Three top Northern Ireland bartenders scoop coveted prize

This year's winning Hennessy Connoisseurs, Mark McConville (House of Zen), Emer Kennedy (APOC) and Michael Young (The Vault), at the third annual Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge last night (Monday 21st August).
This year's winning Hennessy Connoisseurs, Mark McConville (House of Zen), Emer Kennedy (APOC) and Michael Young (The Vault), at the third annual Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge last night (Monday 21st August).

Nine of Northern Ireland’s top bartenders battled it out at the grand finale of the third annual Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge recently, each vying for the chance to win a prestigious training scholarship with the world’s most iconic cognac brand.

The Hennessy Connoisseurs Challenge, established by drinks company, Dillon Bass in 2015, is widely considered one of the most highly coveted accolades in the NI bartending scene. Now in its third year, the competition is designed to showcase the best local mixology talent.

The nine finalists competed under the eagle eyes of an international judging panel, including Vincent Borjon-Prive from Hennessy, Roisin Stimpson from London’s award-winning, Nightjar and Oriole Bars, Aaron Wall from London Cocktail Club and NI restaurant critic, Joris Minne.

The finalists were assessed on their bartending knowledge, skill and flair in a live final hosted by Cool FM’s Pete Snodden in The Muddlers Club, Belfast.

The winning trio clinched the title of Hennessy Connoisseur by impressing judges with their signature Hennessy cocktails.

Despite having a broken arm, Michael Young from The Vault, Banbridge, wowed the judges with his signature cocktail, Bisou Francais, or ‘Sweet Kiss.’ Paying homage to Hennessy’s oak aging process, Michael’s creation was infused with apricot and vanilla, embodying the subtle vanilla notes that the oak imparts on the Cognac. The addition of lime provided a contrasting bitterness to create a smooth yet lingering sensation on the palette.

Emer Kennedy from APOC, Belfast moved judges with her creation, ‘The Grandfather’.

Inspired by her own grandfather, ‘a survivor and a champion who wasn’t afraid to stand out’ and who believed in natural healing and the simplest of remedies to cure a cough or cold, her creation featured a heady mix of Hennessy, Orange Curaco, lemon juice, honey, earl grey and mint tea syrup, Worcestershire sauce, rhubarb bitters and mint leaves.

Mark McConville from House of Zen, Belfast, captivated the audience and the judges with his rustic Hennessy cocktail entitled ‘The Road to Rhone’, inspired by the Irish lineage of Richard Hennessy and his journey to France. His use of natural ingredients encapsulated the simplicity of rural French life, while his presentation portrayed the everlasting elegance of the French culture.

All three winners were first-time entrants to the competition.

The winning Hennessy Connoisseurs will receive an impressive prize package, courtesy of Dillon Bass, which includes a VIP trip to Cognac to visit Maison Hennessy and Chateau Bagnolet, where the bartenders will receive one-on-one training, including a tasting with one of Hennessy’s tasting committee.