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Giffard West Cup Competition, Western Finals 2024

Today we were at The Watson to cheer on the Giffard West Cup Competition Western finalists. This is the 27th year and my second witnessing the competition. The first was 2 years ago and things have only gotten more exciting.

For those not familiar, Giffard is a long standing French line of specialty bartending products made using ingredients and flavours inspired by nature, since 1885. Spirits, liqueurs, gourmet sauces, syrups, and even non-alcoholic spirits and bases for mixing. Giffard is recognized for developing all its products for bartenders, and their products are renowned and used in the best cocktail bars in the world.

Today’s event highlighted some of those bartenders. These are 12 finalist chosen out of hundreds who submitted their cocktails creations online and were shortlisted to compete in person.

This is a 12 way showdown between some of the best Western Canadian bartenders, vying for a spot at the Finals. Hosted in France, where they will compete with winners from around the world.

This was a whole day affair, but I was only able to make it for the second heat. The last 6 out of 12, speaking to their cocktails creations and mixing each right infront of our 4 industry judges.

This year’s theme was balance, and each bartender was asked to story tell, incorporating how they balance work and life into their presentation. Were it, factored in to their scores as well. And of course each cocktail had to feature one of the pre-designated Giffard flavoured liqueurs in either Lychee, Passionfruit, Apricot, Grapefruit, Rhubarb, and Creme de Violette.

The following is what I was able to capture, watching competitors 6 to 12 representing their bars/restaurants.

First up was Lucas Van Es from local bar
Bagheera, which was recently named the best new bar in Canada 2024. His cocktail spoke to sunny days and summer camp memories where he first tried an espresso tonic with fresh drip coffee, lemon zest, and Giffard’s apricot liqueur.

Next we had Liam Nguyen from Honey Salt. He wanted to showcase his passion for gardening, and what he and his family engage in when he is not bartending. He incorporated as many floral notes as he could into his cocktail. This was meant to represent all the plants and flowers he tends to regularly. Rosemary and hisbiscuous infused gin, Giffard grapfruit and creme the violette, and Giffard’s Rose syrup as a bonus.

He finished this off with a lavender infused cream, given its purple hue from butterfly pea flower and topped it with pansies from his own garden.

Eileen Hemsworth from The Keefer Bar presented her cocktail The Soryama, with a heartfelt story on life and loss. The Soryama is a rift on the Pornstar Martini, which she admitted was ironic given what she followed its introduction with. Much like their bar, this cocktail had Asian influences in the aged rum with Curry Leaf and Tonka Bean. It was mixed with Giffard grapefruit and Passionfruit liqueur, and a finished with dropper of Green Schezuan Chilli Oil. All shaken and served up with a side of Sparkling Sake for two drinks in one.

Her story on balance came from a place of sadness, speaking on to how to seek and accept help and the kindness of others when in need. The underlying lesson was about balancing on expectations and duty versus what you can actually achieve.

Anton Krasilov travelled from Banff and was representing Sudden Sally from Alberta. He was inspired by the scent of spring on his mountainous home. He painted a scene of alpine slopes and snowy powered too crisp to be captured through a lens, but to be enjoyed in the moment unfiltered.

His cocktail was a mix of Giffard passion fruit, white rum, cranberry juice; and the curve ball of a Philadelphia cream cheese foam on top.

Ryan Buchanan from Arcana Spirit Lounge spoke to balancing his work in a brick and concrete building in Gastown, with being able to escape into nature and climb a mountain. He told the story of his day, adding ingredients into the shaker inspired by what he encountered. From starting his morning with a jammy sandwich and adding Giffard’s rhubarb liqueur with seeing purple flowers on his hike and adding in creme de violette.

His “A life on earth” was a one man play that ended with gummies that spoke to the bitter sweet nature of his cocktail as a whole. One bear was infused with more creme the violette and the other Amaro. All this intricate storytelling was what ultimately gave him the win. All 4 judges unanimously scored him the top marks.

Calliope Draper from Edmonton’s Oui Partake would take third place, and was recognized as the only bartender that pronounced Giffard correctly. They are the first and only openly transgender bartender and wanted to speak to this in their presentation. The “Duck Walk” cocktail incorporated French flavours from Oui Partake, inspired by the classic duck l’orange with Giffard grapefruit, apricot, and rose; thyme infused blanco, Amaro, a duck fat infused scotch, and orange bitters. Finished with a crispy piece of duck skin on top of a king cube. This was the only stirred cocktail of the competition.

Each glass was served on its own makeshift stage that featured a photo and info on a local Calgary drag queen to watch and follow. This was theatrical and there was a show behind the bar and on this mini velvet stage.

Second place went to Lacey-Jane Roberts from Published on Main, who did her presentation during the first half of the completion (which I regrettably missed).

As for the spectators, we didn’t get to taste any of the fabulous sounding cocktails above, but were able to partake in a welcome cocktail and 5 other Watson house cocktails made with Giffard products.

The welcome cocktail was a striking number. Sparkling wine and house made passion fruit pearls made purple from Giffard Creme de Violette. The pearls didn’t pop, but added a great buoyant visual and a unique chew to the cocktail.

The Island Manhattan is a mix of Giffard Banana du Bresil, Old Forester Bourbon,
Noilly Prat Dry, and Coconut Fat-Wash. The flavour of banana, plus the baked notes from bourbon had this drinking like a boozey baked bread. And more so with the weighted mouth-feel of the creamy fat-wash. This was my favourite cocktail out of the 5.

Lily is a Star is an interesting one where fruit and nut is brought together with Giffard Passionfruit, Ketel One Vodka, Frangelico, and Lime. The hazelnut of the Frangelico really came through. The citrus and tangy notes of the fruit help to balance it out, giving it a fruit cake nuance without any of the known dense and dry textures.

Looking for something strong in the tequila family, then the Not Quite A Paloma is the one for you. Giffard Pamplemousse, El Jimador Blanco, Citrus, and Lemon Foam. Peppery tequila and bold zest, this was a refreshing beverage that smacked you in the face.

The audience’s favourite was the Gin Sour with Giffard Abricot Rousillon, Tanqueray Dry, Lime, Egg White, and Rosemary. It was sweet with the egg white. An easy drinking beverage with a whisper of spirit, coupled with much more citrus.

For food there were small bites passed around. The Duck Wings are on the regular menu, seasoned with gochujang and sesame; and served with a miso aioli. Plenty of flavour, but dry and tough as expected from duck meat.

I liked the Wild Mushroom Tart, normally served on house sourdough on their regular menu, but made event ready in a buttery tart crust that housed all the wild local mushrooms sautéed in white wine with fine herbs and creme fraiche.

Similarly, the braised beef is on the regular menu, but made into a small bite over a square of focaccia toast today. This was hearty and filling with plenty of shredded meat on a crispy herbed square.

In closing this was a great event, a fun way to learn more about Giffard’s line of products, and a way to support you local bartenders. Cannot wait to see if Canada takes home the world win!

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