As the dust final settles and I get back to reality, I wanted to recap on, what was without a doubt, the greatest highlight of my professional life. Patron Perfectionists has been more than a dream come true for me. My dream never included competing in a global final, of the biggest premium tequila cocktail competition. So to be there, representing Australia, against such amazing bunch of international bartenders, was such an unbelievable experience. To do it at the home of ultra-premium tequila, Hacienda Patron, in the magical highland of Atotonilco in Jalisco, just made it even more amazing. I hope in my small way I can encourage more people to put themselves out there and develop their skill. You never know where it might lead, I am proof.
In the lead up to the Global Final, I had managed to keep really relaxed about the whole competition. I was just so happy to be going to Mexico and having the opportunity to check out Hacienda Patrón, a distillery I had always been fascinated with. So much is written about the brand, good, bad and indifferent, so being an agave nut, I was desperate to find out more.
I think being from Darwin really helped with staying relaxed about the competition, as we are far enough away & there was unbelievable local support. Everyone was really excited to have someone from the NT make it this far. Honestly, for me, I had convinced myself that it was no different to the national final, which for some reason, was really relaxed and just a fun day.
That all changed when I landed in Dallas and headed to The Italian Kitchen. This is where it started to get really exciting. Sitting in the bar right across from me was none other than Simon Difford and Paloma Alos, from the Difford Guide, the global authority on drinking culture. Someone who has taught me so much through his website. Simon also happened to be one of the main judges for the competition. Next thing we are enjoying a relaxed beer and a tequila while discussing all things booze related. And then the other finalists, from all over the world, started arriving. Somewhere around this time the nerves started to kick in. So many amazing bartenders with so much competition national and global competition experience.
Next thing we know we are on our last plane ride, next stop Guadalajara. Some 38 hours after leaving Darwin, I have finally arrived in Guadalajara and I couldn’t be happier to be back in the place I hold so dear. We were quickly ushered into a couple of Patron branded mini buses and dropped at our hotel the Westin, overlooking the Guadalajara Expo site. As the hospo crowd does, we dropped our bags at the rooms and headed to the bar. We arrive pretty late and had all travelled a long way, so it was pretty subdued (they closed the bar on us), just a couple beers and a couple of shots.
The next day, Sunday 14th, was a pretty casual day starting at the leisurely time of 10am when we headed to the acclaimed Los Chilaquiles, for what was an amazing brunch. We pretty much order the entire menu and shared everything. Next thing we are in buses and on our way for a sightseeing tour around Guadalajara’s historic centre. I am lucky enough to have been there before, but the neoclassical architecture of the cities amazing landmarks still left me speechless. Guadalajara really is a beautiful city & definitely a distinct change to our architecture in Darwin. If you ever get the chance it is well worth a few days.
Sightseeing is obviously tough work; thus it was time for some tequila & cervezas, which came thick and fast. We finished of the day with a couple of cocktails at the acclaimed Sal De Mar, where last year’s winner of Patron Perfectionists, Mike McGinty was doing a guest shift with his 2016 winning cocktail, The Bell of Jalisco, before heading to Santo Coyote Real for a 3 course feed and Patrón tequila free flowing.
Started with a short trip out to Tlaquepaque, which is an internationally renowned arts and craft village in Guadalajara. Again, I was lucky enough to have already been to Tlaquepaque 6 odd years earlier and, for me, it was amazing to be back there, where I held really fond memories. We met with one of Mexico’s most recognized artisan-scalpers, Rodo Padilla, who handcrafted the Patrón Perfectionists National Winners trophies as well as the Global winner’s trophies. We toured his workshop and gallery to understand the dedication he takes in making his pieces.
Late on the second day, Monday the 15th, we boarded the bus and head for the hill for the 1.5 hours journey to Hacienda Patrón. I have to be straight up with you, I have been to a lot of distilleries, with large number of then being tequila distilleries & I have never seen anything like this. The scale and beauty of this place instantly blows you away. I can’t really find the words to convey what this magical place, with its amazing Spanish colonial architecture, is like & the feeling it gave me. In saying that a phrase I use a numerous time was holy shit, and I continually found myself asking the team if the feeling of amazement with the place ever changed, to which I always got a warm smile and a knowing ‘no’.
