From professional bartenders to cocktail enthusiasts, my readers run the gamut and the regular cocktail contests prove just how talented everyone is when it comes to creating great drinks.
The recipe contests began in 2010 and run on a regular basis with a new theme for each contest. Readers are encouraged to share their original drink recipes and they have included some fantastic drinks over the years.
The entries below are the full results of the cocktail contests from 2011 and 2012 and include some of my favorite modern drinks. You will find the full commentary for each theme and links to the winning recipes and those that received an honorable mention.
Halloween: Skeleton Key
Published: October 20, 2012
It was a short and sweet contest, but each of the entries for this month’s Halloween cocktail contest are winners in my view. As contests go, however, we have to choose one winner and for this round I have chosen Travis Fourmont’s rather bold Skeleton Key recipe.
In the cocktail, Fourmont builds a highball of Corner Creek Bourbon, St. Germain, and lemon juice, tops it off with ginger beer and a overtly healthy dose of Angostura bitters. I call this drink bold because those first three ingredients are nice and tame, gentle even, then the ginger beer pops it up a notch with that snappy spice only found in this ingredient. However, it is that bloody mess on the top that brings this drink over the top. He adds 8 full dashes of the renowned bitters and the sit on top of the drink like a bloody, gory mess, dripping down into the sweet and spicy brew. It is one of those drinks that logically wouldn’t work because we are so used to 1-2 dashes of bitters, but once you get a taste of it all logic is thrown out. I think it is the bourbon and ginger beer base that make this work as well as it does.
Apparently, I am not the only one who likes this drink. Formount tells us in his submission that this is one of the hottest drinks at Michael Symon’s Roast in Detroit. He’s the head bartender there, so if you are in the neighborhood have him mix this up for you. Congratulations, Travis!
Granted, there were three entries in this short-run contest, so choosing the finalists was a breeze. That does not mean that the other two drinks are any less impressive.
The KMKCreatives submission of the Poison Punch has monster bash written all over it. This smoky cauldron of a cocktail is too much fun and if you are thinking punch bowl for your party, this would be a great candidate. It’s a mix of red wine, amaretto, peach and green apple schnapps, blackberry brandy and a variety of complimentary fruits and soda. The key to this drink’s presentation is nothing less than dry ice and they included sound advice for safely serving any drink with the fog-inducing ingredient.
The other drink comes from Medusa and is called Swamp Water. I enjoy that she shared this Wisconsin favorite because it is a glass full of fruity fun with an eerie look. The green drink uses Midori, peach schnapps, and lemon-lime soda with sunken black raspberry liqueur. You wouldn’t think that a drink that looks like that tastes good, but it does. In fact, it tastes great and I recommend everyone mix up some Swamp Water this season.
Mocktails: The Great Gazoo
Published: October 6, 2012
The Great Gazoo remains one of my favorite Flintstones characters and now we have a drink to enjoy that bears the same name (and yes, I do still watch the cartoon). The drink is the winning recipe for our mocktail contest and comes to us from Belgian mixologist and bar manager at Knokke, Jan Van Ongevalle.
I like this drink for multiple reasons, the most poignant being that it neither looks nor tastes like it is lacking anything. It has an impressive mix of flavors that, if you were to serve it without mentioning its lack of alcohol, the drinker may not realize it at first. It is also one of those great mocktails that makes the drinker feel like they are apart of the cocktail scene. This was part of Van Ongevalle’s reasoning for creating it and he explains it rather well in his original submission.
The advocacy for mature non-alcoholic drinks and its tribute to one of the world’s greatest cartoons aside, I think you will really enjoy The Great Gazoo. It is a mix of muddled kiwi, cloudy apple juice, lime juice, egg white, and bitters. The real treat, the ingredient that sold me on the drink is a special simple flavored with star anise, cinnamon, and Sarawak peppercorns. It is delightfully spicy and mixing it with the two main fruits of the drink makes it surprisingly versatile for any season or occasion. The drink has many other positives going for it including its delicate green color and soft froth from the egg.
Thank you, Jan for the drink and keep up the great work!
As always, I have to give mention to the runner’s up in the contest. The fruitier drink by Katrina Adams is called the Pretty Peach Mocktail and it’s a fun mix of peach sherbert and nectar with pineapple juice and ginger ale (my preference) or lemon-lime soda.
The other notable drink is the Mock Michigan Maple Blossom from Adam Roberts. As the name implies, this one includes maple syrup mixed with apple and lemon juices and topped with Vernors Ginger Ale. Both of these are extremely simple and delicious and you could drink either all day long without becoming bored.
