Drinks Enthusiast: NQ bartending battles and how the Corn Exchange could be ‘food and drink mecca’

By Judith Hawkins

To say that Drinks Enthusiast and long-standing MM contributor Dave Marsland has been busy is an understatement.

From Manchester Food and Drink Festival to gin masterclasses, from his new liquor mark Drinks Emporium to hosting bartending competitions, the Drinks Enthusiast has been a busy boy.

MM decided to catch up with Manchester’s favourite king of drink to find out what the future has in store for him and what cocktail fans across the city might have to look forward to this season.

In the pipeline is the Drinks Emporium being held between Friday October 25 and Sunday October 27 at the Corn Exchange. It will showcase boutique spirits over a three day period.

Dave said: “I think the Drinks Emporium could change the way people think of the Corn Exchange. It could become a new food and drink mecca to rival other great areas of the city such as the Northern Quarter.”

Dave is also leading the way with the Mullen Bartending League.

Created by Chris Mullen and Sean McGuirk, the league involves eight bars across the Northern Quarter competing every other week to discover the cocktail king.

The bars take it in turns to host each night, which is sponsored by a particular spirit that the rival bartenders must use as a base to make their cocktails.

As Dave explains, the M League works on a football style points based system which is added up at the end of the competition.

“I’m the host and one of the five judges, and to make it fair we sit outside while they are making the cocktails so we are completely blind to who makes each one,” he said. The winner is then awarded three points, second place two points and the third best cocktail one point.

The nights are free and open to the public – and Dave joked about just how many customers at the bars had joined in despite not originally being there for the M League.

Despite no prize being confirmed yet by its creators, the publicity of being crowned the best cocktail bar combined with the fun of each night has enticed some of the leading bars in the Northern Quarter to take part.

The first night was hosted at Cord where Apotheca were announced as the winner with their ‘Old Excellence’ cocktail using Excellia reposado, followed by Tusk’s triumph at Whiskey Jar with an ‘infused confused old fashioned’ mixture including  the spirit of the night Monkey Shoulder. Other competitors in the M League are Simple, TV21, Walrus and Bluu who are hosting the third round this week.

As well as compering these nights, Dave will be hosting the new Liquor Market being held at the recently opened Rosylee Tea Rooms this Saturday October 5 as part of the MFDF.

Describing the premise Dave said: “It is to showcase spirits that are not mainstream or big names like Jack Daniels or Malibu, but instead boutique brands such as G’Vine gin and Broken Shed vodka.”

For £7, attendees will be provided with a sampling glass to taste spirits from a range of exhibitors. It is such events that Dave believes are the key to the continued strength of the drinks industry despite the economic climate.

“People will spend money on a new spirit if they can try it beforehand. This is why the Liquor Market is a great idea, because it will allow people to try before they buy,” he said.

If organising these events wasn’t enough, Dave is currently concocting two new cocktails. The first is based on the Eccles cake for their Food and Drink Festival, the recipe for which will be available to download from his website [] next week.  The second creation is for the Vintage Manchester Awards and will be known as the ‘Spirit of Las Vegas’.

Looking towards the end of the year Dave will be leading some more masterclasses, the first again focusing on gin followed by a rum masterclass. These will take place monthly from the end of October at Lock 91 in Deansgate Locks, with dates to be confirmed.

We finish our catch up discussing the Manchester drinking scene in general, and how spirits compete with the sales of ales and lagers.

“It’s got better in the last two or three years as people are now looking for different things,” concludes Dave.

You can keep up to date with all of Drinks Enthusiast’s projects here.

Picture courtesy of Amber Ambrose, with thanks.

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