Rule of thumb: If asked to sit on the judging panel of a cocktail competition, don't hesitate to accept the invitation. This blogger recently had the honor of helping spirits scholars Camper English and Aaron Smith (owner, 15 Romolo) judge the 42Below Cocktail World Cup regional finals. Our task was to pick two cocktail-slinging competitors from a field of 10 hopefuls. Those two will then compete in the national finals in New York City, and from there three winners will compete as Team U.S.A. in a week-long competition in New Zealand (envision a far boozier Olympic Village).
All contestants for the S.F. regionals had to incorporate one of the myriad 42Below vodkas in their cocktail entry, along with other spirits and homespun additions. One theme throughout the night was the use of honey-flavored vodka, which offered a bee sting of sweetness while preserving the dryness of the finished drinks. Recipes highlighted the DIY tendencies of S.F.'s bartending scene, with ingredients such as homemade lavender-ginger reduction, toasted coconut-infused sherry, and cocoa-nib turbinado syrup.
Since I'm a fan of beer cocktails, it was exciting to see beer used in two entries. Kevin Diedrich of the Burritt Room employed Young's Double Chocolate Stout for his Nocturnal Night Cap. The beer bolstered the crème de cacao and molé bitters, which lent a rich, smoky chocolate presence to the coconut milk and 42Below kiwi vodka base.
Chase Osthimer of 15 Romolo cautioned us to fear the beer in a cocktail of the same name. He employed Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA to top a concoction of honey vodka, Calvados, honey syrup, and a quick rinse of Laphroaig 10-year Scotch. The creativity of Osthimer's summer sipper was admirable, since hops, honey, and peaty Scotch make for interesting playmates.
Two cocktails garnered the most favor with the judges: Michael Callahan's complex, high-concept Fugutini, and Dominic Venegas' accessible, honey-rich Mi Ruca (both recipes below).
Training for the next Cocktail Cup competition begins now. Here' are two starting points for glory:
Michael Callahan (Azul)
.75 oz 42Below honey vodka
.5 oz Ume-shu plum wine
.25 oz Mathilde Poire pear liqueur
.5 oz lemon juice
Lace rim with dehydrated and shaved pickled ginger mixed with black Hawaiian sea salt.
Dominic Venegas (83 Proof)
2 ozs 42Below honey vodka
.25 oz Benedictine
.25 oz toasted orgeat
.5 oz pineapple juice
.5 oz Meyer lemon juice
Shake, strain, and dust with cinnamon bark.