How many ways can you make a Gin & Tonic?
By Thom Meintel
If you ask anyone at Bulldog Gin be prepared for more than a one word answer. In fact, if you’re a bartender, be prepared to learn all about something called The Modern Gin & Tonic Challenge, which culminated in September after a six-month search across the U.S. You see, Bulldog is no ordinary gin and this was no ordinary contest. It was the first chance for the brand to show its personality to the bartending community on a national scale so it was all stops out.
What did they do differently? How about for starters dangling a carrot in the form of a trip to the jet set party island of Ibiza as the prize? Preceded by a night on the town in trendy Barcelona, of course, to learn all about the famous “Spanish Serve,” the flashy mixing craze formulated around a standard G&T. Having already gained formidable momentum all over Europe, the out of the box method unleashes extravagant garnishes, exotic tonics and unusual liqueurs upon the perennial favorite.
To start, Bulldog knew they had an ace up their sleeve with their less juniper heavy gin which has a smoother citrus forward profile and unique botanical mix that includes Dragon Eye, White Poppy seeds and Lotus Leaves from China. They set out to show how their liquid makes for the ultimate Gin & Tonic. Having tasted a few samples at the private VIP dinners the brand organized during the campaign to familiarize local mixologists with their juice and the unprecedented mixing method, I couldn’t agree more.
Their dinner series staged in ten U.S. cities was a fantastic brand experience, part education and psyching session. Led by Bulldog’s National Brand Ambassador Rosie Lee, herself a powerhouse, the events were invite only cocktail parties where mixologists experimented at Gin & Tonic “recreation stations” then kicked back with the Bulldog team over dinner. How many bartenders ever get a chance to mingle with the brand elite? Bulldog wanted to prove that their differentiated approach to trade activations was a winning ticket and the once in a lifetime trip the feather in its cap. The challenge kicked off in March in Las Vegas and segued to Dallas and L.A., then San Diego, Scottsdale and Denver, picking up speed in N.Y and moving on to Boston, Milwaukee and finally Chicago in mid-May. The Chilled 100 members were also in attendance and all the pros took time to get a head start on the competition, unveiled by Rosie at each event.
The essence of The Bulldog Modern Gin & Tonic was about creating the ultimate Gin & Tonic experience. The judging criteria shaped up like this: 50% for taste as the drink is all about flavor; 25% for presentation because showmanship made a huge difference; and 25% for creativity with innovative ingredients garnering big points. Entrants were required to create an original recipe with consideration given to Bulldog infusions with teas or fruit as well as ice variations, like sorbet and liquor infused ice. As it’s served in Spain, the cocktail had to be mixed in a Copa-style glass, a large stemmed goblet with ample room for all manner of garnishes and then beautifully photographed. Twenty-five semi-finalists would be whittled down to ten finalists, then three grand prize winners would be chosen and awarded the trip, a uniquely BULLDOG experience.
Bulldog received hundreds of submissions from all across the country and at last it came time to discover whether the proof was in the pudding. At a live tasting held at Ward III in NYC and judged by a panel of industry experts including Liquid Lab’s Parker Boase and Greg Lucas, Kenneth McCoy of Rum House and Chilled Magazine’s own Jeff Greif, twenty-five incredible entries were narrowed to ten. Observing the mound of exotic ingredients on the bar prior to the mixing session, I couldn’t help but think this was going to blow other cocktail competitions out of the water.
The ten talented finalists had wisely included out of the ordinary elements in their recipes like chili oil, Tahitian vanilla beans, fresh clementine juice, ginger syrup and sprigs of lavender and thyme ripe from the garden. Inspiration ranged from the flavors, sights and sounds of Spain to Shakespeare’s 5th Sonnet (no kidding). Each drink created tasted better than the one prior and before long both the judges and Rosie’s eyes were sparkling with animation thanks to the immense wave of talent on display. OK, I admit I was in awe too, especially after tasting the ten finished masterpieces lined up on the bar.
