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Natural dyes from Irish wool jumpers served up in global cocktail contest

Dublin barman Cal Byrne (27) wearing a top made of Irish wool, who is is serving up a curious flavour at a world cocktail-making contest with a drink infused with natural dyes used in Irish wool jumpers. Picture by Craig Cummins/PA Wire 
David Young, PA

A Dublin barman is serving up a curious flavour at a world cocktail-making contest with a drink infused with natural dyes used in Irish wool jumpers.

Cal Byrne, 27, picked the novel ingredients as a way to highlight his project to connect artists and traditional craftspeople whose livelihoods have been hit during the pandemic.

Mr Byrne, who is originally from Galway, is among 50 finalists competing at the first-ever virtual version of the World Class Bartender of the Year finals this week.

Rather than making cocktails in person, finalists are presenting remotely to a panel of judges based in London, with the help of ‘avatar’ assistants who will mix the drinks on their behalf on site.

Mr Byrne, a barman at the Blind Pig Speakeasy in Dublin, has created an online platform to make it easier for people working in arts and crafts to find opportunities in the hospitality industry in the wake of Covid-19.

“I’ve seen so many amazingly talented young craftspeople, artists and musicians who have been really hit hard, maybe more so than our industry at this time,” he said.

“So I created an internet-based forum to basically connect our industry with these craftspeople who are as integral to a wonderful cocktail experience as somebody who makes the drinks.

“The music that’s on, the design of the space, the art of the space, the implements you’re using to drink and to eat – it’s all so important.

“So I wanted to create a space that allows those people all over the world to connect.”

In a nod to his initiative, he will be representing Ireland at the finals wearing a jumper made by his friend, Co Donegal knitwear designer Aisling McCallion.

And the natural flower-based ingredients used to dye the wool have inspired a cocktail he will present to the judges.

“I found out that all the materials that the dyer ladies in Ireland used to use are all edible and quite nice, so I made a drink to go alongside the jumper that is made with the ingredients used to dye the jumpers, so I’m pretty happy with that. I think that’s a pretty fun one,” he said.

Mr Byrne is not the only one whose entry at the Diageo-organised competition will involve natural dyes.

Laura Brady, from Birmingham, is hoping to impress judges with lip balms tinted with pigments from rhubarb she uses to flavour some of her cocktails.

Ms Brady utilised skills acquired at art school to create the product as part of a community project she has rolled out in Amsterdam, where she has worked for the past four years.

She may have been born in the Midlands, raised in mid-Wales and studied in Manchester, but the 26-year-old will go into the finals representing the Netherlands.

“I’ve taken food waste from an ingredient that I’ve made, which is rhubarb, and then I use the rhubarb to make a dye,” she said.

“I use the dye to make colour pigments and then I’m using colour pigments to tint lip balms, which I’m selling as part of a community project.”

As well as presenting remotely, the contestants have also had to overcome the logistical challenge of getting ingredients and premixed flavour cordials to London in time for this week’s competition.

“I had a problem when my box was stuck in German customs for a while but thankfully it arrived in London safely,” said Ms Brady.

After a year pause due to the pandemic, the virtual format of the 2021 contest is in keeping with a trend that emerged in lockdown – the increased popularity of online bartender demos to help people create cocktails at home.

This move to more at-home drinking, and also a growing preference for low-alcohol brands, will be among themes explored at an event focused on how the drinks industry will have to innovate and adapt following the pandemic.

The global finals can be viewed online this week at: https://www.diageobaracademy.com/en_zz/world-class/competition/livestreams/

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