CORK bartender Linda O’Flynn has the recipe for success, having recently secured the title of World Class Irish Bartender of the Year.
Pipping the competition at the Power House Bar at the Roe & Co Distillery and visitor experience in St James’s Gate factory in Dublin, she demonstrated her skills in a series of challenges in front of a live audience.
Her win brings the title back to MacCurtain Street restaurant and bar Cask for the third year in a row, where Linda was mentored by previous recipients Carl D’Alton and Andy Ferreira.
The Mitchelstown native initially began bartending as a means to an end while in college, but quickly fell in love with the industry. She has been working at Cask for two years, where she says her passion for cocktail making has flourished.
“I got my first job pouring pints in London when I was 18 and then moved home for college and got a job working in a bar in Cork. It was in Cask though where I fell in love with mixing drinks. There was so much passion for the craft there, it was infectious.”
Linda says that cocktail-making is an exciting and expressive world.
“It’s a really creative industry and we’re surrounded by a world of passionate and creative producers all across Ireland.”
Cask pride themselves on using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients with a “farm to glass” approach.
“Taking these products and the abundance of amazing natural ingredients we have on our doorstep and bringing them together is a really fun way of expressing how you see the world.”
Despite being surrounded by inspiration in Cask, Linda admits she never thought she would take the leap into the competitive world.
“As of a few months ago, I genuinely never thought I would enter a competition, not to mind one as big as World Class.
“Then a part of me thought, maybe next year. Then I just stopped making excuses and I’m so glad that I did.”
It was no easy feat, however, with extremely tough competition throughout. Prior to the final, there were three rounds of competition, before three finalists faced off in front of the Dublin audience in three challenges.
Linda took to the stage with Jonathan Shaw from Bert’s Jazz Bar in Belfast and Andrew Ennis from The Little Pig in Dublin, where the trio were tested in a blending challenge, a challenge to create two drinks based on the flavour pillars of Johnnie Walker Black, and a speed round with twists on six classics.
The judging panel included Roe & Co Brand Ambassador Alan Mulvihill, Roe & Co Head Distiller Lora Hemy, Scotch Whiskey Global Ambassador Ervin Trykowski, and Diageo Global Gastronomer Mark Moriarty.
“The competition tests so many parts of you as a bartender,” Linda explains, glad to have support from colleagues who had first hand experience.
“Both Andy and Carl are always incredibly supportive.
“They have a unique insight into how tough it can be and it’s great to be surrounded by people who get where you’re at.”
So, with a hat-trick of national wins in the bag, what is Cask’s secret recipe? “If I knew the secret I would definitely bottle it,” Linda replies.
“I think it comes down to a space that encourages creativity, with so much passion and knowledge to draw on.
“Mostly, though, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.
“We love making tasty drinks and making sure everyone who walks in our door has a really nice time.”
With a boom in new Irish distilleries, consumers are becoming more discerning about their drinks of choice.
Linda says in this economy, customers are pushing the industry forward, making it an exciting place to work.
“I can’t begin to describe how exciting and dynamic the Irish industry is right now.
“Everywhere you look, there are incredibly passionate people creating top quality products and there is no sign of it slowing down.
“Our customers are what makes all that possible. They’re not afraid to say what they want anymore and that drives the standard to a new place.
“We’re not afraid to take risks at the moment and that’s a really cool place for us to be.”
For the amateur mixologists out there, great cocktails, Linda explains, “are about finding balance and respecting the ingredients you’re using.”
“I’m having a love affair with the Boulevardier at the moment.” she reveals.
“Understanding bitter flavours is really important and something the Irish palate isn’t very accustomed to but we’re getting there.
“There’s so many incredible plants we can use as bittering agents and I’m having a lot of fun exploring that.”
With the national competition under her belt, Linda is now focused on preparing to represent Ireland in the World Class Global Final 2019 in Glasgow this September.
“I’m really excited for Glasgow. I don’t know what the challenges are yet but I can’t wait to get stuck in. I just want to make sure I’m representing the Irish industry as best I can.
“It’s amazing to have an opportunity to be on a global stage and show the world what Irish hospitality is all about. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
There are also other developments at Cask on MacCurtain Street in Cork’s vibrant Victorian Quarter. They have just unveiled a new weekend brunch offering just in time for the summer season.
Andy Ferreira, bar manager and chief mixologist, said: “In recent years brunch as a concept has really taken off so we were excited to introduce it to Cask, but making sure to put our own unique spin on things. We’ve combined delicious food and a fun and intriguing drinks menu with the great craic that we’ve become known for — a killer combination!”
For more see www.caskcork.com or follow Cask on Facebook and Instagram @CaskCork, and Twitter @Cask_Cork.