Getting to your 150th anniversary as a liquor producer is no small feat. For Massenez, a company of just 12 people based out of Alsace in France, it’s a huge achievement.
And what better way to celebrate such an occasion than with a cocktail competition?
That’s exactly what Massenez did, holding its first cocktail competition in Australia this year in honour of its 150 years. The final event, held yesterday at Melbourne’s Beneath Driver Lane, saw the top six finalists battle it out in front of a panel of judges and a crowd in two rounds of incredibly creative mixology.
The finalists were chosen by a specialist team from Cerbaco, the Australian distributors of Massenez, after a social media campaign. They included:
- Bree Seibel, Roosevelt Lounge, Gold Coast QLD
- Ben Algayer, Bedoiun, Sydney NSW
- Gregory Perrot, La Buvette Drinkery, Adelaide SA
- Rhys Parnell, Lily Blacks, Melbourne VIC
- Samuel Elkaim, Firedoor, Sydney NSW
- Tom Gibbs, GoGo Bar, Melbourne NSW
In the first round, these six were challenged to create a cocktail that heroed ingredients from a mystery box of Massenez products. The contestants had five minutes each to present their creation to the crowd and the panel of judges.
One of the judges, all the way from France, was the President of Grandes Distilleries Peureux (which includes Massenez), Bernard Baud. He was highly impressed with how the day went, not only with the finalists and their cocktails, but with the overall environment that the competition created.
“First of all, I found the competition very in the Massenez spirit, in the values we share like friendship… this human side is very important. The atmosphere of the competition was very friendly, very professional, and I was very impressed with the reactivity and creativity of all the participants,” Baud told Bars&Clubs.
The mystery challenge was a true test of the finalists creativity, and saw a range of techniques and styles employed – Gregory Perrot created a cocktail carafe, Bree Seibel served salted tomato and absinthe on the side, there was fire, there was liquid nitrogen, just to name a few… all to the cheers of the crowd.
Coming out victorious in this first challenge were Rhys Parnell, Samuel Elkaim and Tom Gibbs, who went through to the next round to present their pre-prepared bespoke cocktails, built around the Massenez ‘Golden Eight’ Williams Pear Liqueur.
Although the quality of all the finalists’ work was incredible, there could only be one winner, and in the end the title went to Gibbs, for his creation called ‘The Eighth.’
Speaking to Bars&Clubs after his win, Gibbs said he named his cocktail in line with the Golden Eight hero ingredient, but also after how much thought and effort went into its creation.
“I came up with a drink and then cut it, and then came up with a drink and then cut it, came up with a drink and then went through all of the process of doing that and then everything went wrong… all in all I probably spent over a hundred hours, just on that drink,” Gibbs said.
There’s also a connection to history in there to Henry the Eighth, in that he cut the drinks he was not happy with. This was also evident in Gibbs’ mystery box cocktail, named after Anne of Austria, both the Three Musketeers character and the actual person.
“I’m a big ol’ nerd… so literature is where I draw a lot of my parallels from with my cocktails. If you can describe a cocktail in terms of its character, you’re describing an actual character. And if you can find a literary analogue for that, why not pair the two?” Gibbs said.
Gibbs has participated in a few cocktail competitions, but this is his first major win. And what a win it is – his prize is a once in a lifetime trip to France for Massenez’ official 150th celebrations.
When Gibbs talks about why he entered the competition, it’s clear this trip will mean a lot to him. He said it will be a time of development on a personal and professional level, as he explores and learns from both Massenez and Europe.
“I’m just really passionate about Massenez. My forte is usually my whiskies and my gins, but from a cocktail perspective, there really isn’t an ingredient I like using more than Massenez,” Gibbs said.
Describing what he’s most looking forward to about the trip, he said: “There are three distinct bits that are really shouting out to me.The first is going to Alsace and learning from everyone at Massenez about liqueuers.”
“Then afterwards I want to go and spend some time with Cerbaco, learning about their Cognacs and Armagnacs, if they’ll be kind enough to have me. And I’ve also got some friends down in Provence, and I want to learn to make brandy the traditional way with them.”
“I want to bring all that stuff back, ideally one day I’m going to be owning my own bar and want to be making my own spirits and liqueurs… it’s only gonna take the rest of my life to get there.”