I am glad I had too much thyme on my hands at this point in my life to go to 42Below's Cocktail World Cup in New Zealand!
Despite the 27 hour trip and all the 42Below vodka shots I was forced to take, the experience in New Zealand was an unforgettable one. Queenstown was breathtaking from first sight. From the welcoming ceremony by the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of the country, to helicopter rides and bar crawling, everything seemed surreal. Oh, and yes-- the competitions were extraordinary, especially with a gorgeous backdrop of mountains, the lake and the clouds.
Day one held a challenge I resisted, I just couldn't do it: The thought of plunging myself off the side of the perfectly good bridge with bound feet made me nervous. So I left the bungee jumping to everyone else, including my wife. We settled in at the hotel, met the teams that represented seven other nations and were welcomed in grand style by the Maori and with a New Zealand 'degustation' menu for dinner.
Day two was fun: Jet boating! Who knew you can shake while sitting in a boat going over 50 mph on what looked like 4 inches of water? This is how we had to make and serve our mocktail for that competition.
The next competition was called, "A Modern Take on the Punch." We made a punch called "42 and Cloudy" which had 42Below Passion Fruit and Honey flavored vodka's along with five other bottles of booze, a little Passion Fruit and some clouds floating on top. We won that one!
Our third day start super early: Our band manager, Raj, slept (see pictures) as we were taken to enjoy breakfast on top of a mountain by a helicopter. At one point I thought the helicopter pilot was the jet boat captain from two days before going through the valley so close to the mountains I thought I could touch them! The views were spectacular!
After our third and hardest challenge, titled "Ready, Set, Shake" we went to a Penthouse party for some hardcore 'rock n roll'. More vodka shots along with some amazing local oysters anchored my wife and I to the kitchen that night. The chef was putting out some incredible local fare! Someone smuggled a bottle of Mezcal into the party, so of course even more shots ensued!
Day four started with a cable car ride: then a seminar by two of our judges on the top of a mountain looking over Queenstown. To top it off, we had another hair-raising, mountain skimming helicopter ride back to the airport and were off to Wellington where 42Below chartered a plane for all of the bartenders (real rock star stuff!) Upon arrival we were met with paparazzi, red carpet and stretch pink limos lined up to pick us up and take us to the "Modern Martini" challenge. Though we did not win, it provided good practice for the next and final challenge.
Day five was all about exploring Wellington: bonding with my team-mates and drinking the best cocktails at the Motel Bar and The Hawthorne Lounge. Then it was off to dinner at the Mattahorne, which is not only a truly great restaurant but also has an awe-inspiring bar, bar program and bartenders. All of the bars in Wellington were truly great and inspiring!
The final day was a day of preparation, rehearsing and laughter: We did a run-thru at the building museum, and at that time we found out we were in first place. We had mixed feelings about this because it meant that we had to go last in the final competition. From our experience we saw how the crowd and the judges were two hours after the start of the competition. With all the vodka being poured and ingested, you can only imagine how things were. But we figured if we go last we may be able to tear some stuff up!
For the grand finale we came out on stage as Run-DMC while "Tricky" was playing. We tagged the stage with U.S.A., then ripped our sweat suits off and had our regular bartender garb on underneath -- aprons and a shirt and tie. The music switched from Rap to Jazz and the song, "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck quartet carried us to the end with our very simple and modern take on the classic cocktail!
Looking back: It all went by so fast. It was fun and nerve wrecking...and we won! Team USA and the cocktail, "I have too much thyme on my hands right now at this point in my life" takes first place out of over 2,000 entries from eight countries around the world.
Meeting everyone was remarkable and inspiring: Team England, France, Italy, UK, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland. I must say though that getting to meet and bond with the two other bartenders that made up Team USA, Sean Hoard from P.D.T. in New York City and Mark Stoddard from the Bitter Bar in Boulder, Colorado made the whole trip incredible. And I can't say enough about the 42Below family, as they really did go above and beyond with their hospitality. Last but not least, I want to say that the Vodka Professor Jacob Briars took great care of us and made for a truly unforgettable week!