Last night, I had the privilege of attending the first-ever Chicago Iron Bartender Competition. The event was held at Le Passage, which is undergoing a very exciting transformation right now (more on that later).
I knew it was going to be a great experience when I walked up to the bar and found myself standing next to Dale DeGroff, King Cocktail himself. And he was handing me a drink, after he had just confirmed with the bartenders that the recipe was as he intended (he had developed it for the event). It was great, of course - rum, fresh kiwi, coconut syrup and a splash of coconut milk.
The Main Event
Twelve finalists battled it out and created an amazing array of cocktails, but only one could be crowned Chicago's first Iron Bartender. We have some amazing bartenders in the Chicago area, and this was a great opportunity to see them all in action, all in one place. With Dale and Tony Abou-Ganim on hand to emcee, I knew I was in a room full of some of the best mixologists in the U.S.
Each competitor had a few minutes to scout out the available ingredients before the event began. The bar was stocked with a variety of fruits, juices, spices and other potential ingredients. However, none of the competitors was able to make the recipe submitted to the contest initially - everyone was missing at least one critical ingredient. Instead, they were forced to modify their recipe or make an entirely new drink on the fly.
Here are some photos of each of the three heats:
In Round One, the competition was fierce, with our good friend Tim of Spring Restaurant Group challenging John from MK, Angie of Ultimate Elixirs, and Wilber of Bice.
The competitors in Round Two included Peter from Sepia, Radostin from the Doubletree Oak Brook, Debbi from The Drawing Room at Le Passage, and Tony from Jilly's Naperville.
Round Three featured Charles from Three Headed Productions, James from Otom Restaurant, Adam of Nacional 27 and Enrique from Martini Park.
Each successive round was more tense than the prior one, and all twelve drinks were very impressive. They covered the entire range of the cocktail spectrum, from the very light to the very rich, from the aperitif to dessert in a glass.
So who won?
It was tough night for the judging panel, which included Bridget Albert, Francesco Lafranconi and Simon Ford from Absolut/Plymouth Gin. In fact, we even had one tie during the rounds. After the initial rounds, Charles, Peter and John advanced to the final round.
One more round of drinks later (where all three chose to make another new drink rather than repeating their earlier creation), Peter V. of Sepia was crowned Chicago's Iron Bartender. Congratulations to Peter, and to all of the competitors - it was a fantastic event, and a whole lot of fun to watch.