Mumbai mixologist wins the second edition of the Brown-Forman American Whiskey Cocktail Challenge 2018 in India

Ernest Mascarenhas of Taj Land’s End, Mumbai comes up trumps with his creation ‘Virtuoso’ in the annual competition featuring the top 15 mixologists from across India

New Delhi (India): Ernest Mascarenhas from Taj Land’s End, Mumbai, won the Brown-Forman American Whiskey Cocktail Challenge 2018 with his dark chocolate-laced whiskey cocktail titled ‘Virtuoso’. Displaying exceptional craftsmanship at The Playground Bar at JW Marriott, Aerocity, Delhi, where the finale of the competition was held, the young bartender took the top spot and as the grand prize will now be going on a guided tour to the iconic Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky.

Mascarenhas tells the story of the drink which he dedicated to his mother, “Virtuoso means passion and skill. I am inspired by Gentleman Jack which is a rare whiskey and its founder, Jasper Newton ‘Jack’ Daniel, was a passionate and skilled man. I am lucky to be supported by my family and especially my mom who inspires me every day.”  The recipe was perfected by Ernest over two days at Ming Yang, Taj Lands End, Mumbai. Even as he hopes to work abroad one day, he is looking forward to learning more about whiskey making during his trip to the two distilleries.

This was the second edition of the annual championship in which bartenders from across India are invited to create signature cocktail recipes with one of Brown-Forman’s premium whiskies – Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. Sharing the background for the initiative, Vineet Agrawal, Head of Marketing, India Subcontinent and Maldives, Brown-Forman Worldwide LLC, said, “We are seeing a growing interest in whiskey cocktails in India and the spurt in craft cocktail bars around us are visible proof of this growing interest. We believe that any occasion for a good premium whiskey is a relevant occasion for our brands and a good whiskey cocktail occasion ranks right up there. We are happy that we could provide a credible platform for these talented mixologists to experiment and create unique recipes using our craft whiskies and showcase them to a wider audience. We received overwhelming participation from mixologists across the country and are thrilled to see the enthusiastic response from everyone.”

For the finale, each participant had to make two cocktails, a Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned followed by their signature recipe. The competition was judged by industry experts—Vikram Achanta, CEO and Co-founder of Tulleeho; Rohan Jelkie, Partner Barback Collective and Former Brand Ambassador Moet Hennessy and Vinit Udyavar, Brand Ambassador, Jack Daniel’s.

While the championship had 15 finalists, it had gone through a rigorous elimination process over three months. It began with 300 participants from the cities of Delhi, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore, out of which 100 were shortlisted for Round 2.

Talking about the process, Vinit Udyavar said, “This is a great platform for the bartenders to showcase their skills. A 7-member panel went through the recipes to finalise 100 participants for Round 2 in which these 100 cocktails were promoted to consumers for a month. The top 15 finalists were decided based on the sales numbers of the cocktails and a few other qualitative parameters.”

The day dedicated to bitters, spices, edible flowers and more, was an education on the evolution of the bartending talent in India. Innovative themes, authentic stories, creative names and artful presentations were on display by all the finalists. “The evolution in this space has been remarkable. The cocktail championship is a good place for the bartenders to showcase their talent and hone their skills. It puts them on an international platform and there is so much learning. The stories which go behind the making of each cocktail show how their minds are working and what they bring to the drink. The cocktail was judged based on the story behind it, aroma and appearance, balance and impression, and the taste was the main factor,” shared Vikram Achanta.

Adding to that, Rohan Jelkie felt that this initiative by Brown-Forman enhanced the drink experience for the bartender as well as the consumer. “If we look back 10 years, it used to be difficult to pick up a craft premium whiskey for a bar due to the high cost, or the management wasn’t sure of the bartender or consumers weren’t ready for this. But now, things are different. A premium brand coming forward and creating this platform, helps the industry rise and grow in a creative way. This ‘premiumisation’ has brought the best to the consumer too.”

This edition saw three runners-up who took home a customized Jack Daniel’s mixologist kit. Akash Singh from Glocal Junction, Mumbai was the first runner-up followed by Rohit Gurav from Arth, Mumbai and Rohan Matmary from Big Brewsky, Bengaluru who were tied for the second runner-up spot. All finalists were awarded with a certificate of participation.