Ken Kodys wins the 42Below Cocktail World Cup
Bartender Ken Kodys left Colorado on September 3 for the 42Below Cocktail World Cup in New Zealand with one mission... to bring a third title back home. The bartending competition is our craft's version of the Olympics, in which 21 of the world's best bartenders representing six countries (and one all-star team comprised of past competitors) come together to compete in a weeklong challenge, with national pride at stake.
Ken Kodys after his win.
Team USA (aka Kodys, Steve Schneider and Beckaly Franks) dominated the competition from the beginning, winning the first two challenges and leading in points all week long. And after six days of competitions, seminars, parties, adventures and a whole lot of drinking, Team USA beat out second-place New Zealand and third-place Great Britain to emerge victorious and claim the 2012 42Below Cocktail World Cup.
Last week I finally caught up with Kodys to talk about the experience.
Sean Kenyon: Congrats on Winning the CWC! Before we get into the competition, tell us about your teammates.
Ken Kodys: My teammates were fantastic to work with. Steve Schneider from Employees Only in New York City is a special dude. He is one of, if not the best, all-around bartenders I have ever met. I respect his bar so much and it is one of my favorite bars in the country. His skills range from speed bartender to accurate free pourer; he's an amazing cocktail architect and just an interesting character who is always going 100 miles an hour and giving life all that he has.
My other teammate was Beckaly Franks of Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon; she was our house mom and team leader. I would say that Beckaly brought a level of energy and creativity that charged our team for the competitions and the week in general. They were both also very level-headed, and we work very well as a team once we figured each other's styles out.
The first night we were in Queenstom we actually got into an argument and I think it really helped us; at that point we had three very big personalities all looking to obtain that alpha status. But I think we squashed it and ended up respecting each other as all being parts of team USA rather than us having one star. In the end, I think that was a huge part of us winning: The judges saw our teamwork and how well we worked together.
Can you take us through the process of the competition day by day?
Day 1: After a series of flights around the world, our bags were taken from us and we were taken instantly from the airport to the second-largest bungee jump in the world, 132 meters or 433 feet (check out Nevis bungee on youtube... terrifying!). Next we went to a very traditional Maori performance and greeting dinner; it was really nice to get to know the other competitors. I got along really well with the guys from London and New Zealand, as well as some of the team from Scotland. It lasted a few hours and then we had the night off, and our team practiced our cocktails for the two rounds that we did know details for. (We were competing in two contests that we could plan for in advance and two secretive comps for which we had no details.
Day 2: Two competitions, and the morning started off with us taking a helicopter ride to the top of a mountain in the Remarkable Range and competing in an Iron Chef -style comp, where my team made a 42Below Fejoia bottled Mai Tai. It was served like bottle service to the judges in a bottle that had originally been an ingredient, a local lemon lime soda bottle. We ended up winning this comp after I had a three-piece plastic shaker explode all over me and we recovered to still stay within the seven-minute time limit. Steve and I came up with a method of making syrup on the fly where we actually muddled a sugar cube into half of a blood orange, combining the sweet with the juice in its own vessel. It worked really well for being on top of a mountain with no extra tools.
The second competition was also on day 2, and it was the twenty-first century Punch Challenge. Beckaly had been assigned by our team to design this recipe and routine. The competition is just as much about performance as it is about the taste of the cocktail, and Beckaly combined our patriotic theme with a military concept and we did a call-and-response style drill sergeant routine where we had an audio track made barking orders at us and we responded with things like, "Sir, Yes, Sir" and "2 oz of 42 below pure, Sir." It was a huge success mixed with our punch, which was made up of a combination of ingredients that had been taken from each of our national winning cocktails, it was a mix of 42Below pure, Sauvignon blanc, honey syrup, Krug Champagne and oleo-saccharum, and it was served in a huge ice block with a U.S. flag etched into it. I think this was the moment that the other teams realized that we were going to raise the bar of the competition. We ended up winning that competition as well. I think that we were starting to get excited, but we also knew that the first three comps combined only made up 15 percent of the total score and the final comp was 85 percent, so we were not too excited.
Day 3: We got to take an amazing jet boat ride up a river canyon; it was a lot of fun and scared the crap out of some people because the drivers were trained stunt drivers who constantly came within a few inches of rock walls, beaching the boats and spinning the boats in 360 degree turns. We then had a cocktail summit, or seminar, with two of the judges: Jacob Briars and John Lermayer. They went over the history and relevance of cocktail competitions, as well as how to win and best prepare yourself. It was a really nice insight into what the judges look for, especially in that competition. The rest of the day was to train for the final event and source our products.
Day 4: We had the morning off to do what we wanted and get ingredients for the final event, and then we got ready for the third competition, which was held in an old stone barn on a winery. It involved making the best martini using essential oils made by a local couple who distilled eucalyptus oil for us in the barn. We chose to make a classic stirred martini 4:1 with a lemon twist and simple spray the essential oils on the wrist of the judges, unlike the other teams that all put the oils in the cocktails. The oils that we sprayed were orange peel and Kawa Kawa. Unfortunately, this was the only competition in which we did not place. The night was capped with a nice dinner where they announced that Australia had won, and then we went on a bar crawl of the cocktail bars of Queenstown.
Day 5: We traveled to Auckland. Once in Auckland we had a seminar with Tony Conigliaro, in which my mind was officially blown to pieces. Tony is one of the most intelligent and passionate minds I have ever had the pleasure of listening too. He is a drink professional from London and has a location named the Drink Factory in which they strictly dissect flavors for cocktail use. Tony was actually sued at one point by Chanel for recreating Chanel Number 5 and making it into a champagne cocktail. Also notable, he has recreated different terroirs of wine regions and turned them into spirits. I still feel dumb after listening to Tony. After Tony's talk, we worked with Naren Young on our cocktail; he gave some fantastic advice and we kept tweaking our recipe and adding and subtracting ingredients to simplify yet bulk up our drink.
Day 6 was the day of the final event and we rushed around to get all of our ingredients made and tools and glassware sourced, as well as practice our routine. Very nerve- wracking, knowing you will be not only be preforming a seven-minute Broadway-style play but also be required to make six cocktails in that performance that are balanced and done right. We also led in points at that point, so we got to choose when we performed in the order and we choose second to last, lucky number 6. We got everything dialed and went to the old air hanger to check out the stage.
In the end we nailed the drink and the performance, which was based around the Incredible Hulk. Steve was Bruce Banner and he was looking for a cure aka, Formula 42. As he got frustrated and angry he fell to the floor and I rose up and pumped up the crowd as the Hulk. Beckaly then calmed me down and we made the cocktails. In the end it works and I fall back and Steve appears in ripped up cloths with the cure!