Tennessee Calling is like no other cocktail competition - why? I'll address that below. Firstly, I must mention the three highly talented winners - Charlotte Coyle (Filter + Fox, Liverpool), Josh Davies (Hedonist Project, Leeds) and Tatjana Titimova (Épernay Bar, Manchester). Each made a delicious cocktail that I and my fellow judges considered delicious and special enough to serve at the world famous Dead Rabbit in New York.
And, importantly, we regarded their bartending talents to be of such a high standard that collectively they could run the bar themselves as a team and cope with orders for a couple of hundred of their complex cocktails over several very busy hours. Folk who only stand on the drinkers’ side of the stick might consider such an evening a nightmare rather than a prize, but for three talented and ambitious bartenders it was a hell of an opportunity and experience, and they relished it. And for those of us that looked on, including my fellow travelers, Erik Lorincz and JJ Goodman, it was great to see how well they coped, how much they enjoyed it, and how much the Dead Rabbit’s guests appreciated their cocktails and hosting skills.
Unusually, Tennessee Calling involves the judges travelling from bar to bar to sample cocktails presented by the competitors in the bar they work in. The judges go to the competitors rather than the competitors going to the judges. So, on a rainy freezing day in November, Erik Lorincz, Nathan Shearer, Nidal Ramini, Cam Dawson and myself trudged into our first bar, The Fizzy Tarte on Lake Windemere.
It proved a most uplifting experience and we set about the other stops on our tour around bars in the North of England, to meet bartenders and sample their cocktails, far more invigorated. The standard of bartending, along with the imaginative and tasty cocktails we encountered proved a potent antidote to the grim weather and train journeys endured along the way.
Unlike most other competitions, there is no ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘third’ place in Tennessee Calling – instead there are three winners. Having chosen our deserving three, we gave them just three days’ notice of their prize – to pack their bags and prepare for the trip of a lifetime to New York to present their cocktails during a guest shift at the Dead Rabbit, followed by a very special, access all areas, visit to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Tennessee.
While in New York our friends at Jack Daniel’s didn’t just take Tatjana, Charlotte and Josh to the Dead Rabbit – the stay lasted several days and encompassed some of New York’s best and most legendary bars. We also stayed, in some style, in Tennessee where we partied in many a country and western bar, enjoyed the very traditional hospitality and food at Miss Mary Bobo's and experienced the cocktails at the Nashville outpost of the legendary Attaboy. But the highlight was the day at the historic Jack Daniel’s distillery. This was my sixth such visit to Jack Daniels and every time I go it seems more of a magical place. Both the town and this distillery are like walking onto a film set but actors could never play the part of the folk you encounter and no set designer could recreate the experience of walking from Jack Daniel’s old office, complete with the safe that killed him, past the lime stone cave, through the heat of the distillery on the way to a watch yeast multiply through an electron microscope in a state-of-the art laboratory.
Three very talented bartenders will win Tennessee Calling III later in 2018 and once again I hope to join them on their trip of a lifetime. In the meantime, I congratulate Tatjana, Charlotte and Josh, and present their winning cocktail recipes along with a film a film of each talking about their experience (click the photographs below), followed by the other seven finalist’s cocktails: