1000 bartenders nation-wide competed in regional competitions. From those competitions, two bartenders were picked to represent each of the cities, and on Sunday night 26 bartenders competed in Liberty Hall at the Ace Hotel to determine the final three bartenders who would go on to represent Team USA at the USBG Cocktail World Cup 2010 in New Zealand later this month.
Since the competition is sponsored by the New Zealand-based vodka brand 42 Below, the contestants all made a signature drink using one of 42 Below's vodka for the judges. Founder of the Bartender's Academy of New York, Charles Ohlbaum, King Cocktail himself, Dale DeGroff, and chef Sam Talbot.
One thing I noted besides the variety of cocktails using eggs was the pretty phenomenal array of garnishes and drink accoutrement throughout the competition.
Team Denver's Adam Hodak, bartender at Osteria Marco and beverage director for Bonanno Concepts used a hollowed out bit of lemongrass as a straw for his drink, Exposed Passion of Simplicity (42 Below passion fruit vodka, Domaine du Canton ginger liqueur, his own lemongrass tonic, fresh lime), and even flamed the drink with a spritz of his passion fruit bitters mad with 42 Below.
Jess Hiller of the Sunset Lounge at the Mondrian Hotel in Miami dipped his glasses in molten beeswax infused with ylang ylang to rim them for his drink (42 Below Manuka Honey, New Zealand thym and honey simple syrup, yuzu juice, passion fruit flesh) and also floated a honeycomb for additional decoration.
Charles Gilbert, from the Gold Room in Atlanta, made a lollipop from sugar cane, kiwi and cilantro to garnish his drink (muddled lime, serrano peppers, cucumber and cilantro-cucumber syrup shaken with watermelon, 42Below Kiwi and Dolin sweet vermouth).
There were also plenty of references to New Zealand in the different drinks. Most obviously, kiwi was one of the repeats in the different recipes. Others used the name of their drinks to reference back to either New Zealand or the product.
Philip Greene of Team D.C., who interestingly enough works for the Pentagon during the day when he's not making drinks at The Passenger, named is drink The Cook Strait Sling, after strait that cuts between the northern and southern islands of New Zealand.
Jason Brown of Sensing in Boston named his drink Mr. Robinson, after Jackie Robinson who famously wore the number 42.
As much as it was about the drinks and showing one's personality and technique through the drinks, some bartenders played up showmanship. Team Chicago's Lynn House from Graham Elliott and Jennifer Contraveos from Mercadito and Double A were the only ladies in the competition. They showed their solidarity and represented their city by starting their portion of the competition with a "Blues Sisters" act, complete with Blues Brothers outfit and "Can't Turn You Loose" playing as their background music.
Daniel Victory from Twist and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New Orleans opened up by asking the DJ to play something different. After throwing out a couple of CDs, he finally pulled out a Jimi Hendrix record, and took off his jacket to reveal colorful Jimi Hendrix shirt. He also provided popcorn for the judges.
After over 3 hours of cocktail making, the three chosen to represent the United States were:
Sean Hoard of PDT, who represented NYC with Thomas Waugh, with the Wellington Fizz (42 Below Kiwi vodka, lime juice, orgeat syrup, passionfruit puree, heavy cream, egg white, club soda). Sean said that his inspiration for the drink was a Pavlova, a dessert item popular in New Zealand and Austrlia (with bit of contested history as to which country actually can lay claim to the dessert's creation, though plenty sources seem to credit the birthplace of the pavlova to be Wellington, New Zealand.)
Mark Stoddard, bar manager of Happy Bitter Bar in Denver, created a whole three-course like experience with his South of Brooklyn with caviar and a fanciful honeycomb side dish of sorts. The drink itself was made with 42 Below Honey Vodka, of rye whiskey, his own homemade of Amer Picon bitters, of Maraschino liqueur.
And last but not least, Todd Thrasher of PX, Restaurant Eve and The Majestic in Northern Va. (representing D.C.), rounded out the three with his drink. Todd should've also won any alternative awards for his cocktail's name. The appropriately long and expository "I have too much Thyme on my hands right now at this point in my life." It's like an E. E. Cummings poem.
The "I have too much Thyme..." is made with 42 Below vodka, Cynar, of lime and thyme syrup, home made apple bitters and a garnish of compressed apple thyme balls. The garnishes were made by vacuum bagging, then sous-vide cooking the apple balls with thyme and apple bitters.
Todd said his inspiration for the drink was from a dish he tried at Alinea that used apple, thyme and artichoke (hence the Cynar in the drink).
My friend Marc Almandarez was on-hand as my plus one and photographer. I've asked him for his services before considering he's way better at this picture taking business than I am.
If you want to see some photos besides the ones below, and in a larger size too, check out Marc's Flickr set for the event.