London bartender beats Americans on their own patch in Bourbon Battle

East London Liquor Company’s Mikey Pendergast beats six mixologists from across the States

London-based mixologist Mikey Pendergast (pictured on the microphone) has out-shaken skilled American opponents to be crowned the winner of Lux Row Distillers’* Bourbon Battle in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Organised by the distillery that creates Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks and Blood Oath bourbons, the Bourbon Battle cocktail competition attracted hundreds of entries and culminated in a grand final after a series of regional heats across the US and UK.

Having won the UK final, Mikey Pendergast joined six other finalists from Cleveland, Seattle, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Louisville and St Louis.

The seven competed in three knock-out rounds, using either Rebel Yell or Ezra Brooks to create exciting and innovative bourbon-based cocktails in an attempt to impress a panel of independent, expert judges. The judges scored cocktails according to their appearance, aroma, creativity, taste and overall impression

Mikey’s cocktail saw him dancing into the second-round of the grand finals, where he was joined by three of the other finalists on the night. Here, Mikey opted to create his own take on the classic Sazerac using Ezra Brooks mixed with London-made grappa and stout distillate to wow the judges and win himself a place in the final alongside Marie Teckmyer from Cleveland.

In the first round, Mikey was challenged with recreating his winning cocktail from the UK heat.  Named ‘If You Don’t Dance Then Sit Down’, the cocktail was made using Rebel Yell with hot sauce, mango syrup, eucalyptus honey, lemon juice, Ms Better’s Miracle Foamer Bitter and a popcorn garnish.

In ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style, the final round saw the two finalists presented with a mystery basket of ingredients including lemon, limes, bitters, basil, mint, café coffee liqueur, crème de banana, vermouth and noir fume – a black tea liqueur.

The finalists then had just 10 minutes to conjure-up a winning mix. Mikey created a ‘Crème de banan-hatten’ using Rebel Yell, crème-de-banana, sweet and dry vermouths, angostura bitters and garnished with blackberries speared with a sprig of mint.

In a closely fought final, the complex and balanced taste of the Crème de banan-hatten won over the judges, seeing Mikey crowned cocktail king of the Bourbon Battle and presented with a unique opportunity to hand-pick his own barrel of Rebel Yell.

Four barrels had been specially selected by John Rempe, master distiller and blender at Lux Row Distillers, who invited the winner to make his choice. In a moment of bourbon-telepathy and appreciation, Mikey selected the exact same barrel that John would have chosen for himself. The barrel is now being emptied into 60 custom-labelled bottles. 

Mikey Pendergast (centre) is flanked by Lux Row Distillers’ brand ambassador Philip Lux (left) and master distiller and blender John Rempe

John Rempe, head distiller and master blender, Lux Row Distillers, added: “A big part of bourbon distilling, ageing and finishing is all about marrying-up different factors to create unique flavours. This has been mirrored in the Bourbon Battle and it has been fascinating to see how all of the entrants brought together many different ingredients to complement the flavours of either Rebel Yell or Ezra Brooks.

Mikey Pendergast said: “It’s simply an understatement to say how pleased I am to win. The skill on display throughout the regional heats and the grand final was mind-blowing. It was a real challenge, but one I’ve truly enjoyed.

“Taking part and winning has been capped-off by meeting the Lux family, John Rempe and the rest of the team behind Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks. They all gave us a warm welcome to Lux Row Distillers and a chance to see behind the scenes. It’s been incredible.”

“There’s been so much innovation throughout the whole competition, with a really high standard of quality and it’s been an honour to host the finalists at Lux Row Distillers and show them the story behind our bourbons.”

The Bourbon Battle was organised in association with the United States Bartenders’ Guild, with the grand final taking place last month. Grand finalists enjoyed a tour of Lux Row Distillers, which opened in April 2018 and continues to expand its number of rickhouses in line with growing demand in the UK and across Europe.

*Located in the heart of Bardstown, Kentucky, the 18,000-square foot Lux Row Distillers site includes a visitor centre, barrel warehouses, a tasting room, and event space, making for an all-encompassing bourbon experience. The 80-acre property is home to an 18th century stone house, registered as a National Historic Place, and a long, tree-lined driveway providing a scenic entrance to the distillery.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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