A cocktail infused with Moroccan flavours helped bartender Aaron Pollack from the USA to win the fourth annual Opihr World Adventure Cocktail Competition.
He was one of 10 national winners, including Carla Molina Ruiz from Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour in London, to reach the global final of the competition, held in Marrakesh.
Using spiced gin Opihr, they were challenged to re-create the cocktail that helped them win their national heat plus a second drink using spices and ingredients sourced from Marrakesh’s Medina walled city and the region’s spice gardens.
Aaron’s first cocktail combined the gin with manzanilla sherry infused with toasted fenugreek plus lime, tangerine, sweet lemon, sea salt and Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech Bitters. His second drink used a dry Moroccan red wine, a shrub made of pomegranate and rose water, lemon juice and egg white. See below for the full recipes.
Aaron, who works at The Dawson in Chicago, has won an adventure for two to a mystery location on the Spice Route, the inspiration for the creation of Opihr Gin. He is pictured with Joanne Moore, master distiller for Opihr Gin.
Alongside Joanne, the judging panel comprised Hadni Soufiane from Marrakesh cocktail bar Baromètre and Gary Sharpen of The Cocktail Lovers. They chose Mike Rambags from Demain bar in Nijmegen from the Netherlands as runner-up.
Aaron said: “The Opihr World Adventure Cocktail Competition has been the best competition I’ve been able to participate in yet and I’m so happy to have won.
“I take a culinary approach to cocktail development and when I tried Opihr for the first time, I was struck by its depth of flavour and the way it embraces the everyday palate of the region unlike any other gin.
“I felt it adds something truly different and unique to a cocktail so when I heard about the contest, I knew I had to sign up.
“The competition has helped other finalists and myself to really push our boundaries – I’ve learned so much and have been inspired by the people and experiences I’ve had in Marrakesh.
“After I return home, I’m looking forward to drawing on these experiences for our beverage programme at The Dawson.”
The other finalists were Gorge Camorra from Australia, Marius Kohne from Germany, Filippo Laccu from Italy, Brian McGrory from Ireland, Giritharan “Giri” Panchakaran from Malaysia, Cesar Perez II from the USA, and Patrick Vercambre from Belgium.
Joanne, who is master distiller for Opihr producer G&J Distillers, added: “The calibre of all the bartenders who took part in the final this year was so impressive – they all demonstrated a great understanding of the flavour profile of Opihr Gin, and the enthusiasm and creativity they showed when presenting their new serves to me and my fellow judges was genuinely inspiring.
“It was such a tough decision to choose the winner but Aaron is very deserving. He told the stories behind his serves so well and showed great skill. I’m really looking forward to maintaining our relationship with him in the years ahead and I hope his Spice Route adventure prize gives him even more great memories of the competition.”
The two days preceding the final saw the 10 bartenders descend on the bustling Medina to source local ingredients and props to bring their cocktails to life for the judges. In the evening, they visited Baromètre, where the owners shared their insights about local spices and gave the contestants the opportunity to get behind the bar and experiment.
On the morning of the competition, the group was taken to Paradis du Safran, a picturesque, fragrant spice garden in the Ourika Valley, where they learned about saffron and were able to pick their own organic spices and herbs straight from the plants to use in their serves that evening at the final.
They ended their visit with a trip to the Atlas mountains with lunch in the foothills of Mount Toubkal, Morocco’s highest peak, followed by an afternoon of quad biking in the desert and an authentic Moroccan campsite dinner in the desert at sunset.
Joanna Richardson, international brand director for Opihr at owner Quintessential Brands, said: “We were absolutely thrilled by the response from bartenders across the world when we launched the fourth edition of the World Adventure Cocktail Competition earlier this year.
“The competition doubled in size such was the response, with entrants from 13 markets taking part this year. There are so many cocktail competitions on offer to bartenders these days so for Opihr to have attracted such talented bartenders this year shows that the World Adventure Cocktail Competition is fast becoming known in the bar industry as one of the most challenging and rewarding competitions to be part of.
“Special congratulations from all of us at Opihr and Quintessential Brands to Aaron for his impressive win, but we hope all the finalists have enjoyed their experiences in Marrakesh and that this Opihr adventure will continue to inspire them as they return to their home countries.”
Aaron Pollack’s winning recipes (in US fluid ounces)
The Road Less Traveled
50ml Opihr Gin
15ml Toasted fenugreek-infused manzanilla sherry
15ml Madagascar vanilla bean syrup
25ml Spice Road citrus blend (lime, tangerine and sweet lemon)
3 dashes Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech Bitters
3 drops Sea salt solution
Shake ingredients over ice and double-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with bay leaf, rosemary and lavender. Float with a dehydrated lime wheel with cracked coriander seeds.
Joy Comes In the Morning
55ml Opihr Gin
7ml Dry Moroccan red wine
15ml Pomegranate and rose water shrub
25ml Lemon juice
1 Egg white
Shake all ingredients over ice and double-strain into a glass. Garnish with pinned red-hued flowers and a star of anise pod on the foam.