A recent competition was held in San Francisco introducing a brand spanking new product from Spring 44 Distillery (Loveland, Colorado)
They’ve released an apéritif called Fortify. A bitter liqueur that has a depth that exceeds many others in the category. This ruby liqueur has tart cherry and bitter citrus on the front palate. Clove, ginger, faint oak and burnt orange zest come out in the middle. The finish is dry with distinct wild flower honey notes.
I was given the task of executing this competition and launch at the bar I manage, Blackbird. When I started to organize and reach out to bartenders to compete I essentially chose a handful of my favorite people around town and hoped they would be interested in this competition – with a product they’d never heard of and never tasted. I’ve never organized anything like this so I was hoping to get people interested and inspired to make something different. To help people see how this might be different from other competitions, I left them with a tidbit of inspiration and hoped they would see my vision as well. In their invite I left a link to the Artesian Bar in London, voted Worlds Best Bar 4 years running. They’re known for over the top conceptual cocktails. I don’t know if any of the people I invited to compete looked at this link but the 5 submissions I chose were above and beyond the others in their level of imagination and out of the norm approach to the creation of the cocktail.
The rule: Use 1 ounce of Fortify and get as weird as possible.
One interesting similarity across all 5 submissions was the culinary approach they took. They almost all read like the type of cocktail a pastry chef would imagine. Rich decadent and desert-like approaches. All with themes that ranged from cherry pie à la mode to dim sum. The competitors ranged from bar owner to multi program beverage director to bar man and woman.
I’m not sure if conceptual cocktails are missing from the programs here in San Francisco or that all bartenders at heart have a huge respect for the culinary world around us. Maybe some of us yearn to create imaginative elaborate creations that need more tools than a jigger and spoon. These 5 people took their submissions exactly where I wanted them to.
Now for the hard part, who made the best creation? A real quick rundown of the 5 submissions:
Fortify – Gin – Sherry – Grapefruit – Pistachio Meringue – Peppercorn – served in a caramelized grapefruit shell.
All of these cocktails share a few things. Dessert-like sensibilities and some type of emulsifier like cream or egg. All wildly different in flavor, execution and presentation. Three judges tasted all cocktails, listened to and watched the competitors create and explain their drinks.
In the end it was Nora Furst who created the winning cocktail. The most simple in make up, the most elegant in presentation and the most imaginative across the board.
I’m proud of everyone who submitted creations to this competition. Something I wish I could encourage more bartenders everywhere is to do, is to just go for it. These competitions can be intimidating but every time you compete you learn a little bit. Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t let the suspenders, mustaches and fancy bar tools intimidate you. That’s what they want. If you want to do your thing, then do it. It’s not about how many cocktails you know, it’s not about the bar you work at or the friends you have in the industry. We need more movers/shakers to move this industry forward. Let’s start our own trends and push our own envelopes. Keep the people in your scene in mind and celebrate what every bartender, bar and brand are doing (within reason)
Oeuf of the Woods, by Nora Furst
1 oz Fortify ¾ oz St George Terroir Gin ½ oz lime juice ¼ oz Ginger syrup ½ oz egg white dry shake/wet shake Double strain into prepared egg-shell
Garnish with Turmeric/Passion Fruit Jelly*
6 oz Passionfruit purée 2 oz Tumeric Tincture 2 oz Quebranta Pisco 2 oz sugar 5 packets gelatin
Bloom gelatin in 8 oz Water mixed with Turmeric Tincture Dissolve sugar in passionfruit purée Combine all ingredients Pour mixture into molds, Refrigerate one hour to set