Vodka: Goose in Spring
Published: July 3, 2012
Back in May we took submissions for one of the easiest cocktail contests to date and today I have the official announcement. I only say easy because vodka’s neutral base gives way to literally endless possibilities in cocktails, though for our part, making this decision was the toughest yet. None the less, we have a winner and it is Elijah Venanzi who created the drink Goose in Spring.
The cocktail was inspired by Venanzi’s gardening mother and he – quite appropriately – submitted the recipe on Mother’s Day. The touching tale can be read in his submission, and it evoked the same feeling in each of the panel with Chris Milligan calling it “simple and elevated” and Lance Mayhew commenting that it “literally tasted like the inspiration.” It is a lovely drink, made of lavender-infused Grey Goose, two modest raspberries, a touch of elderflower, and a splash of lemon. Simple, inspirational, and freshness at its best, this cocktail will turn the coldest heart into a mushy mess.
Venanzi is a 2008 culinary school grad and recently “dove head first into bartending and mixology and I love it.” The California native was head bartender at 606 R&D in Brooklyn and has worked at Toucan and the Lion in the East Village. He and his girlfriend are currently leaving the city behind and headed to Hawaii.
My congratulations to Elijah and sincere gratitude for sharing such a beauty.
With all of that said, I want to thank everyone who shared their vodka recipes. It was fun exploring the variety and hearing your stories. There are two more that deserve a bit of attention as they made it into the finals.
The first of those was a bit of a challenge for us to taste precisely given one difficult to obtain ingredient. This recipe is Michael Stringer’s Smoked Clover cocktail and the ingredient is Chase Oak Smoked Vodka, which is available in the U.K. For various reasons we did not have the time to acquire that particular vodka, though crafty Chris Milligan was able to smoke vodka (check out his techniques on Santa Fe Barman, and he does add that a PolyScience Smoking Gun is great for smoking in front of guests) and give it a simulated taste. The flavor was different and provocative, though without knowing the profile of the commercial brand and the vodka flavor being so open to interpretation we could not fully endorse the cocktail. However, I do highly recommend that those interested in an advanced mixology check out Stringer’s recipe as his use of rosewater foam, rhubarb, and raspberry along with the smoked vodka is inspirational and impressive.
The third drink to talk about today is the Citrus Martini with Capers submitted by Kathleen Clark. It is a take on a Dirty Martini, so close in fact that if you like one you will undoubtedly like the other. She uses Smirnoff Citrus, dry vermouth, and Sauvignon Blanc with a dozen capers to create this slightly sweetened, intriguingly salty-citrus taste. It is interesting, though not going to be to everyone’s taste and it is recommended that you experiment with different brands of vermouth and wine to find a winning combination – it is a touchy cocktail.
Gin: The 5/25
Published: January 10, 2012
I say this all the time because I believe it: sometimes the best things in life are the simplest. The winner of the Gin Cocktail Contest we ran before the holidays proves that perfectly. The honors for the winning recipe goes to Greg Easter for his drink called The 5/25.
When I say simple I in no way mean boring. If that had been the case I would not be writing about this 3-ingredient drink. No, what seems on screen to be an average gin cocktail is an explosion of tastes when it is mixed up and the ingredient that is key to making this happen is Easter’s Moroccan citrus syrup. This is a mix of citrus and cardamom, an ingredient that makes a regular appearance in Moroccan cuisine, and when this is mixed with Beefeater and fresh lime, the drink comes to life. The 5/25 is a shining example of the happy marriage of gin and citrus and certainly worth a taste.
Interestingly, I learned from Easter yesterday that his latest article in the Los Angeles Times (to which he regularly contributes) is about Bathtub Gin. It is a nice read and includes a recipe for those who are inclined to give the Prohibition-era endeavor a try as he includes his recipe.
Back to the contest… This was a great one and everything I expected from a gin theme. I want to thank everyone who participated for sharing your recipes. There is not a single one that was not enjoyable. However, I did have two other favorites which warrant mention.
One is the Spikenard by Blair Frodelius who took top honors in the previous November’s cinnamon challenge with the Admiral Perry. The Spikenard utilizes my favorite flavor, lavender, in two forms, a syrup and Dry Soda in a fizz-style drink.
The other gin finalist was Stew Ellington’s Yazuka, which is a fascinating mix of flavors that combines gin, sake, absinthe, maraschino, and Swedish bitters. Now, that’s some flavor for you.
