Three Northern Ireland bartenders have clinched the prestigious Hennessy Connoisseur title,
Darren McEvoy, The Albany, Jonathan Magennis, Deanes EIPIC, and Ryan Adair, The Merchant Hotel have been named next generation of Hennessy Connoisseurs.
Eleven of Northern Ireland’s finest bartenders battled it out at the grand final of the second annual Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge, each vying for the chance to win a prestigious training scholarship with the world’s most iconic cognac brand.
Designed to uncover the movers and shakers in Northern Ireland’s cocktail scene, the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge was created by drinks company, Dillon Bass in 2015. Following the success of the inaugural Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge, the competition returned for a second year, aiming to uncover the next generation of NI’s top mixology talent.
The international judging panel, included Vincent Borjon-Prive from Hennessy; Edmund Weil from the award-winning Nightjar and Oriole Bars in London; Julie Dupouy, brand ambassador for Moet-Hennessy, recently named of the world’s top three sommeliers and Joel Neill, operations director, Hospitality Ulster.
The judges put the bartenders through their paces, assessing them on their Hennessy cocktails, as well as product knowledge, personality and ability to represent the brand in Northern Ireland.
Eleven finalists were shortlisted to compete at the Hennessy Connoisseurs Grand Finale at Ox Cave, Belfast on Monday 15th August. Following a nail-biting competition, three bartenders have been awarded the prestigious title of Hennessy Connoisseur.
Darren McEvoy from The Albany, Belfast impressed the judges with his creation ‘An Gaelige Alexander (The Irish Alexander)’ an Irish twist on the classic, Brandy Alexander – one of the most well-known cognac cocktails. Inspired by the Irish lineage of Richard Hennessy, the inventive drink mixed Hennessy with Jameson Caskmates and Crème de Cacao, honey and cream to create a rich, full-bodied dessert cocktail, which captivated the judges, along with Darren’s winning personality, and his ‘impressive knowledge, with clear research leading to a composed and compelling delivery.’
Jonathan Magennis, Deanes EIPIC in Belfast wowed the judges with his signature ‘Force of Nature’ Hennessy cocktail, which was presented on a board with a taste of Hennessy Fine de Cognac, chilled ice water, double espresso and homemade fudge. Jonathan’s digestif style cocktail was created with the connoisseur in mind, with the added elements designed to enhance the true flavours of Hennessy. A classic twist on a Tipperary / Sazerac drink, the judges felt Jonathan’s stirred cocktail was an ‘elegant and beautiful creation’, which ‘perfectly embodied the spirit of Hennessy.’
The third and final Hennessy Connoisseur, Ryan Adair, from The Merchant Hotel, Belfast amazed the judges with his inventive ‘Wild Rabbit’ signature cocktail. His creation was inspired by the ethos of ‘Never Stop. Never Settle – The Evolution of Success’ – a nod to the evolution of Hennessy throughout the years and to his own development as a mixologist. The judge’s felt that ‘Ryan’s passion, skill and clear talent’ shined through in his drink with a ‘well-research and engaging narrative’ that won them over.
Ryan had competed in the inaugural Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge in 2015, when his girlfriend, Roisin McErlean was named one of the three victors, alongside Nathaniel McAuley from Muriel’s Café Bar and Frankie Cosgrove from sixty6, Belfast. A true mixology power couple, the pair can now share the esteemed title of Hennessy Connoisseurs.
Judge Edmund Weil, from London’s award-winning, Nightjar and Oriole Bars said: “Having judged cocktail competitions around the world, I was blown away by the talent on show in Belfast tonight. The standard of entries was just incredible and the three newly crowned Hennessy Connoisseurs could walk into any bar in any city in the world, such was the incredible standard of their drinks.”
Commenting on the Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge, Laura Blair, Brand Manager for Hennessy at Dillon Bass, said: “We set out to discover Northern Ireland’s top mixology stars and that is exactly what we have uncovered. Our international judging panel had their work cut out for them, with an exceptionally high standard of entries. The passion, skill and enthusiasm each of the finalists demonstrated for their craft is nothing short of amazing.
“The history and heritage of Hennessy was embraced and celebrated by the bartenders with innovative and exciting contemporary creations produced. Our congratulations go to each of our newly named Hennessy Connoisseurs and all the finalists who made it a thrilling and highly competitive grand final.”
The Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge was designed to support bartenders by providing a career-enhancing training opportunity and to share the talents of Northern Ireland’s local mixology stars with the rest of the world. The winners will receive a once in a lifetime immersive training experience that money can’t buy.
All three Hennessy Connoisseurs have won an impressive prize package, courtesy of Dillon Bass, which includes a VIP trip to Cognac to visit Maison Hennessy and Chateau Bagnolet, where they will receive one-on-one training, including a tasting with Hennessy’s master blender. The Connoisseurs will also have the opportunity to have their signature drinks showcased by the brand.