I’ve gotten to do some cool stuff over the years being a cocktail hacker. I’ve been to Tales of the Cocktail (hopefully not the only time), I’ve been to exclusive tastings, I’ve been invited to distilleries, but last week I had a first, I was invited to be a judge for the Drambuie Nail or Fail Bartender Showdown. Very many thanks to Cynthia, Anthony and Christina. It was great getting to be a cocktail geek with you all.
The party itself was epic. Eight local bartenders mixed up original, Drambuie inspired cocktails for the crowd and Drambuie also served up some of their classics. I think Drambuie is one of those ingredients that gets passed over more than it should. Sure, you know where to go when you’re looking for a rusty nail, but there are so many other applications. Drambuie can truly be a blank slate for a whole range of flavor profiles and the bartenders showed that with ease. We had a couple sours, a riff on the Old Fashioned, an incredible play on a grog and the winner, a cocktail that was reminiscent of a Manhattan with notes of bitter, sweetness and deep complexity.
I don’t have those recipes just yet, but with summer fast approaching, I will share a refreshing recipe from Drambuie’s team, the Drambuie Fizz. This drink is deceptively simple but really delicious.
1 1/2 oz Drambuie 6-8 Lime Wedges Club Soda
1) Muddle the lime wedges in a rocks glass 2) Fill with crushed ice and add Drambuie 3) Top with soda and a lime wedge
What I really want to share this time isn’t recipes though, it’s tips for entrants in cocktail competitions. Sure, I don’t have hundreds under my belt, but I think I’ve got some pointers that’ll be valuable.
1) It doesn’t matter what brought you to the competition, remember that you’re representing both yourself and your establishment. Always put your best out there.
2) Presentation in the drink matters as much as, if not more than, your presentation in making the drink.
3) Make the contest ingredient the star. Sure your housemade bitters are great as are the unique ingredients but the contest ingredient has to shine, that’s the whole reason you’re there.
4) Vet your recipe to anyone who will taste it for you. Friends, long time regulars, family. Then, once you’ve got it nailed, stick to the recipe.
5) Make your recipe appeal to a wide audience. I love crazy flavors as much as the next cocktail geek, but does that guy that just walked into your bar for the first time?
6) Garnish! For the love of god, it finishes your drink.
7) Complexity doesn’t equate to superiority. Sometimes the simplest cocktail is the best.
8) Have fun. At the end of the day, you’re getting to mix great cocktails for people who are really going to appreciate them. Enjoy it.