Hacienda Patrón has its own onsite hotel, bar and restaurant, called La Casona, which is where we were staying from this point on. Simply it is amazing, the photos don’t really do it justice. I won’t even try to describe my room.
We dropped our bag and straight to the copper bar and just stood there in amazement. We were going to be competing behind this outstanding/imposing bar. I’m not sure on the length, but the bar had to be 15 plus meters long with an amazing copper bar top. The room itself had 5 meters high ceilings with 3 x 1 tonne chandeliers, made by local artists specifically for Patron. Time for some cheeky cocktail, which were all amazing, before some more beautiful food. While writing this I have a big smile on my face thinking of the amazing setting. An open fire, agave everywhere, the amazing Hacienda Patrón and amazing cocktails. Being tequila is what I do, this was the ultimate grand experience of what tequila is and was a very special experience for me. Definitely not the usual tequila experience, but definitely an amazing way to do it.
This was the day I was most looking forward too. Tuesday 16th started with a trip to one of the farmers agave fields in Jesús Maria in the Los Altos region, where we visited one of Patrón contracted farmers’ fields. We were taught about selecting the agave, the soil composition, rainfall, pests and then the jimadors work as well as how Patrón trims the agave. Last but not least we got to test the agave with a refractometer, something I have always wanted to do to understand the sugar within the agave. The agave we tested came out with a Brix of 48. This blew me away. I didn’t even know they could get that high. Generally, most of the time, most of the agaves average around 22-30 brix.
As had now become customary, it was time for some food, cocktails and tequila. We were taken to a beautiful field in the highlands where we were given a demonstration of charreada, which is a competitive event, similar to a rodeo.
Back to the distillery and it was time for what I wanted to see, the all-important distillery tour. Before going on the tour, we went through a pre-distillery presentation running through the Patrón process, from start to finish.
Once completed it was time to get into the real stuff. We walk through a door to find a delivery of agave being cut and loaded into the brick oven. As it Patrón style, all agave were trimmed closely, almost removing all the green from the agave. All the agave had the …. removed and cut evenly and methodically and loaded into the oven.
We walked behind the ovens and there was a beautiful pair of Tahona pits, full of agave and slowly being pressed. For those not really into tequila, anytime I see a Tahona wheel, I am instantly filled with joy.
The agave nectar soaked agave fibre is then loaded onto a conveyer belt and taken to small pine fermentation tanks where it is left to ferment for the next …
From there, the fibre and fermented agave is sent to the pot stills to the first distillation where the heads and tails are removed. The ordinario is then sent to the second smaller still to complete the second distillation, leave us with 55% Tahona crushed blanco tequila.
This in itself was amazing and would have been enough, but then we entered another second of the distiller where the roller mills shredded agave came to life. This side of the distillery is basically the same as the Tahona wheel side, just the volume and capacity is significantly higher, and there is a roller mill in-place of the Tahona wheel for shredding the cooked agave. The main difference is the Tahona and the use of fibre in the fermentation and distillation. For me having the opportunity to taste both side by side, Tahona and Roller Mill, I got a much better understanding of the complexity added by crushing with a Tahona and fermenting and distilling. It definitely makes a difference to the nose and flavour profile.
The Patrón distillery is a really amazing place for me. Basically, Patrón have 12 working distilleries under one roof. As they have grown in volume, instead of changing their process to make in larger batches, they have instead replicated their original small batch, handmade, traditional and artisan approach. For me it was really incredible to see such a large company taking an approach that is a commitment to quality at the expense of efficiency. To a degree, it’s crazy, very Mexican, but I loved it.
So, after having an opportunity to try 40% Tahona crush, 40% roller mill, 55% Tahona and 55% roller mill, we then proceed to mess around with blending to find our preference. Honestly mine was 100% Tahona, but with an alcohol level down around 46%. Funnily enough, very close to Patrón Roca.
From there it was onto the barrel rooms where we were able to taste individual barrel samples, from new French Limousin oak, used American oak, new American oak with Limousin oak butts & Allier oak. Then again it was time for a blending session to find our preference.
