceptionally executed Tequila Martini. He was also the perfect showman, having the crowd in stiches before he'd even started on his drink. "I can honestly say I did everything I could. But better still I've been taught something, I've been educated on this trip," he said.
The competition marked the culmination of a week-long immersion into the heart of Mexico's tequila region for 15 international bartenders from as far afield as South Africa, Russia, Turkey and Lithuania. It was the first competition to be held without Henry Besant, one of the founders of the Tahona Society and co-creator of Omleca Altos tequila. This year, the competition was carried out under the watchful eye of Jeśus Hernández, master distiller for Olmeca tequila and fellow Altos co-creator.
The Tahona Society, sponsored by Olmeca, works as a global network of bartenders and industry specialists, all in the pursuit of knowledge about tequila. It also celebrates the ancient art of true tequila production - the Tahona.
Finals had been held across the world meaning all 15 competitors had already won in their respective countries. They were joined by Pernod-Ricard representatives, Tahona society members and journalists. On the judging panel sat Julio Bermejo, inventor of the Tommy's Margarita, Heinz Kaiser, last year's winner and a seasoned bartender from Austria, Charles Joly, from Aviary in Chicago and the 2011 winner, and myself, Jane Ryan, bars editor at diffordsguide.com.
The fifteen competitors pulled out all the stops to impress the crowd and judges with food pairings, infusions, smoking guns, outrageous Mexican cowboy boots sported by Chris Mosey and a very sexy Lithuanian cocktail shake by Laura Volkaite. Ultimately however there could only be three podium winners.
Emma Tanner's presence in the competition was noted for her role as a waitress at the Mezcalaria in Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia - she had beaten all the bartenders at her restaurant for a place in the competition and wowed the judges in Guadalajara. Matthias Lataille, Brand Ambassador for Olmeca Altos in the UK, said Emma and Chris's silver and bronze medals were a real achievement within an international competition of 15 bartenders. "It gives me goose bumps - it's a reward for all the effort I've put in educating the UK about tequila," he said.
At the end of the competition all bartenders were awarded a certificate while Chris Mosey and Dom Walsh from South Africa ceremonially dumped Jose Luis into the rooftop pool. From there, the group headed out into Guadalajara for a night of celebration, tequila and dancing.
Glass: Glass soup bowl
Garnish: Flowers and coriander micro green
Method: Place all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and throw from one shaker to another, straining without ice. Then strain into glass bowls.
40ml Olmeca Altos Blanco
30ml Noilly Prat
60ml celery juice
20ml lemon juice
10ml agave syrup
Named after Matthias Lataille, the UK Olmeca Altos brand ambassador, without whom said Emma, she would never have made it to Mexico.
Garnish: Vanilla pod and basil flower.
Method: Combine ingredients and shake over ice. Strain into short glass, served on the rocks.
35ml Olmeca Altos Blanco tequila
25ml Vanilla Syrup
dark Muscavado syrup
10ml Lime juice
5ml Agave syrup
8 Basil leaves (torn)
Presented with Chris's usual flair he used all the information learned on this trip, plus a few personal stories and Spanish phrases, to tie his cocktail together. Chris didn't have his vermouth with him but by using Strega, which has wormwood in it, in conjunction with muscat he was able to replicate a vermouth as he created the cocktail.
Olmeca You A Martini
Garnish: Rose on the side
Method: combine ingredients and stir over ice. Strain into Martini glass and zest with lemon (discard).
60ml Olmeca Altos Reposado tequila
40ml Domaine de Coyeux Muscat 2006
2 dashes Lemon bitters
Karol Bobinski, Bar Studio, Warsaw, Poland
50ml Olmeca Altos Reposado
15ml Fresh lemon juice
10ml homemade Three-honey syrup (made with Yucatan, Truffle and Spicy honey)
3 drops homemade Cacao Bitters
Served in an old-fashioned glass with chocolate pieces covered in 24-carat gold inside the drink. Karol presented his drink on a silver plate with a piece of bitter chocolate and smoked sea salt on the side.
Dominic Walsh, Orphanage, Cape Town, S. Africa
Love & Redemption
50ml Olmeca Altos Reposado tequila
12.5ml Allesverloren port
25ml Orange juice
2 dashes cherry bitters
Spritzed with Arberg whisky.
Dom used cellulose instead of eggwhite to give his drink a creamy texture without the egg-like taste. He told the story of the god of redemption and his lover as he created the cocktail, engaging all the judges.
Esra Çakir, Reina, Istanbul, Turkey
Esra's drink drew on her childhood for inspiration and the lavender scent reminded her of her grandmother who always smelt of the purple flower.
Ekaterina Buys, Chainaya, Moscow, Russia
Ekaterina used yellow chartreuse with red chilli peppers in her Olmeca cocktail.
Jeffrey Waldman, Hogs Head, Johannesburg, South Africa
50ml Olmeca Black Edition tequila
25ml Agave syrup
25ml fresh lime juice
1 Pineapple ring
A model of the Tahona process, Jeffery's drink was made by cutting out the centre part of the pineapple ring to make a wheel for garnish: he then diced and muddled the rest in a shaker. The other ingredients were shaken over ice and poured in a chilled margarita glass.
Leonid Bychkov, Big Fish, Volgograd, Russia
45ml Olmeca Altos Reposado tequila
30ml Cha Goa
25ml Fresh lime juice
15ml Agave syrup
15ml Egg White
4 dash Bergamot Bitters
Garnished with red saffron.
Laura Volkaite, Bar 210, Kaunas, Lithuania
50ml Olmeca Altos Reposado tequila
20ml Lychee liqueur
20ml Guava syrup
20ml Lime juice
Mango puree (quarter of a mango)
The drink was based on a busy night in Laura's bar when they ran out of lemon and lime and instead paired tequila with mango. Red chilli pepper is rubbed around the glass for the smell and to add slight spiciness for the cocktail.
Dimitrios Rampiadis, Love Casual Living, Dhessaloniki, Greece
Served with a plate of mozzarella, tomato and lime to represent the Mexican flag, the drink Dimitrios created was designed to be dry to counteract the oil of his food.
Lu Wenliang, Apothecary, Beijing, China
Luke presented his cocktail alongside a collage of pictures from the trip, explaining that he wished his English was better to communicate how much spending time with all his fellow bartenders had meant to him.
Pavel 'Pasha' Kalitvin, Platonov, Voronez, Russia
Pasha drew upon his experience trying pulque, a Mexican agave fermented drink, to create his cocktail. Rather than using pulque, he used kvas, a Russian fermented drink made with bread. This was combined with soda, egg white, Olmeca and grapefruit bitters.
Gerald Steiner, Lennox Bar, Linz, Austria
Maydelin Granadillo Suarez, Hotel Barcelό Sόlimar Arenas Blancas, Varadero, Cuba
Maydelin's cocktail was beautifully presented and used Olmeca Resposado tequila with schnapps .
Published in association with Olmeca Tequila