Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Illinois WCC Cocktail Competition Finals

Last month, I had the privilege of judging the Illinois finals for the World Cocktail Cup. I was a last-minute add to the judging panel, as one of the judges was not able to attend. On the plus side, I got to hang out with some fun folks and taste lots of cocktails and comment on them. There were many drinks that I liked, and a few that I loved. On the minus side, I didn't get to cheer on my friends who were competing and watch all the action.

I did my best to not hear who was competing, nor what they were using in the drinks - I wanted to judge the drinks solely on their own merits. Unfortunately, this was not always possible - the competition was taking place in the next room, and there was no divider. Plus, we had our fantastic host for the evening, Serafin Alvarado, talking on a microphone and giving the full play-by-play.

As taste judges, we evaluated drinks based on appearance, aroma, taste and overall impression. The taste score had the highest weight, but all elements were important. There were also technical judges assessing each competitors performance on a variety of technical measures, and the scores were combined to determine a winner.

Appearances First: Garnishes
There were lots of creative garnishes, and a few were a bit over-the-top. Some of the judges responded quite negatively to the larger or more unusual garnishes, while a few really loved them - it was interesting to see how divergent the views were on garnishes. Garnishes were sometimes quite intricate, others simple and elegant, and a few were a bit strange.

The Taste: Drinks
The category for the cocktails was aperitif, which means they should be a before-dinner drink, to stimulate the appetite, and made with no more than 3/4 of an ounce of sweeteners. Many of the drinks were great contenders for the category, only a few were too sweet, or too heavy, for a before dinner libation. The event was sponsored by Pernod Ricard, so their products were used for base spirits in all cocktails. Many competitors used gin, while some chose cognac or rye whiskey. I think there may have been a vodka drink or two in there, but as I said I was trying not to listen, so I'm not sure.

One of my favorites was the first whiskey drink we tasted, but because it was the first whiskey drink and no other brown spirit based drinks had been tasted, some on the panel felt it was too heavy. Of course, once we tasted some of the other whiskey drinks, that one wasn't heavy at all. Unfortunately, as judges we were not allowed to go back and revisit scores after seeing the full spectrum of drinks, so what was done was done.

Here are shots of the drinks that I managed to photograph:

Competitor no. 19, DJ Love from Le Bar at Sofitel, won the day with a beautiful, tasty drink. Congratulations to DJ, who is off to San Francisco next month to compete in the WCC nationals. In the meantime, I think you might be able to try his drink if you stop by Le Bar.

And I'm going to have to go and find out who made the other drinks I loved so I can order them again - all I got was a sip (so as to be able to judge 20 cocktails), and I want more!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Adventures at Bar DeVille and More Malört

A few weeks ago, we stopped in at Bar DeVille (701 N. Damen in Chicago) on a Sunday evening, and I am terribly delinquent in writing about it.

We'd heard about this new bar several times, and knew our friend Brad Bolt was running the show there, so we were happy to get a chance to check it out (finally). Brad and his comrades Eric and Jason were a blast to hang out with, and we tried a few fantastic drinks. We also had a fun discussion about Malört, something I've done a few times in recent weeks.

First Up: Bar DeVille Cocktail
I asked for whatever they felt like making, and Jason made this fantastic concoction for me. Here's the recipe:
1 1/2 oz Rittenhouse 100
1/2 oz Campari
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 egg white

Shake the ingredients together, without ice, thoroughly. Add ice, shake well and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Apply a few drops of Peychaud's bitters to the foam, and swirl them.

We also tried Brad's take on a Hemingway Daiquiri, which he called the Ernest Cocktail, also delicious. Far better than any of the so-called Hemingway Daiquiris we tried in Key West back in February.

Ernest Cocktail
2 oz Flor de Cana 7 year
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino
Half Dollar Slice of Lime
3 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Combine ingredients in a rocks glass, add ice and stir. Garnish with a big, fat grapefruit peel.

The Hard Sell and the Malört
As I wrote about awhile back, Malört is a Chicago thing. Funny enough, Brad mentioned that Mike Sula at the Chicago Reader was working on a story about Mal
ört, and asked several Chicago mixologists to develop recipes for it. Mike even had the owner of the Malört brand try them, and Brad's drink was the winner. Here's the recipe:

The Hard Sell
3/4 oz Gin
3/4 oz Jeppson's Malört
3/4 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake ingredients with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze a large swath of red grapefruit peel over the drink, to add the essential oils from the peel to the surface.

It's an interesting drink, balanced and complex, with those fresh but bitter grapefruit notes on top. Some of that Malört flavor (is that the right word?) comes through on the finish and lingers. It's always the finish with the Malört that gets ya, and stays with ya for a long while. Eric's apt description of Malört was that it "tastes like earwax... earwax and bug spray aged in a gymshoe."

I'm still not loving Malört, although I do find it quite entertaining to talk about lately. At any rate, thanks to Brad, Jason and Eric for a lot of laughs and some great cocktails! Check out Bar DeVille if you haven't already, it's a great addition to Chicago's cocktail scene.