Nine Vegas bartenders and mixologists gathered last Thursday at Smokin' Hot Aces for an event that has become a highly, if not feverishly, anticipated annual tradition.
Competitions were held almost simultaneously in Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Austin, New Orleans, Miami, Washington DC, Boston, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Denver last week to name the 13 teams of two that will go on to compete in the sixth annual 42 Below Cocktail World Cup US finals in New York on March 7. The top three bartenders will comprise the team that represents the US in a week-long competition in 42 Below's homeland of New Zealand as they go up against talented bartenders from around the world in the most extreme cocktail competition known to man.
Imagine bungee-jumping or zipping through the water on a speed boat while shaking a cocktail! President of the United States Bartenders Guild's Nevada chapter Gaston Martinez, vice president Anthony Alba and beverage executive Eddie Perales have been among the lucky few to make it all the way to New Zealand.
"I can speak from experience and say this was one of the most memorable events I've had the pleasure of being a part of," said Martinez in an email to the chapter members, encouraging them to get their entries in for the Vegas round of competition. "It was a life-changing experience ... The opportunity to be around mixologists of great talent ... from all over is prize alone, not to mention how beautiful of a country New Zealand is."
"In no other competition around the world are you going to bungee-jump, then free-pour into test tubes, jet boat at high speeds through narrow canyons and then have a mystery box of ingredients to create a brilliant cocktail on the fly!" said Denver-based bartender Jared Boller of his 2009 experience. The US team brought home the silver in last year's competition, the UK team took the gold with the Ale of Two Cities, a cocktail inspired by the classic English pint.
This year's theme of "Love, Drinks, and Rock 'N' Roll" informed the creativity and spirit put forth by the nine Vegas hopefuls. The judges — USBG representative Francesco Lafranconi, Simon Sous Chef Jamaal Taherzadeh (standing in for Kerry Simon) and myself — sat directly in front of the contestants as they vied for our attention and sought to impress us with their otherworldly creations. Since there were really no rules except that the cocktail must include 42 Below vodka or the flavors Manuka honey, kiwi and passion fruit, cocktails ranged from simple to the complex and outrageous. All were delicious.
Keeping an incredible 2009-2010 winning streak going, Noir bartender/mixologist Andrew Pollard pulled out all the stops (not to mention some fresh orchids) and took first place. On the Rocks contestant and Wynn bartender Darby Kelly took a very close second, so he and Pollard are invited to the US finals in New York. In third place, and acting as first alternate should Kelly or Pollard be unable to attend, is mixologist-bartender Emilio Tiburcio of Palazzo's Fusion Bar.
Pollard's winning cocktail brought to the table all that is warm and wonderful about a tropical beach vacation in the South Pacific with the cooked flavors of roasted coconut juice and brown sugar, the acid of lime, the depth and complexity of bitters and Thai basil, and the exotic fruitiness of the fruit-flavored vodkas and tropical juices. "The purpose of this cocktail was to create a well-rounded tropical cocktail without over-sweetening. When creating a cocktail you always need to think about flavors that complement and contrast to add different dimensions of flavor."
Pollard thought to snap the above shot of his cocktail just before presenting it to the judges for sniffing and sipping. Always generous, he also coughed up the recipe so you can mix along with him in support of Vegas' bid to make the US team in New Zealand. Cheers!
Thai One On
By Andrew Pollard, bartender/mixologist, Noir Bar
1.5 oz. 42 Below Passion Fruit Vodka
.5 oz. Grand Marnier
2 oz. roasted coconut juice
2 oz. pineapple-guava juice
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
.5 oz. homemade ginger syrup (recipe below)
6 Thai basil leaves
1 bar spoon brown sugar
Dash Angostura Bitters
In a mixing glass combine juices, sugar and ginger syrup. With the basil leaf laying flat in your hand over the mixing glass, proceed with an aggressive clap to release the oils. Alternately, gently bruise with a flat muddler. Add bitters, alcohol, and shake vigorously. Double-strain over fresh ice into a cocktail glass and garnish with a Thai basil leaf and a purple orchid.
Homemade ginger syrup recipe:
Press whole ginger through a power-juicer. Bring one cup of water to boil and stir in one cup of superfine sugar until dissolved. Add one cup of the ginger juice and steep on low heat for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool. Double-strain into a jar and refrigerate. Yields 1.5 cups of syrup.