UK bartender wins global Tahona Society tequila competition

A bartender from the UK has been announced as winner of the international Tahona Society competition for Olmeca Altos tequila.

Kelsey Ramage from Dandelyan at the Mondrian London hotel claimed victory after a week of challenges that tested participants’ creativity, ability to blind taste Altos Tequila and presentation skills, held in Arandas in Mexico.

She also impressed judges with her cocktail, Never Die, due to its exceptional taste and her ingenious use of local ingredients. It combines Altos Plata tequila with a piquin chilli tincture, Angostura Bitters and her own orgeat made from pink pine nuts, allspice berries, cinnamon and cacao nib.

Now in its sixth year, The Tahona Society competition is the world’s leading tequila education programme, built around Pernod Ricard’s Altos tequila brand. The final featured 21 bartenders from around the world. See below for the full list.

As part of her prize, Kelsey will become The Tahona Society’s global ambassador and be given the opportunity to host Tahona Society programmes around the world in the coming year.

The 2016 competition focused on the use of local ingredients, underpinned by the Mexican culinary revolution, which challenged bartenders to create a drink based on seasonal or foraged produce, sourced from Guadalajara’s vibrant markets.

Throughout the week, the 21 competitors were schooled in various areas key to running a successful bar business, such as sustainability and global trends, hosted by leading figures in drinks and cocktails to support their development.

The 2016 Tahona Society judging panel included leading bartender Dré Masso, who co-created Altos Tequila in 2009 with Henry Besant, Chicago-based bartender Charles Joly, one of the founders of Crafthouse Cocktails, Cairbry Hill, a former bartender who is director of consultancy Strange Hill, and US-based bar consultant Mike Capoferri – the 2015 winner of The Tahona Society competition.

Joining the judging panel as a guest of honour was chef Poncho Cadena, one of the most recognised chefs of modern Mexican cuisine and owner of Guadalajara’s foremost restaurant, Hueso. His knowledge and expertise helped the panel to judge the competitors’ ability to bring Mexico’s vibrant flavours to the fore.

Kelsey said: “Competing in The Tahona Society has been an experience as a bartender that I will never forget. From exploring Mexico’s unique flavours to learning more about the production and quality of Altos Tequila, the programme has really shown me why this spirit and Mexico is so special, and has given me so much inspiration for my cocktails.

“The story of Altos Tequila is one that resonates with bartenders as it was created by two legends of the industry – Dré Masso and the late Henry Besant – in collaboration with Altos master distiller Jesús Hernández.

“The production of Altos Tequila uses the 500-year-old traditional Tahona method, resulting in a unique agave flavour that makes it a great tequila to use in cocktails or drink neat.

“It is a huge honour to hold the title of The Tahona Society global ambassador and I cannot wait to work with the brand over the coming year to spread the word about tequila, Altos and The Tahona Society.”

Dré praised the outstanding quality of entrants in The Tahona Society 2016 final. “On behalf of the wider judging panel, it was fantastic to see such a resourceful, innovative and skilful group of bartenders competing.

“All of the finalists in Arandas, Jalisco proved themselves to be at the top of their game. However, we deemed Kelsey to be the standout winner, with her exceptional Never Die cocktail, which completely blew us away.

“I can’t wait to work with her on Altos as part of our international programme – it’s going to be a great year.”

The other 20 finalists were:
Evgeny Nagimov, Speak Easy, Ufa, Russia
Manuela Lerchbaumer, Herberstein, Vienna, Austria
Vainius Balcaitis, Apoteka, Vilnius, Lithuania
Cho Hyun Sung, Ritz Carlton Hotel, Seoul, South Korea
Mikhail Konovalenko, El Pushka, Minsk, Belarus
Athanasios Ioannou, The Gin Joint – Athens, Greece
Mateusz Szuchnik, El Koktel, Warsaw, Poland
Shane Harte, The Chelsea Drugstore, Dublin, Ireland
Lin Po-Shen, Mr&Mrs Bund, Shanghai, China
Simon Kistenfeger, Bristol, Oslo, Norway
Christopher Stewart, Balderdash, Copenhagen, Denmark
David Fuentes, Cantina y Punto, Bogotá, Colombia
Nuno Figueiredo, Tabik, Lisbon, Portugal
Christina Veira, Apartment 200, Toronto, Canada
Abraham Delgado, Hueso, Guadalajara, Mexico
Julz Cesars, Loló Lorena, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Thalita Gabriela Alves, Bulletin Place, Sydney, Australia
Max Green, Amor y Amargo, New York City, USA
Bethany Ham, Corner Door, Los Angeles, USA
Will Cutting, Doheny Room, Los Angeles, USA

Pictured below are the last three finalists (left to right): Simon Kistenfeger from Norway, Bethany Ham from the USA and Kelsey Ramage.

Simon Kistenfeger Bethany Ham and Kelsey Ramage

Never Die by Kelsey Ramage
50ml Altos Plata
15ml Pink pine nut/mole orgeat
1 dash Angostura Bitters
4 dashes Piquin chilli tincture

Stir all the ingredients until chilled. Rim a coupette with “soil” made from toasted leftover pine nuts, mulato chilli and salt.

To make the orgeat: 100g pink pine nuts, 6 allspice berries, 2g cinnamon, 6g cacao nib. Toast all ingredients in a pan until the pine nuts are toasted lightly. Add 500ml of water and flash blend. Transfer the mixture back into a pan and keep over low heat until the flavours in the cinnamon and cacao come through. Strain through a cheesecloth. Add sugar at 1:1 ratio. Retain the leftover nut/spice mixture for the glass rim.

To make the rim “soil”: Dry out the nut/spice mixture left over from the mole orgeat by toasting in a pan over low heat with some mulato chilli. Once dry, add salt to taste and blend into a finer texture.

Never Die cocktail

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