Tío Pepe Gears Up For Its Second Annual U.S. Masterclass Tour
Gear up and grab your jigger for the Tío Pepe Masterclass Tour: Set to unfold stateside for a second year in Atlanta on January 22 and wrapping in Chicago on February 25, the event series gives members of the trade an opportunity to taste through the Sherry producer’s portfolio while preparing them for the global Tío Pepe Challenge. The national competition sees American bartenders face off with their best Sherry-based cocktails in various markets to land a spot in the championship, held at Tío Pepe’s headquarters in Jerez, Spain on May 15.
To help our readers ace the course, The Tasting Panel sat down to chat with Álvaro Plata, who serves as an International Brand Ambassador for Tío Pepe, to get some insider tips. Representing the third consecutive generation of his family to join the company, Plata is an Advanced–level Sherry Educator and studied at The House of Mixology Madrid.
The Tasting Panel: Last year was Tío Pepe’s inaugural United States Masterclass Tour. What have you learned since launching it here, and what can we expect this year?
Álvaro Plata: Last year was a great success with more than 300 bartenders attending our masterclasses around the country. We learned that there is a great deal of interest in learning about Sherry and that bartenders particularly like to go into detail about the production process. The only difference this year is that bartenders are no longer required to complete an online theory test before taking part in the competition—the finalists will take the theory exam in New York.
How is the U.S. tour different from those in other regions?
We usually only hold one masterclass before the country final in markets such as the U.K., Sweden, and Italy, but due to the size of the U.S. we hold a number of masterclasses around the country. This year we have nine planned. Also, we found that the knowledge of bartenders in the U.S. is very advanced, so therefore we are able to go into great detail about the production of Sherry and what makes it different. In other markets where the wine culture is less developed, the theory side of the masterclass is more basic.
Can you describe what happens at the masterclasses?
The masterclass is a full immersion into Sherry: I take attendees through an in-depth presentation of the theory of Sherry from the vineyard to the glass. I cover what makes Sherry unique, exactly how it is produced, and what the different styles are. I then show some examples of how Sherry can be used in cocktails; for example, Fino can be used to substitute for dry vermouth, and PX can be used to add natural sweetness.
Finally, probably the most unique part of the Masterclass is the venencia demonstration. The venencia is a traditional tool which has been used in Jerez for centuries to take samples of Sherry from the cask and has now turned into an art form. All bartenders who attend the class will be shown how to use the venencia and will also be given one to take away to practice.
What’s the ultimate goal of the tour?
The main objective is to familiarize the bartenders with Sherry wines so they can maximize their use behind their bars, giving them the knowledge to be able to understand the product and its different styles and hopefully inspiring them to experiment on their own with Sherry in their cocktails. González Byass has been producing high-quality Sherries since 1835 and is one of the most well-known Sherry houses. We want to become that point of reference for people who want to learn about this incredible product. We are working daily on cocktail events not just using Sherry but combining them with our quality spirits such as The London Nº1 gin or Nomad Outland whisky among others, and it is definitely worth discovering how versatile they are.
Any advice to those hoping to bring home a win this year at the Tío Pepe Challenge?
Our judges like to see something that has a story. It’s not just about putting together different flavors—we want to see that they were inspired by Sherry to create something that means something to them and of course that they are balanced and have good flavor. We cannot forget that cocktails are made for people to enjoy them, and this is always the number one priority when creating drinks.
Register at tastingpanelmag.com/thetiopepechallenge