When I walked into the Zing Bar at DusitD2 Hotel for the Absolut Mixologist of the Year competition, the three judges were perched on bar stools by the counter looking on as Benu Kundra (who would eventually become runner up) mixed up his first cocktail with such flair and finesse that I knew we were all in for quite the show. And no, not just because of all the fantastic cocktails I knew was about to down.
The premise of the competition was simple; each of the six finalists were making two cocktails. The first was one of their choosing while the second was made using a mystery box containing Absolut flavours like citron, mango, raspberry and peppar, with a dash of monin flavoured syrups for that extra zing. With the clock ticking and someone at hand to keep announcing how much time was left, there was no better way to test the efficiency, skill, presentation, product knowledge, showmanship and creativity of all the contestants.
Along with Alex Kavita (Mixologist of the year 2013 winner) and Lauren Henderson (Director at Garnish with over 15 years experience in the Wines and Spirits industry across the world) was Nelson Aseka (head of PR and Brand Education Manager at Pernod Ricard Kenya) as the judges. Nelson reminisced that before 2006, you would find a lot of bartenders who just knew how to mix drinks but fast forward to today and they had taken their art to another level with such flair and self-expression that he believed that these six finalists could compete in a global setting. As Alex aptly put it “This is a momentous time for Kenyan mixologists to re-invent the scene, raise the bar and showcase the very best of their talent. We will be looking for that one finalist who standouts not just in their skill but also their personality and originality to be crowned the winner”.
While Yeri Randu (who is now officially the Best Mixologist of the Year 2015) prepared to tackle his mystery box, Lauren and I chit chatted about how most of the cocktails we had sampled that afternoon had been customized for the Kenyan consumer, and it’s no secret that we generally have an affinity for sweeter drinks. Despite being sweet, however, they were really well balanced. I have quite a few standout cocktails from the competition that would make me drive over to certain establishments just to have the mixologists whip for me. Forget athletics…Kenya is well on its way to being known for mixology!
The finalists were:
Yeri Randu- Sankara Nairobi (Winner)
Benu Kundra- Brew Bistro Bar & Lounge (Runner up)
Dennis Olonyi- Dusitd2 Nairobi
Luckman Oyebode- Caramel Restaurant & Lounge
Philip Gaza- Mercury Lounge at Urban Eatery
Wilberforce Ochanda- Juniper Kitchen