Infusions: The Marriage of Figaro
Published: October 29, 2011
A little over a month ago I took in the final submissions for the Infused Spirits Cocktail Contest. I knew that getting the results would take some time given the nature of infusions and today I am thrilled to announce the winning cocktail. It is The Marriage of Figaro by Judy Bronson who writes the fun blog Cocktations.
What made this drink stand out from the rest? Complexity, creativity, and richness in balance. The drink begins with fig-infused Four Roses Bourbon and she prescribes not just any old fig, but a combination of Turkish and Mission figs and this combination with FR’s yellow label is stunning. This is a bourbon you can take into a multitude of other whiskey cocktails, especially those bare bones classics like a Brown University or Ward Eight. There is a lot of potential in this whiskey infusion.
When we add the other two ingredients in Bronson’s recipe the drink becomes even more interesting. One is the always useful St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram and the other is Cardamaro. The latter is a unique amaro (bitter liqueur) with notes of cardoon and blessed thistle that add an exotic quality unfound in similar spirits and it works really well in this drink, consider it essential.
Absinthe: La Dame Blasee
Published: September 19, 2011
I want to say that last month’s cocktail contest has been one of my favorites to date. There were some fantastic absinthe cocktails submitted and I thank every one for participating (check out the entries here). As contests go, we have to have a drink that takes the top honor and for this round it goes to Mixologist Nick Tether of MixSensations who shared La Dame Blasée.
La Dame Blasée (or The Jaded Lady) is the epitome of great absinthe cocktails and the panel of Mayhew, Milligan, and myself were unanimous on its value. When it comes to absinthe drinks it is important to find balance and flavors that compliment the anise without loosing the taste of any of the ingredients. In La Dame Blasée, Tether found this balance by using La Fee Absinthe with Sauvignon Blanc and Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka. Add in a little parsley and lemon simple syrup and a touch of mint bitters and a cocktail star is born. Unique? Yes. Tasty? Yes. There’s more, though.
In Tether’s design of this drink he includes an aromatic back of sorts to create a complete sensory experience. Before you make the drink, you will prepare a small tea-like mixture of the cocktail’s botanicals then right before serving you would pour this concentrate over dry ice and a mint leaf. This little foggy bowl is meant to open your nose to an enhanced fragrance of what is in the drink before you. It’s a nifty little trick and I can see these fog-filled bowls laid out at a dinner service, especially as we hit the Halloween season.
Once again, I must acknowledge the runner’s up in the contest. As I said, all entries were impressive, these two just a touch above the rest.
First was Justen Lenig’s Le Fee en ete, which is a delightful mix of Bombay, St. Germain, Mansithe, and a lovely kumquat fennel shrub that has potential in other drinks – I just have to find them.
Next up was Anne Bourg’s Van Gogh’s Roommate and she had me a hibiscus and pineapple – yum! With those two flavors (via syrup, vodka, and juice) she mixed Sorciere blue absinthe – admittedly difficult to obtain – and Chambord, and a muddle of pineapple and sugar in homage to the absinthe ritual.
Grapefruit: It's About That Time
Published: July 26, 2011
The announcement of the day, which I’m very excited to pass along, is that we have reached a decision in the Grapefruit Cocktail Contest. It took a bit to narrow down to three finalists and to the ultimate champion because there were so many great recipes submitted for this one – I am, in fact, impressed that a simple ingredient like grapefruit could be taken to such levels of creativity by every one and thank you! – and the name of the drink seems fitting after the duration of the deliberation. It’s About That Time is the cocktail and Andrew Pollard is the creative soul behind it.
It’s About That Time is a complex cocktail, but as I say in the recipe, don’t let the little things overwhelm you because it can easily be broken down to a simple understanding and is worth every second you spend building this beauty. I do not, however, discount the consensus that this is not a quick drink to make and is more likely useful for occasions where you really want to impress guests. From what I gather, both Mayhew and Milligan had to try this one more than once, just to make sure it was that good.
Before you skip over to the recipe, here’s the low down on what it entails… Gin, Campari, Spiced Grapefruit Sour, Mint, Tonic, and Atomized Caramelized Grapefruit Bitters. You may ask first about those bitters, right? Essentially, Pollard pours bitters in a atomizer and sprays them over the drink with a lit brulee torch in hand. Crafty!
Thank you Andrew for sharing this wonderful drink and congratulations! I’m sure I will be referencing It’s About That Time often.
