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Meet The East Yorkshire Bartender Who is Putting Hull on The Map
Eat and Drink
May 2024
Reading time 4 Minutes

Living North catches up with Matt Smith, bar manager at The Brain Jar in Hull, who was recently named in the UK's Top 100 Bartenders by World Class GB

He tells us more about the candy, chemistry and chaos that got him this far in the prestigious competition.

One of the most prestigious cocktail competitions in the world, World Class GB demands excellence, precision and creativity from its participants. Bartenders were asked to submit a maximum of two serves using Tanqueray No. Ten gin and The Singleton single malt Scotch whisky. The successful Top 100 are then automatically entered into the World Class Cocktail Festival which challenges the bartenders to serve three drinks using the original two spirits and Seedlip for the public to try. For Matt, getting stuck in was a no-brainer.

Matt, tell us a bit about the competition
I’ve always kept an eye on World Class GB and always thought it was interesting, but over the years I’ve had a lot going on with the bar. This year I took the plunge and put quite a lot of work into the initial stages. You enter online initially with cocktails you’ve designed to their brief. I made it into the Top 100 which I think is impressive considering we’re just a little independent cocktail bar in Hull. We’re up against some of the biggest bars in the country and some of the best bartenders in the country. I was quite surprised to get through and it’s been a really interesting ride. I’ve never really gone for many competitions before, but I had in my head a few ways I would go about it.

How did you use the Tanqueray No. Ten gin?
The Tanqueray No. Ten drink was designed to be a welcome drink so I took that quite literally and I wanted not only a welcome drink that you’d expect on an evening, but a welcome to Hull because I don’t believe that World Class has ever made it to Hull before. I designed a little welcome mat like a door mat as a coaster to serve the drink on, and I spray painted the Welcome to Hull sign on it so that they would see the welcome sign that you see on the way into the city.

I designed a lot of the flavours in that drink which ended up being based on a Kier Royale, like a carbonated blackberry cocktail. A lot of the flavours that were in there were intended to be references to Hull. The hard boiled sweet was first engineered here at the Needler site, so I made a candy which I garnished the drink with as a reference to that. I also made my own blend of chip spice (with sweet blackberry flavours) because that’s quite Hull-based. Also, Hull patties are traditionally seasoned with sage so I made a clarified sage bitters too. Everything was meant to be Hull inspired.

How about The Singleton?
We were asked to tell a story about ourselves. Whisky and chocolate is not an original pairing, but it’s a good one and I really like white chocolate. It took me back to when I first started making chocolate myself in lockdown. I was really bored and didn’t really have a lot to do, so I just started making chocolate and I ended up selling it online and doing quite well and it got really big, really quick. I stopped when the bar re-opened and when the World Class competition came up it made sense to tie the whisky to the chocolate. The chocolate company was called Big Fat Stupid, and I named the drink after that. I made a white cacao and pistachio emulsion – it’s basically like an old fashioned-type serve.

How has the competition challenged you?
We’ve had these drinks on the menu now since the beginning of March and they’ll be on until the end of April. A lot of the time with competitions, people design cocktails that look very nice and sound very nice, but they know that no one is ever going to taste it and it’s more for Instagram. It’s not just the aesthetics, but you can make anything beautiful if you’ve got all day to make it and only have to do one – but when you need to do 30 of them on a Friday night, it’s a very different process. I think World Class GB had that in mind when they set the challenge.

What has the reception been like?
I think what people really like is a story. You can go out for drinks and order a pornstar martini or an old fashioned, and just have a nice drink that you’ve heard of. But when you can tie a story to the drink it’s special. That’s why the festival is good because every bartender is getting the chance to talk about the brief that they’re designing and tie it to the festival. It’s just nice to have a bit of context for what you’re drinking.

Do you have a favourite ingredient to work with?
I’m really enjoying using pectinex. It’s an enzyme that’s essential if you’re going to clarify a liquid. If you want to make something nice and fizzy, then it needs to be very clear, otherwise it affects how much CO2 a liquid can hold. As boring as it sounds, making something that was once cloudy turn crystal clear is really exciting. For many years, things like clarification and carbonation really scared me but as soon as I started to experiment and de-mystify it, it’s now something that we do every day. I guess that shows how as a team we’ve grown.

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