Cocktail competitions are a balance of talent and timing. Most contests require that participants tell stories behind the drinks they’re creating while staying within a set time frame, usually 5-7 minutes. Going over the limit deducts points from your final score.
Add in nerves, trembling fingers, and bungling story elements in the moment, and cocktail competitions aren’t as simple as whipping together a favorite drink.
So it was for the four bartenders who faced off in the NYC regionals for the 2015 Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. Myself and a dozen other booze journalists attended the competition last week, held at Seamstress.
“Now I can batch 20 of these twice as fast when my hands aren’t shaking!” joked Spencer Warren (pictured in feature photo), after his performance concluded. And that’s coming from a seasoned mixologist, who recently won the Grand Masters Bartender Challenge by Grand Marnier USA, and the Tales of the Cocktail National Daiquiri Cocktail Competition. It’s tough getting up there before the judges, I imagine.
While the Angostura regional demonstrated the pressures of performing, it also showcased what’s possible from this level of bartender talent. Each of the eight drinks contained Angostura bitters and rum, but represented a wide array of styles and flavors.
Made by Maggie Meskey, The Ango Lassi (recipe below, a take on Mango Lassi) was light and fruity, with a pronounced bitters taste, and spiciness throughout, especially in the finish. Rum for the Money, by Warren, had a smooth body, a pleasantly bitter taste, and effectively highlighted the flavor of the Angostura rum.
A personal favorite of the day was The Diablesse, by Megan Arts. The cocktail featured a smooth, gentle heat throughout, which simmered in the long finish. Arts also told an engaging story about how The Diablesse and her second cocktail, the Koko-Ti, contrasted in flavor and theme.
Unfortunately, this detailed narration took her beyond the 7-minute max, costing her points and perhaps a chance at the win.
The day’s champion was Aaron Butler. His cocktail Julia’s Conundrum (named for a server with boy problems) was the sweetest of the day, and among the tastier. Butler now moves onto the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge U.S. Finals at Tales of the Cocktail, where a winner will advance to the global finals at a location still undetermined.
What is certain, however, is that these next two rounds of competition will see more nerves and stress, and more bartenders rising to meet the challenge of their talented competition.
NYC Regionals Recipes
.25 oz Angostura Aromatic Bitters
1 oz Angostura 7 Yr. Rum
1.5 oz Drambuie
0.5 oz Galliano
Garnish: Mint sprig and rolled orange peel
2.5 oz Angostura 7 year
1.25 oz Mango purée
1 oz Bols Yogurt
1.25 oz Fresh sour mix dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Garnish: spice blend of cayenne/cumin/curry
2 oz Angostura 1919 Rum
0.25 oz Angostura Aromatic Bitters
0.75 oz Blue Curacao
0.75 oz Lemon Juice
0.5 oz Cinnamon Syrup
1 oz Mango Puree
Garnish: Cherry, orange wheel & mint sprig
Rum for the Money
1 oz Angostura 5yr Rum
1 oz Angostura 7yr Rum
1 oz Grand Marnier
5 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
5 dashes Angostura Orange bitters
Garnish: Orange Twist
5 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
0.5 oz Amaro di Angostura
0.5 oz Cocoa nib-rested Sombra Mezcal
4 drops sea salt solution
1.5 oz Angostura 7 Yr. Rum
0.5 oz Coconut/demerara sugar syrup
Garnish: Flamed lemon strip
7 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
0.5 oz Punt E Mes Sweet Vermouth
0.5 oz Simple Syrup (2:1)
1.5 oz Cocoa nib-rested Angostura 1919 Rum
2 oz Filtered unsweetened coconut water, chilled.
3 oz Hibiscus tea, chilled.
Garnish: Candied hibiscus flower
1.5 oz Benedictine
1 oz Kappa Pisco
0.75oz Fresh Lemon Juice
0.25 oz Angostura Bitter
Garnish: Lime peel
The Long Night
2.25 oz Angostura 1919 Rum
1 oz Yellow Chartreuse
0.5 oz Zucca Amaro
0.5 oz Lime Juice
10 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
Ermete I Quercioli Reggiano Lambrusco
Garnish: Mint Sprig