Beefeater MIXLDN is the biggest gin based cocktail competition on the planet. Currently in its 7th year and in dozens of countries, Beefeater MIXLDN challenges bartenders from all over the world to express their love of Beefeater through thoughtfully prepared cocktails.
Originally from Ontario, Jason Griffin lived in Montréal for over ten years before moving to Toronto less than a year ago. In November, he flew to Vancouver in the Canadian National final Beefeater MIXLDN competition and came out the on top with his cocktail, Queen & Spadina. In February Jason will be heading to London to participate in the Beefeater MIXLDN Global Finals. We recently interviewed him to find out more about his experience as a bartender and as a Beefeater MIXLDN participant.
Bartender Atlas: When did you first start working in bars and how did you get into the industry?
Jason Griffin: Back in 2005, I was doing my undergrad in Fine Arts in Montreal. One night I was out with friends and I realized I was spending a lot of time in bars, so why not get paid to be there? A few weeks later I was enrolled in a bartending school. After completing the course, they found me a job as a service bartender at a Bâton Rouge.
BA: What style of bartending were you doing at that time?
JG: Back then, there were no fresh ingredients being used aside from lime wedges for garnishes. Citrus came in powder form and juices came in concentrated syrups. We had one bottle of Angostura that by my estimate must have been there for the better part of a decade. Those were the dark days of bartending in Montreal.
BA: When did entering cocktail competitions like Beefeater MIXLDN start appealing to you?
JG: I believe the first competition I entered was in 2014, I was working at Maison Boulud in Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. I thought I knew it all, but how humbling was my first mystery box challenge? I still remember it vividly. I was given cantaloupe, an orange, prickly pear and saffron. I panicked and mushed everything together in a shaker with about six different spirits. I couldn’t find the simple syrup, so I grabbed the honey, added my ice and shook. Of course, the honey hardened and didn’t incorporate into the drink and I was left with a cloudy mess of fruit pulp and straight booze. The next day, I thought about all the mistakes I had made and started to work to avoid making as many the next time. From then on, I was hooked. I started submitting recipes and entering as many competitions as I could. Each competition I didn’t win (which is many) gave me valuable knowledge and insight into how to perform better for the next time.
BA: Beefeater changes the creative guidelines for their MIXLDN competition each year. What were some of the guidelines this year and how did that shape the “Queen & Spadina” cocktail?
JG: This year the guidelines were very simple. We were asked to create a cocktail inspired by the city in which we live using Beefeater London Dry or Beefeater 24 gin. That was it! It was great because even bartenders from the same city were creating vastly different cocktails based on their view and personal experiences in that city. I chose to celebrate one of Toronto’s most iconic and culturally diverse intersections close to where I live, Queen & Spadina.
BA: While developing the drink, was there anyone that you bounced ideas off of? How did you come up with your final cocktail from start to finish?
JG: I always bounce ideas off my staff. Bartenders, kitchen staff and sommeliers all have keen palates and can really offer great insight and suggestions. For the first time in my life I created the name of a cocktail before the recipe. I knew immediately that I wanted to name my cocktail the Queen & Spadina. This made it pretty easy for me to create the flavour profile for this drink; Chinatown and Kensington market are spice central. I used star anise and Sichuan pepper to enhance the spicy, woody and floral notes of the liquorice and Orris roots used in Beefeater. Lemon and Verjuice showcase the citrus and coriander, and the beer syrup heightens the hop-like notes of the Angelica seed. Lastly a pinch of salt makes all the flavours pop.
BA: You entered Beefeater MIXLDN at the same time as opening up a new restaurant, Bacchanal in Toronto, a city you have lived in for less than a year. How do you balance your time for working on different projects?
JG:It helps to be a little obsessive. I don’t just “clock in and clock out”, and I constantly challenge myself to be better. That often means working long days and working on days off. Fortunately, I love what I do so it doesn’t seem so hard. That being said, I occasionally need a full day to sleep in and recharge.
BA: Of all of the global cocktail competitions that happen every year, what about Beefeater MIXLDN stuck out to you?
JG: This was the first year I participated in Beefeater MIXLDN and I asked myself why is that? I’ve carried Beefeater London Dry in almost every bar I’ve worked at, and for years I’ve stated it is the best gin for Cocktails. It seemed like the timing was right for me this year.
BA: Now that you have won for Canada, how are you preparing for the global finals and what are you most excited for when you get to London in February?
JG: I’m very fortunate to live in Toronto where I am friends with not only the past two MIXLDN Canadian winners, Michael Fortier and Evelyn Chick, but Evelyn was the global MIXLDN Champion in 2015! The two of them are an enormous resource to have. Leading up to February, Mike and Evelyn will coach me and help prepare me to better my chances of performing as well as I can.
BA: What are you most excited for when on your trip to London?
JG: Obviously, the competition, but I haven’t been to London in over ten years, I’m really excited to rediscover the city and its cocktail scene.
Make Jason’s award winning cocktail:
Queen & Spadina
1 oz Beefeater London Dry
1 oz Beer Syrup
0.75 oz Star Anise & Sichuan pepper infused Lillet
0.75 oz Verjuice
0.25 oz Lemon Juice
3 dashes Bittered Sling Kensington Bitters
Pinch of salt
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain over an ice block in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a star anise.
Post in collaboration with Beefeater Gin & Corby. Please drink responsibly.