This year’s Chivas Masters Cocktail Competition saw Micheal Chen, head mixologist at the Cannery, take the top title, keeping Shanghai in the winner’s seat a second year in the row despite ample bartenders from other cities and multiple heats across the country leading up to the final showdown on May 22nd.
Leading up to this year’s competition, which took place at the very chic Andaz Xintiandi Hotel, Chivas Masters winners from previous years got behind the stick at a sort of pop-up Chivas bar in the Andaz lobby to mix drinks that had won them the title during the competition.
Following the competition, Micheal Chen and previous year’s winner Atsushi Suzuki were behind the bar for the final evening, so I, not wanting to miss the opportunity to rub shoulders with the big shots, decided to head over to Andaz and check it out.
Andaz is hard to spot in this city of hundreds of hotels all vying for customers and events, but finding it is like stumbling on treasure. An unassuming exterior leads to a high ceiling lobby with white stone floors, lots of wood, lounge with plush contemporary seating and bookshelves and lighting, people conversing softly over drinks and bites, all coming together to form an environment that’s streamlined and seething with class.
The bar was just inside the lobby, wooden and decked out with bottles of Chivas 12, 18 and Mizunara on the “back bar” and nice light up Chivas Masters sign above the bar with screens showing footage from previous years’ competitions.
Each bartender served two drinks each, with Atsushi doing his award winning Double Talk and Wabi-Sabi, and Chen serving up the Mile High Club – a cocktail that bordered on tropical – and the Ponzu Project, his Japan-inspired highball cocktail.
Of Atsushi’s drinks, I tried the Double Talk. This was the drink Atsushi made for the final in the Chivas Masters Global Competition in Tokyo last year. Originally made with Chivas 12, Campari and white sweet vermouth, as he was crafting the drink he explained to me that he made little tweaks and changes every time he served it. After traveling the world sponsoring Chivas as their global ambassador (part of the deal from the win last year), his most recent incarnation included ground coffee, adding a nice lively aromatic touch to the smooth beverage.
Next up was Chen’s Mile High Club, made with Gen Mai Cha-infused Chivas 12, manzanilla sherry, clarified lemon and pineapple juice, zero waste oleo saccharum, and Boker’s bitters.
Each year, the Chivas Masters’ has 3 themes from which bartenders have to base their drinks on. This year, those themes were Community, Japan (the location of last year’s global competition) and London (the location of the 2018 global). The Mile High Club was Chen’s Community contribution, which he stated was about “learning to build sustainable bar programs to help each other, to help our industry and our community grow and improve.”
The sustainable part of the cocktail was the zero waste oleo saccharum, an old way of perserving citrus juice and peel combined with sugar in a process that extracted the oil from citrus peels into a syrup that was produced out of necessity in a time when bartenders didn’t have access to certain citrus fruits year round.
The result is a beverage that drinks more like something tropical than a whisky cocktail; like a refined take on the Honi Honi with Scotch instead of bourbon and none of the tacky kitsch. With the addition of a smoked glass and candied pineapple, you get ingredients that play with and compliment the whisky base, which all pan out for a delicious cocktail.
With two drinks down I decided to end the imbibing excursion with a mizuwari, just chilled water and the hearty goodness of Chivas Regal 12, not only enjoying every sip but thinking about how these two bartenders could take something seemingly already delicious and straightforward in its own right and turn it into something even better; drinks that become something of a signature for the bartenders who mix them, and which win competitions by standing out from the crowd.
Best of luck to Micheal Chen as he heads to this year’s global competition in London.