Words by: Paloma Alos
Josh Reynolds, from Hawksmoor Spitalfields in London, is the 2015 Chivas Masters global winner. The announcement was made at a dinner for the 12 global finalists in New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail. The following day we caught up with Josh, and the Chivas Global Brand Ambassador Max Warner, on their return from a swamp tour in the Louisiana outback, to find out more about the new winner, the Chivas Masters competition and what the year ahead has in store.
Josh first started bartending at, what he calls, a “seedy cocktail bar” in Nottingham, UK where he moved “without a job, and ended up behind a bar, first as a bar back and then I was thrust onto the bar. I didn’t even know how to pull a pint at that point.”
Luckily for cocktail lovers around the world, he quickly mastered the basics, moving to London a couple of years later after a call from his older brother, Ali Reynolds, who asked Josh to work with him at Pollen Street Social in Mayfair. “It was a busy and high stress environment, but also a great experience which I learned a lot from. I was then offered a job at Hawksmoor Spitalfields – I’ve been there now for three years. They look after you really well and allow you to experiment and be yourself.”
Experimentation is something Josh clearly enjoys and has been evident in the way he approached the various creative challenges presented by Chivas Masters. “I find it interesting to see how to get layers of flavour in one liquid, it’s really exciting working with cocktails in that way. I think it’s harder to express different aspects of flavour in a drink as opposed to a plate of food where the components are more distinct and separate from each other. I’ve always loved crazy different ingredients and like the idea of grilled syrups right now. Masa (last year’s Chivas Masters winner) was telling me all about preserved lemons – they sound awesome.”
Josh points to a few people have been important influences on his style and coloured his approach to cocktail bartending. Gareth Evans and Kyle Wilkinson helped him to learn the fundamental basics of mixology, including how to construct cocktails, while his older brother Ali “is a big influence on me. He’s always been my boss which is a bit weird but works out fine!”
In fact, Josh is happily following in his brother’s footsteps. Ali was the UK winner of Chivas Masters in 2014, which certainly encouraged Josh to enter this year. “I have a lovely rivalry with my older brother who was a winner last year. So I thought I’m going to enter this time.”
Now in its second year, the Chivas Masters final brought together the 12 national finalists in the iconic city of New York. During the two-day final, the competitors were asked to re-create one of the cocktails that earned them a place in the global final. They were also asked to compete in a series of challenges designed to test their creativity, style, understanding of flavours and mixology skills.
Josh with the national finalists of Chivas Masters 2015
As Max Warner explains, Chivas Masters looks to respond to the needs of bartenders. “We interviewed bartenders from around the world to understand what they thought about Chivas, as well as asking them what Chivas can do to help support bartenders. The overwhelming response was that bartenders viewed Chivas as a respected brand with a strong sense of heritage, which could contribute significantly towards helping them get recognised. These were really valuable insights for us to respond to through the 2015 Chivas Masters competition.”
“On the question of heritage, we looked back at different eras – 1880 to 1920, the post war boom, the disco years and modern day revivalism – and created challenges to bring to life the history of Chivas and Scotch in cocktails. Looking at the respect the brand commands, we decided to hold the global final in New York to honour the location where Chivas was first launched. To recognise the contribution of our winners and to inspire them further, we collectively went to the biggest cocktail festival in the world – Tales of the Cocktail - so that we could celebrate their victories among the world’s cocktail elite.”
The competitors were put through their paces over the two days, with a total of six challenges and workshops to test their capabilities. Five of the challenges tested their senses, including using an ice carving tool created by last year’s winner, Masa Urushido, to create an ice ball. Further challenges included learning how to photograph their cocktails, led by professional photographer Doron Gild, and understanding how best to sell their cocktails to their customers.
For Josh, there were many highlights throughout the competition, “but the best parts for me were during our two days in New York for the global final. The competition challenges really stretched all of us, and we experienced some awesome once-in-a-lifetime events such as eating at Eleven Madison Park and taking a helicopter ride above New York. We also had a treasure hunt, which was great fun.”
The heart of the competition is all about drinks, and this is where Josh truly excelled, with his winning cocktail – the Black Dizzy Tea. It’s a twist on a cup of tea that evokes the idea of drinking tea and makes a number of interesting connections with Chivas. Significantly, James and John Chivas were tea blenders before they entered the whisky trade – referenced in the essence of Josh’s cocktail. Chivas has long been associated with the Royal Family, a connection highlighted through the use of Dubonnet Rouge which, it is rumoured, the Queen still drinks daily. The “dizzy” reference comes from the story of a cat stuck in the hull of a ship transporting Chivas. When the ship finally reached its destination the cat, unsurprisingly, was visibly dizzy from the whisky fumes coming off the barrels.
Black Dizzy Tea
60ml Chivas Regal 12yr
10ml Pineapple Syrup
1.25ml Sarsaparilla Cordial
Method: Throw between tins until correct dilution and aeration is achieved. Serve in a glass tea cup. No ice. Garnish with lemon zest and lemon zest tea bag.
As Max says “the judges loved this drink as the history and heritage of Chivas shone through”.
So what’s in store for Josh over the next 12 months? Josh has won the opportunity to visit and work in three iconic bars in three cities around the world. He’ll spend two days in each city, working in the bar of his choice and collaborating with the local bartenders to create a signature drink. There will also be time for him to take in the local culture of the city and get involved himself with experiences that will further expand his repertoire, such as working with a local chef or photographer.
“During the course of the next year I just want to embrace the whole thing. I’m 25 years old and this is huge for me. I want to be a representative of Chivas in the right way, have fun and make delicious drinks.”
Bartender, Hawksmoor Spitalfields