The judges never seemed to waiver in their scoring as the cocktails were tasted one by one and it became clear after a short deliberation which three were really and truly outstanding. L.A.’s Justin Roberts won for his Vermont Side Cocktail, a nod to the woods featuring an unusual pine needle syrup; New York City’s Sarah Theilkuhl was selected for her Oliver Reade Street with a heady hops-infused dry vermouth; and the final winner with her All Fresco was none other than noted mixing maven Franky Marshall, also from New York, who had exhibited a real flair for The Modern Gin & Tonic concept. Using lemon sorbet, chili oil and a wealth of flowers and herbs for garnishing, her drink tasted divinely decadent and her presentation hands down bedazzled everyone.
Then it was off on a whirlwind to Spain. What more could a bartender want? How about a day in the mecca of gin with a visit to Barcelona’s own Bobby Gin – the birthplace of The Modern Gin & Tonic – where an elaborate cocktail menu of G&T’s keeps the place on the cutting edge? Then three days and nights of non-stop partying courtesy of the best DJ’s in the world and a cruise on a private yacht to the Mediterranean island of Formentera. Did we hear there was no time for sleeping?
I decided to ask my friend Corey Galotta, Bulldog’s North American Marketing Manager, how everything panned out. He keenly recounted a few of the memorable aspects of the contest while trying to remain unbiased. What started as a more premium, yet still simple way to serve gin and tonic has now taken off at various establishments. And following the competition the brand is already seeing a lot of experimentation from bartenders who are using Bulldog to create classic gin cocktails in new ways. Hey Bulldog, think you’re on to something!
After receiving hundreds of submissions from all over the United States the panel of judges in the Bulldog Modern Gin & Tonic Challenge narrowed their choice down to three winning cocktails. Give these outstanding cocktails a mix.
Ms. Franky Marshall (The Roof at Park – NYC)
- 2 oz. BULLDOG GIN Infused with Lemongrass Mate Tea*
- 1 Small Scoop Lemon Sorbet
- 2 oz. Chilled Fever Tree Tonic Water
- 1-2 Small Drops Chili Oil **
- Scored Lemon Wheel
- Sprig Fresh Thyme
- Fresh Sprig of English Lavender
- Hibiscus Flower
Preparation: In a Copa or Burgundy wine glass.Prepare a small scoop or teaspoon size “quenelle” of Lemon Sorbet. Let sit at room temperature for 2-5 minutes or until tempered.Add 2 oz. Lemongrass Tea infused Bulldog Gin. *Lemon Tea infused gin- In a clear container, add 1 tablespoon Mate Spring tea (Spices and Tease- Lemongrass, lemon/lime pieces, lemon myrtle, licorice, apple pieces, sunflowers) to 8 oz. Bulldog Gin. Let sit for 20-25 minutes or until the color changes to a mellow gold.Strain off into a clean container, label and date.Add sorbet and using a swizzled barspoon, stir until sorbet is integrated.Fill glass 3/4 full with good quality ice.Add 2 oz. of Fever Tree Tonic Water, pouring the tonic slowly along the inverted spoon to preserve the effervescence. Stir once to integrate.Garnish with a scored lemon wheel pierced through the center with 1 sprig of thyme and 1 sprig of fresh English lavender. Gently place lemon wheel into the glass, then place 1 hibiscus flower on top of lemon.Add 1-2 small drops of Chili Oil dispensed with eyedropper. **Hokan is widely available, or you can make your own by sautéing chilis in vegetable or canola oil.Carefully place straw into glass.
NB: Before having your first sip, take a moment to enjoy the aromas emanating from the cocktail.
Oliver Reade Street
Sarah Theilkuhl (Ward III – NYC)
- 1 1/2 oz. BULLDOG GIN
- 1/2 oz. Cascade Hops infused Perucchi Spanish Dry Vermouth*
- 1/4 oz. Pamplemousse Rose Grapefruit Liqueur
- Half of a Lime
- 4 dashes of Bittermen Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
- 2 oz. Q Tonic
- Garnish with Grapefruit Zest, Lime Wheel, Hop Leaf
Preparation: *Cascade Hops infused Perucchi Spanish Dry Vermouth: Use 1 oz. Cascade Hop leafs in 1 liter vermouth for 24 hours. Make sure the hops are submerged in vermouth. After 24 hours, strain the vermouth from the hops. Take remaining hops and squeeze out vermouth (like a sponge) over strainer.Start building the cocktail into glassware with bitters, half lime, Pamplemousse Rose, infused vermouth, and Bulldog Gin. Add ice and stir to chill ingredients. Add more ice and fill with 2 oz. Q Tonic. Garnish with grapefruit zest over top of drink and then rubbed over rim of glass, discarded. Take a lime wheel and slice from the center to the rind. Twist in sides to form a cone and put Cascade Hop leaf (looks like a flower bud) in center and spear together. Feel free to add a couple of hop leafs floating in drink. They are very aromatic.
