The Bartender Talent Academy is a cocktail competition in which is hosted by Remy Martin. Bartenders from all over the world compete and the national winners are taken to France to learn more about Remy Martin and to of course compete with other bartenders from around the world.
Journey from South Africa to France
- 8 hour flight – which if you have a late night booking you can sleep the whole way through like I did.
- 2 hour train ride to Cognac.
- 45 minute drive to our hotel.
Finally having time to unpack and unwind, relaxation was the first point of order whilst sipping on the little bottle of Remy Martin XO that we received with our information pack.
Cognac is the home of all things Cognac, and so we went on out to get some baguettes and a pain au chocolat and got lost in this little town. We visited the visiting museum of Remy Martin. After getting lost for a few, we headed home, read the competition rules and I had taken a power nap that lasted a bit too long, whilst the other competitors met up for dinner.
- Day 1:
At breakfast, I had met all the competitors and the international brand ambassador of Remy Martin and Louis XII- Maxime Pulci. Privileged enough everyone spoke English and there was no real language barrier between us all. In total there were 11 of us. The competitors and new friends were:
- Alex Onwudiwe – Toronto
- Alex Farenheim – Johannesburg
- Karen Grill – Los Angeles
- Emily Arseneau – USA (who was one of the judges)
- Sara Kowalczyk – Cracow
- TB Liljehammar – Finland
- Sebastian Kruger- Copenhagen
- Michal Fink – London
- Dany Laycock – Leeds
- Himanshu Desai – Mumbai
- Ron Tal – Tel Aviv
Maxine, introduced himself and told us that there was a full 2 days of experience before we get to the competition. First stop was the vineyards. The vineyards was beautiful and it took my breath away that a single woman (#girlpower) takes care of 16 hectares of land in order to produce the best grapes for the Eu die vie. Sonja is very passionate about her job as it was done by her great grandfather, grandfather and now her. She gets minimal help as she explained how hard the job can be especially with all the rain. She believes in being natural – organic – and giving back to the Earth.
After this we headed off to another secret location as Maxine would say. We were treated with a skit when we walked in of a man joking and coughing horrendously
They did this to explain the origins of Remy Martin as being used primarily for medicinal purposes and how the Mint Julep (with an apricot purée twist) came into play. We then enjoyed some little tapas whilst we chatted amongst ourselves before heading inside for a 3 course meal. The food was delicious and singed on your taste buds. The food was cooked to perfection and there was silence in the room as people munched away.
In the evening we had gone to the distillery and met with the Master distiller himself who relies on his nose and taste to know when the flavor is just right. He explained to us the distilling process and made us taste some of the eu die vie he uses for distillation. He was an inspiration and I hope to one develop a pallet like him. We later enjoyed another 3 course meal. Although I was still full from earlier’s meal, I did eat what I could and surprisingly because it was so good I ate most of it. We enjoyed some old fashioneds in 3 ways and continued to chat away.
Even later into the evening, we went to a cave into a cave. Although everyone thought this was the part in which we die or that we were going into a cave rave, we were rather blasted with historical fun fact about Remy Martin and its history. We enjoyed some warm [blaze drinks] on the chilly winter evening. We received some amazing post cards of the place and were lucky enough to walk and be in this place.
- Day 2
Bright and early, we ate breakfast, chatted some more and headed off to place in which they make the barrels. We saw how each barrel gets made and how NB it is to toast the barrels and make sure there were no leaks or any contaminated wood when making the barrels. The barrels are constantly checked after each process and it did look like a very labor intensive activity but these men made it look too easy.
Later on we went to the place in which we were not allowed to take photos because it’s very top secret. We went to where they age the barrels. There is the first floor and the basement. Each level had a different smell and it was so yummy and earthy, and these smells played a role in the aging process of the aging process. We met with the cellar master, who was going to make a sneaky trip to Cape Town, South Africa very soon.
In the late morning the bus took us to the La Maison in which a table of delicious treat were laid out on the table. This table was all the flavor notes that can be recognized by the Remy Martin XO. It ranged from dark chocolate, Parmesan cheese, apricots and ginger. It was mind blowing to see how many flavors were evident in this bottle of Cognac.
Each bartender and won something in a different category and so it felt as though everyone had won in their own way. The different categories were audacity, authenticity, generosity, art de vivre and excellence. I had won in the audacity category which was a category explained as someone who uses bold flavors and dares to go outside the box. I was humbled. We later then danced and enjoyed the evening after the announcement was made that:
1st: TB Liljehammar
2nd: Himanshu Desai
3rd: Alex Fahrenheim – who I hugged a little too tight because I was proud of him and for holding that SA flag high.
- Day 3
A day of traveling was filled with today with exciting new bars to visit and a tour around Paris. The surprise was a tour of Paris in side cars! It was super cool and super breath-taking. The city is such a lovely place to explore. We got close to the water and saw how scary the water levels have been dropping, saw where David Beckham stayed when he was here with Victoria Beckham for fashion week, where the president stays, the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. We stopped of at Hemingway Bar in where we learnt about the owner and his love for classics and the wealthy people who he serves. We later stopped at another bar, in which was secretly located behind a barber shop.
- Day 4
We started off at a cute little cafe in Paris in which we had a croissant with ham and cheese whilst Alex had a ham baguette. We decided to have a little pastry because France and so we both had eclairs. We walked and walked and walked as I really wanted to see the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. We passed many little shops as well as bookstores that line the streets before I got in an uber and went home.
Being part of the Bartender Talent Academy was a truly magical experience. I had explored places I would never have though of and got to meet friends all over the world. This is one of the perks of the industry and I really hope that you can go and enter some competitions, win and go travelling across the world.