Behind the Bar
In Russia, a Global Vodka Competition for the Ages
After multiple cocktail competitions all over the world, bartenders met in St. Petersburg for their final round.
This spring, one spirit brand decided to completely rewrite the script when it came to vodka's standing in the spirits industry. With today's cocktail renaissance encouraging both casual enthusiasts and veteran bartenders to seek out artisanal spirits with a commitment to craftsmanship, vodka was often left on the sidelines.
Enter renowned Russian vodka Beluga.
The high-end brand with aristocratic origins sought to both introduce their unparalleled vodka to the cocktail industry while simultaneously sharing their story of Old World mastery alongside cutting-edge technology with the Beluga Signature Bartender Program. The program began with a Masterclass that sought to familiarize influential bartenders with the unique history and flavors of Beluga, and how to effectively highlight its flavor profile in cocktails.
After completing the program, participating bartenders from New York City and Los Angeles were invited to apply for the program’s Creative Stage, which challenged them to re-imagine a classic cocktail using local ingredients and Beluga Noble vodka.
Six finalists (three from each city) went on to the Big Apple in July for one last test of their bartending expertise and Beluga vodka knowledge. Here, the bartenders drew upon all their training from the Masterclass, along with skills honed from years in the industry, to create a cocktail that perfectly encapsulated Beluga’s core values: sophistication, exceptionality, and artistry.
This September, the Global Final featured twelve bartenders from the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Russia at the Xander Bar of the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace in St. Petersburg, with Tales' own Philip Duff as one of the esteemed judges. Adding to the competition? Bartenders had to pair their cocktails with three dishes prepared by the Executive Chef of the Four Seasons.
After the chef's explanation of each uniquely Russian appetizer, the bartenders had one hour in a room filled with spirits, juices, herbs, fruits, and accessories (ranging from glasses to trays to edible gold flakes) to pick and choose which ingredients would give their cocktail an award-winning presentation.
"This underlined how important gastronomy is to enjoying Beluga Vodka," noted Duff.
The winner? Meet 2018 Global Champion Witek Wojaczek, hailing from the Beaufort Bar at the Savoy in London, who paired the Beluga's Golden Lock cocktail (pictured left) with marinated herring and cucumber tartare. As part of his prize, he'll be traveling to New Orleans for the 2018 Tales of the Cocktail.
"We've seen people go to the very depths of what it means to be Beluga, and what Beluga means to Russia and beyond," said Duff.
Below, the top three cocktail recipes and their food pairings. Nostrovia!
Beluga's Golden Lock
(by Witek Wojaczek of the Savoy's Beaufort Bar, served with marinated herring and cucumber tartare)
- 60ml Beluga Transatlantic Vodka
- 30ml Sherry blend
- 25ml Beluga Hunting Berry bitters
- 15ml raspberry syrup
- ½ barspoon of saline solution
Beluga's Yacht Club
(by Ray Peters of the Ritz Carlton-Berlin, served with Kamchatka oysters
- 50ml Beluga Transatlantic Vodka
- 20ml lime juice
- 20ml agave syrup
- 3 drops of sea salt water
- Egg white
- Spray of Lillet
- Top with Prosecco
Beluga's The Flower of Life
(by Joao Vicente of the European Bartender School, Alto Bar-Berlin, served with Kamchatka oysters)
- 40ml Beluga Transatlantic vodka
- 10ml honey syrup
- 10ml elderflower liqueur
- 30ml fresh lemon juice
- 30ml Chartreuse liqueur infused with honey, melon, rosemary, and citric acid
- 20ml Fino Sherry
- Egg white
- Orange bitters