After the tequila side was completed we walked through the sustainability initiatives that Patrón has implemented, with a reverse osmosis system, reclaiming 70 of the waste water which is then used for cleaning or put into the cooling towers, while the remainder is put into the bagasse to create compost.
Right out the back, there is a huge steaming pile of the bagasse, spent agave fibres, where both the fibres and the residual liquid are combined to make into an organic compost, which is available to local farmers at no charge to help them grow local produce & of course agave. It an amazing and costly initiative but something which is really part of Patrón DNA in limiting their impact on the environment.
Day 3 finish in a pretty subdued way, quick feed, couple of drinks and time for some preparation before the games kicked off the next day.
About now, the nervous started to kick into overdrive. I was up last, 17th of 17th, so I had a long day of waiting ahead of me.
Wednesday and it was game time. We were all here for this. It was a very different start to the day. Lots of tension, nerves mixed up with laughter and smiles as were all a pretty close and happy group by this stage. The first final started at 11am with the first group to all be there and ready to go at 10.30. Seeing we were staying where we were competition, this was not a huge issue.
The first group of 9, rolled through a bit behind time. There were some amazing presentations, amazing drinks, the odd flame trick or two and amazing styles. A few of the finalists ran over time, and a few finished well short. The standard was amazing, and the drinks were so diverse. I knew it was going to be a challenge to make it through to the final 6.
The second group started at 2.30 and honestly it felt like forever before I was finally miked up and ready to go onstage. I rolled through my presentation, made a couple of small mistakes, and finished with plenty of time left on the clock, 3 seconds. Ok, maybe it was a little fine. I felt good about what I had presented, and the drink was there or there about, slightly out of balance, a little too much citrus.
Probably the coolest part of the day is that with all the finalists, there were really no egos, everyone was more than happy to lead a hand or equipment. Everyone genuinely wanted to see each other do well, which was an amazing feeling.
Obviously, I was done, it had been a long day and numerous tequilas were in order, quick change of clothes and time for dinner. By this stage numerous of the senior Patrón leadership team had arrived and it was a pretty big dinner. Toward the end of the dinner it was time for the announcements of the grand finalists, and much to my surprise, I was the first called, which also meant I was up first, which is exactly where I wanted to go. Honestly this was a really proud moment for me to make it through to the top 6, the grand final. To make the top 6 against such amazing bartenders really humbled me. It was an amazing feeling. All I want to do was do well for Darwin, the Northern Territory and Australia. We have an amazing cocktail culture in our amazing country and I didn’t want to let the team down.
Well that pretty much ended my night dead in its tracks. Again, it was time to get to the kitchen and start preparation again.
This was our last day at Hacienda Patrón, the finale of our visit. Obviously, the day was focused around the Grand Final, which started at around 5.30. Pre-the GF, the activities were optional. There was a planned tour of Casa Patron, an old distillery in the centre of Atotonilco which Patrón owns and used to produce roller mill tequila. I think they have owned the distillery since 2007 but prior to that had been contract distilling there for numerous years. I decided to go with the tour. I was planned and in all honest, feeling pretty good about where I was. I was receiving messages of congratulation everywhere which was really inspiring, so thank you.
The day past pretty quickly. Tour, lunch, 2 hour photo shoot and then it was time to get ready. The last half an hour seemed like forever. We started 20 minutes late, and I just wanted to get up there and into it.
The time came around and walking up to the stage, it was amazing and humbling to cheering and clapping I received, it was an amazing feeling. The time on stage seemed to go really quickly. We had 10 minutes and I finished a little early, around 45 second left, but I was really happy with everything. The cocktail was spot on, presentation rolled really smoothly, and I felt I had really good engagement. I actually really enjoyed the presentation, I had time to take in the moment and enjoy it. I was done, did someone say tequila?
I watched through the remaining 6 presentations and everyone was on point. Not an error or mistake to be seen anywhere. The level was amazing, no one cracked under the pressure.
In the end Li Tong from China was crowned Patron Perfectionists 2017, in what was a really close contest.
It wasn’t to be, but I gave my all and I am really proud of what I achieved. At the end of the day the experience and friendships I gained from Patron Perfectionists is something I will always cherish. I have learnt so much and really developed my skills.