Finland is far away. Like, really far away. As a result of its geographical remoteness JUICE must sadly admit to being in the dark regards this Nordic nation. What we do know is that it’s cold, everyone uses a Nokia (it’s a Finnish brand), people have reindeer for friends and its most famous resident is personality-free F1 racing driver Kimi Raikkonen. Oh, and it makes one helluva vodka in Finlandia vodka. In fact Finlandia vodka is so good that they named the country after it. Or is that the other way around?
Whatever the case, Finlandia certainly take pride in their premium Finnish vodka, even hosting an annual quest to hunt down the best bartender who understands about the art of crafting a cocktail using fresh and natural ingredients. Until this year that quest had not included the behind-the-bar talents of South East Asia. Literally left out in the cold, it was Marketing Manager Steven Ho who recognized this and consequently instigated Malaysia’s first ever competition.
After a call for entries, 29 bartenders, each representing their bar, restaurant or hotel establishment descended on M-Circle in Starhill Gallery. The rules and regulations were strict and long: every drink must be based on a new and original recipe; all recipes must be based on Finlandia Vodka Classic, Finlandia Cranberry Fusion, Finlandia Lime Fusion or Finlandia Mango Fusion; a limited specified number of ingredients must be used; drinks must be prepared in the stipulated amount of time; and so on. It was enough to make our heads spin, and that was before we had even laid our lips on our Finlandia cocktail glasses.
Along with fellow judges Malaysian Food & Beverage Association Deputy Pres Jayasegaran Vello and Hospitality Asia Magazine Creative Director Patricia Seow, we had 3 categories to judge as bartender were required to prepare an aperitif, a long drink and a “Quick Mix”. The latter proved particularly challenging as quick thinking bartenders had to put their ingenuity to the test creating a concoction from ingredients revealed a mere 10 minutes prior to the start of the category.
In the end it was Abdumubin Ismail from Villa Danieli at the Hotel Imperial Kuala Lumpur who won over the tastebuds of us judges to bag himself RM2000 in cash, a trophy and a return ticket to the 11th International Finlandia Vodka Cup in Lapland, Finland in February to represent the nation.
Chong Yi Shawn of Vintage Bank, Hilton KL made 1st Runner Up and RM1000 cash, and Rizal Junior of Qba at The Westin Kuala Lumpur took third to win RM500 cash. Both also took home something for the mantelpiece. The competition was also attended by the Finnish Ambassador Tapio Saarela who was thrilled at the efforts in promoting Finland. JUICE will certainly be finding out a lot more about the country as we jet off to Lapland for naked saunas, reindeer games and a whole lotta Finlandia vodka appreciation in early in February. Only 1 of 2 people from Malaysia making the trip, be sure to log onto the JUICE website, and pick up the April issue of the magazine, for the exclusive lowdown on our vodka-fueled adventures.
The Finlandia Vodka Cup Malaysia 2008 was held at M-Circle on the Explore Floor of StarHill Gallery in the capital on Thursday December 18. Many thanks to the people of Finlandia and Brown-Forman for being such generous hosts. JUICE is proud to be the official magazine of the The Finlandia Vodka Cup Malaysia 2008.
Text Muna Noor