Can Flair Bartender’s Make Good Cocktails?

Cocktails in flair competitions have, for a long time, been a point of contention for some industry professionals. You don’t have to look very far to come across a bartender who thinks that flair bartenders can’t make very good cocktails and especially not in competitions – although we think this is partly because they can’t believe that flair bartenders can be as accurate as they are, especially considering the pouring techniques they employ! However, not to fear, we are here to correct this nonsense!

Although this may have been true of flair competitions and flair bartenders in the past, no more – certainly not under the WFA’s guidance. For a few years we have redirected the focus back on bartending for all of our competitors, reminding them that they are bartenders first and flair bartenders second. Some of the competitions wouldn’t challenge the flair bartenders: only requiring a vodka and cranberry juice with a slice of lime.

Conversely all of the WFA Grand Slams now require the bartenders to come up with their own cocktail which will then be judged on taste, presentation and aroma. This counts towards 20-25% of their final marking, making the choice of cocktail and the serve more important than ever before.

flair bartender's make good cocktails

Oliver Deak’s cocktail creations from Flair Mania 2017

The level of service an establishment provides is continuing to be one of the biggest differentiators for many businesses. Having the ability to hire staff that can not only create great and professional tasting drinks but also entertain the staff with an impressive skill set, is a great advantage and demonstrates progression in the industry as a whole.

A selection of cocktails from competitors

We spoke to a couple of the long time WFA competitors in the shape of Marek Poszluzny and Luca Valentin, on their thoughts behind the cocktails they have created at Grand Slams over the years and to identify their favourite cocktail:

Marek Pozluzny: ‘Grampa cake’

flair bartender's make good cocktailsIngredients: 3 cl Rum, 1 cl cacao white, 1 cl gingerbread syrup, 1 cl egg white, 1.5 cl lime juice, 2.5 cl fresh carrot juice

“I was inspired by my love of carrot cake when putting together this cocktail. In my home this type of cake is very popular, especially around winter time and I prepared this cocktail for the Grand Slam Finals in December 2015. The cake is a healthy cake, if there is such thing!? With a strong aroma and a characteristic taste, a proper carrot cake from my home should have strong flavours of carrot, ginger and chocolate coming through – and this is exactly what I attempted to replicate in my cocktail ‘Grampa Cake’. Add a touch of dark rum or bourbon and this is perfect”.

Luca Valentin: ‘Kumaru Martini’

“A clean flair routine doesn’t help you anymore when we discuss about competitions. I realised that 4 years ago in one of my trips in Riga, when I had a really good round with no drops in seven minutes and I took second place. In that moment I understand the importance of what we mix on the stage. Now I’m more focussed on the cocktail, for every year I choose 5-6 cocktails. For example this year I started with an awesome cocktail. I use inside tonka flavor, I really love tonka beans!

The name of the cocktail is “Kumaru Martini”. KUMARU is a species of flowering tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. The tree is native to Central America and northern South America. Its seeds are known as tonka beans (sometimes tonkin beans or tonquin beans). They are black and wrinkled and have a smooth, brown interior. They have a strong fragrance similar to sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) due to their high content of coumarin.

For every competition I bring two typewritten copy of my cocktails for every judge. One is in English language, and the second one, to show more respect I also bring a copy in their own language. Funny story was last year in a competition in Ibiza, when the organisers told us that we will have a mystery judge for cocktail tasting. I translate my cocktail in seven different languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian and Japanese. In the end I was lucky, the judges was from Spain and Brazil

I mixed the tonka beans with a lot of alcohol drinks and I found that bourbon is the perfect match:”

Ingredients: 50 ml – Bourbon, 10 ml – Tonka syrup, 05 ml – Orgeat syrup, 20 ml – Fresh lemon juice, 40 ml – Fresh apple juice

Cocktail name: Kumaru Martini
Glass: Martini
Garnish: Tonka dust powder
Method: Shake and fine strain

The Judge’s Perspective

We also caught up with a few of the WFA judges, Declan McGurk and Jay Goodman, on their thoughts on how cocktails have progressed in WFA Grand Slams:

Jay Goodman

“It’s so exciting to see the level of mixology at its highest in the flair bartending world! Huge steps have been made by so many competitors, some genuinely making world class cocktails while under the extreme pressure of the famous roadhouse stage lights in front of their friends, work mates and countless others in the audience! My hat goes off to Tom, Andy and the team for leading the way and getting the best out of so many many young talented bartenders”.

Declan McGurk:

“I am a big believer that as a flair routine is built around presenting a cocktail, that the quality of that cocktail should match the quality of the routine. It was clear in the latest Roadhouse World Finals that everyone took it seriously and there were some great visual cocktails on show.

Marek in particular for me, accompanied a high level routine with a serve, which also doubled up as a clever move. There was this running theme that the drinks being made in the Grand Slam competitions either didn’t balance or were over diluted, which is partly understandable whilst flairing.

But my message here is clear, don’t lose these easy marks. To balance a drink remember 4 parts strong, 2 parts sour to 1 part sweet – achieve this and the drink will be enjoyable. Then with dilution the key is to control this so I would use block ice and bring it in myself. It is very easy to prepare at home and most importantly it means a wonderful routine and great drink isn’t ruined by the taste of water. These may seem like simple steps but actually it is conquering the simple details that allows you to generate great success from your flair routines”.

flair bartender's make good cocktails