On Monday 5th June, Mixology School in association with Bite Sussex hosted Sussex Bartender Of The Year 2023 Cocktail Competition Finals. The event took place at Shelter Hall on Brighton Seafront. It was a fantastic day, and the winner was crowned in Alex Durdle!
In May, entrants from various venues were sent a box of ingredients, from which they needed to use at least 2 ingredients to create their own cocktail. The brief was that each drink needed to be created with sustainability in mind, celebrate Sussex, and needed to represent ‘Spring into Summer’ brief.
In each box was a selection of ingredients provided by our amazing sponsors; Arbikie Nàdar Gin, Brighton Gin, Arrowtown seltzer, Ramsbury Gin, Slake Spirits Wild Elixir, Madame Jennifer Oak Aged Gin, St Maur Elderflower Liqueur, MDTEA, Wilding Water Kefir and Dedbest Distillery Contractors Gin.
Contestants were then asked to create a cocktail and post these to Instagram as well as providing the judges with the story behind their drink.
All entrants were then narrowed down into the four finalists from four different venues: Alex Durdle from Level 1, Lyndon Roper from Embers, John Bowe from Orange Beach, and Kitty Morgan-Smith from /Heritage. They were all invited to Shelter Hall to create their cocktail in front of a live audience and alongside our very own Myles Cunliffe of Mixology School, who presented the event. We also had Zoe Cunliffe chair the judging panel, with Lainey Larkin a revered member in the Brighton Drinks Industry and Allison Ferns from BBC Radio Sussex being the other judges. The prize for the winner was a place on our WSET level 1 course and a distillery tour, allowing competitors to expand their skillset even further.
The Finalists and Their Cocktails
Opening the show was Lyndon Roper, from Embers. Lyndon is a former student of Mixology School, alongside having already won the Rising Star of Sussex award this year and winning Best Newcomer last year. When Lyndon took part in Mixology School, he was funded by the Drinks Trust, a charity who provide financial aid in order to allow people upskill within the hospitality industry. Lyndon described his cocktail as “Like Sussex, it is refreshing, deep and complex – and full of treasure!” His entry was:
‘The Sussex Star’
- 20ml Mello Cello Local Sussex Limoncello
- 15ml Contractors Classic Dry Gin
- 5ml Brighton Gin
- 5ml Nadar Gin
- 5ml St Maur Elderflower
- 5ml Bacchus Wild Gin Elixir
- 15ml Sussex Shrub - Seasonal Local Organic Rhubarb, Waste Pineapple Husk Tepache, Waste Pineapple Cores, Local Sussex Honey, Lemon, and Ginger MD Tea
- 5ml Lime Superjuice
- 5ml Lemon Superjuice
- 15ml Lemon Oleo Saccharum
Up next was Kitty from Heritage, who’s South Downs cocktail led her to a second-place finish. Kitty presented a three-layered cocktail, representing the earth, chalk and grass that surrounds us. While making her cocktail live on stage, Kitty smoked her ‘earth’ layer with hickory, which no doubt impressed the Zoe and the rest of the judges. Her entry was:
- Earth – Madame Jennifer Oak Aged Gin, Slake Spirits Bacchus Wild Elixir & Muscovado. Smoked with hickory.
- Chalk – Slake Spirits Bacchus Wild Elixir infused foam.
- Grass - Garden herb powder, featuring a variety of herbs grown in the garden at Heritage.
Presenting third was the eventual winner, Alex Durdle from Level 1. Alex’s presentation was loud, friendly, and funny. He coupled this with impressive knowledge of his local ingredients. Alex’s cocktail is a riff on the classic ‘Bee’s Knees’ cocktail. He used local sourced honey in his cocktail, and he even said if the finals were held two weeks later, he could’ve used honey from his own bees! Alex’s presentation captured the spirit of Sussex, going as far as foraging locally to source some of his own, unique ingredients. A huge congratulations to 2023’s Sussex Bartender of The Year. Here is the winning recipe:
‘The Sussex Sting’
- 45ml Brighton Gin, Seaside strength
- 15ml Slake Bacchus 15ml 2:1 Sussex Pollen washed Honey Syrup
- 5ml Lemon Oleo
- 10ml SupaSawa
- Top with Cleaver infused Sussex sparkling water (foraged soda)
Rounding off the finals was another former Mixology School student, John from Orange Square. John also runs his own company, so click the link to check out more of his mixology work. John’s cocktail was another cocktail based with honey, which he describes as “a massive part of the farming industry in the county”. John put on a great performance to finish the day, with the audience loving his impressive cocktail shaking technique. His entry was:
‘Sweet Taste of Sussex’
- 50ml Nador Gin
- 25ml MDTEA Green Tea and Cocoa Syrup
- 25ml Lemon Juice
- 25ml Root Ginger Syrup
- Honeycomb Dusting
- Honey Glazed Dehydrated Orange
Thanks to Bite Sussex for co-hosting such a fun day, Shelter Hall for a great venue and all the sponsors for making this great event possible. It was a brilliant finals day with inspiring skill on display, and it was no easy task for the judges. We already look forward to next year to see if the bar can be raised even higher. But for now; congratulations to Alex Durdle, Sussex Bartender Of The Year 2023!