Justin Roberts (La Descarga, Los Angeles, CA)
- 1 1/2 oz. BULLDOG GIN
- 1/2 oz. Foraged Pine Needle Syrup
- 1/4 oz. Clear Creek Eau De Vie of Douglas Fir
- 1/4 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
- 1/4 oz. Fresh Lime
- 1/4 oz. Honey
- 1 1/2 oz. Fever Tree Tonic
- Pine Needle and Brush Flower (for Garnish)
Preparation: Combine the ingredients into a shaker and shake it like you mean it, then strain into an oversized snifter, add ice and tonic and garnish with love. The garnishes are lime, pine needle and a beautiful bottle brush flower.
Franky Goes to Ibiza (a few days in the life of a contest winning mixologist)
By Franky Marshall
Chilled’s Editor-at-Large, Thom Meintel, caught up with New York City’s own Franky Marshall on the fly and begged her for a tiny recount of Bulldog Gin’s award winning ticket to Ibiza. She graciously obliged.
We arrive in Barcelona and check into our hotel where I meet our charming host Joanne Birkitt, Bulldog’s VP Global Marketing and her team, along with the other two contest winners – Justin Roberts and Sarah Theilkuhl. My very comfortable room has an expansive view of the L’Eixample neighborhood – wow!
After a little free time we meet in the lounge for an official welcome with Bulldog Gin & Tonics – our first, but certainly not our last of the evening. Then it’s time for a bar crawl. First stop: Bobby Gin, a bar specializing in Gin & Tonics. We learn a little about the bar (named after an actual person), then how to pour a G&T, Spanish style.
It must be served in a Copa (balloon) glass with 1 part Gin to 4 parts quality Tonic Water poured down the side of a coiled barspoon or over an ice cube to preserve the effervescence. The garnish is meant to enhance the flavor of the gin, and in our case, we had a choice of an apple slice or black licorice. (NB: If you ask for a straw, as I did, you might get told that’s a no-no. Whoops!)
Next, we couple up and get into rickshaws which take us to our other destinations, leisurely absorbing the sights and sounds of Barcelona along the way. Very nice! Our next stops are Bar Bonavida, Guzzo, and Amarre 69. Finally, time for dinner around 11PM. (That’s the way you do it in Spain, dahling.) Then, it’s off to hit club BlingBling for Bulldog bottle service. What a first night!
We board a morning flight to Ibiza; everyone’s in pretty good shape. Thoughtful goodie bags await us in our rooms at our hotel on Platja d’en Bossa, containing locally harvested sea salt and Hierbas, an anise flavored liqueur made from indigenous plants like thyme, lavender, juniper and fennel. First a snack then it’s off to the port where we have a private boat waiting. It’s an absolutely gorgeous day. There are plenty of refreshments onboard, as well as two female DJ’s who provide a fantastic soundtrack for our cruise. We anchor at the island of Formentera for a tasty lunch and a lounge on the beach, then swimming by sunset on the way back. Afterwards, it’s off to the infamous Pacha nightclub ’til the wee hours.
Thankfully we get to sleep in! After a late lunch at Experimental Beach, we’re off to Ushuaia’s day party – Ants. There’s a sea of shiny, happy, people, two stages, palpable energy, non-stop music – it’s really impressive. We have a private area to dance, enjoy cocktails and take in the frenetic vibe. We even FaceTime Anshuman Vohra, Bulldog’s founder, to show him what he’s missing. Dinner at midnight then it’s right back out to the clubs!
And just like that, sadly, it’s time to go. I had an absolutely fabulous time, met wonderful people, ate great food, luxuriated in Ibiza’s nightlife and even learned some things…
A huge thank you to Bulldog Gin and Chilled Magazine for this unforgettable experience!
To see all of the competition details and cocktail entries, visit ChilledMagazine.com/Bulldog