We had a lot to work with when all the submissions came in and it’s important to point out the other two fabulous grapefruit cocktails that went into the final judging…
First off we have the Cheater Five by Andy Forstel. This is a mix of the always fascinating Broker’s Gin, Cocchi Americano, Strega, St. Germain, ruby red grapefruit, and bitters. Milligan comments that it is one of those “simple drinks that become greater than their parts” while Mayhew wonders if it really needs the Strega. I agree with both, the drink is enjoyable as written, but if you don’t have one of the liqueurs there’s no need to fret, just make the rest of the drink.
Then there is Pretty in Paloma by Tobin Shea. Who doesn’t love a great Paloma, right? In this recipe Shea has amplified the great tequila cocktail and it celebrates the marriage of tequila and grapefruit in a splendid way. The addition of elderflower is a happy little surprise that adds to the earthiness so there’s a balance of vegatal and citrus flavors.
Spring: La Primavera
Published: May 17, 2011
Today I’m excited to announce that we have a winning recipe for the spring cocktail contest. The drink that won us over was (appropriately named) La Primavera and it’s creators is Humberto Marques, a mixologist currently working in Copenhagen at 1105 Cocktail Bar after a stint at Oloroso in Edinburgh and partner in Mix Sensations.Marques first contacted me a few years ago, shortly after I started writing here, and has shared recipes with me before. One of my favorites is the Eucalyptus Martini and I can see similarities in that and his La Primavera. This is the aspect I enjoy most about his drinks, they are creative uses of exotic ingredients – though not always “exotic” per se, but not the average cocktail ingredient – and he understands flavors (read his contributions: Herbs & Spices in Mixology and Fruit Flavor Combinations) to an extent that many people would be jealous of.
La Primavera impressed the panel and fit my intentions of finding a drink that evoked the feeling of spring to a T. The mix begins with Geranium Gin and Lillet Blanc with a touch of lime – a classically modern potion – and then the key ingredient is Korean aloe vera honey tea.
As I write this, I’m surrounded by my forest of aloe plants which I’m growing for future experiments with aloe juice and gels and I believe this honey tea will now have to be added to that list because it is a challenge to find. After a search I located it at a local international market, which made me very happy because a quick online search produces almost nothing. Chris Milligan had similar problems in Santa Fe when he was reviewing the finalists, but says it was the “Unique flavor and wonderful flavor done with simplicity” that made La Primavera stand out. It is because of the carefully planned flavor pairing Marques used and which you can read in the recipe he originally submitted. And so, Congratulations, Humberto!
As always, I have to give credit to the other two finalists who took on the challenge of making myself, Milligan, and Lance Mayhew think of springtime, budding trees, warm temps, and all that comes with the season.
First up, the Robin’s Nest by Emily Evans. This one is also a flavor delight, combining ginger, cucumber, lime and another interesting gin, in this case Hendrick’s. If you have an infatuation with ginger as I do then you will fall in love with this drink which uses both Domaine de Canton and pickled ginger.
Then, there is the Waldorf Remixed by Frederik Myhr. Though the name eludes to a variation of the Waldorf Cocktail, it is actually a Waldorf Salad (from the same Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) in a glass. It combines basil, celery, apple, and grapes with a vodka base and it is a delight.
Hot: Torrii Toddy
Published: March 2, 2011
Today I have the joy of announcing the winning drink from January’s hot cocktail contest. That drink that caught my eye out at this collection of submissions is Kevin Diedrich’s Torii Toddy. I want to extend my congratulations to him, and I hope everyone else enjoys this hot cocktail, too.
There are many variations of the hot toddy because it is a great formula that allows for almost endless experimentation. In this particular toddy, Diedrich shows off his years of experience behind the bar and the ability to creatively combine interesting flavors. Yellow Chartreuse, Yamazaki whiskey and chrysanthemum tea are the featured players in this drink and if you combine quite well. Intriguing, soothing, warming, the Torii toddy has it all. So cheers and thank you to Kevin for sharing this wonderful warm drink with us.
As always I have to mention two of my other favorite submissions from this contest and both of them are from two of our contest regulars.
First off, there is H. Joseph Ehrmann’s Kentucky Pilgrim which begins with a cardamom-infused Wild Turkey Bourbon with maraschino liqueur and can be served either hot or cold.
Then, there is Blair Frodelius’ Commonwealth Cocktail. Another toddy of sorts, this one uses Rittenhouse Rye, Benedictine and grapefruit bitters and is yet another intriguing combination.