Getting your buzz on is like fashion: make sure it goes with the season.
Last week, DIG Magazine held the second annual Holiday Cocktail Contest, a bartender competition designed to see which bar could produce the best drink for the winter season. There were three winners: one for the judges’ choice, one for the people’s choice, and an overall winner. And while only three bartenders were able to take home the hardware, the patrons were the real winners. Because a ticket to the event meant samples of every submitted cocktail, and those in attendance had their fill of samples of the most creative works of Baton Rouge’s mixologists.
The judges, including Masterchef Season 6 participant Jesse Romero, George Krause of Greater Baton Rouge Bartenders Guild and Lawrence Steele of the Republic National Distributing Company, chose Benjamin Phillips of Galatoire’s as their champion. His drink was The Gingerbread Man, made of spiced rum, cinnamon syrup, clove syrup, lemon juice, grand marnier and orange bitters. It’s not a totally surprising result, given Romero’s straightforward, educated philosophy on the subject.
“I tended bar for four years, and have been lucky enough to travel and taste a wide variety of cocktails. I have much respect for mixologists who take their job seriously,” he said. “Most of my favorite restaurants have great bartenders that are able to create cocktails that pair nicely with a meal.”
Given how well the Gingerbread Man would pair with more savory dishes, the choice was clear.
The winner of the people’s choice was LSU senior Ronnie Arant of Restaurant IPO with his drink, the IPO Cinnamint Milk Punch.
“[The drink is] basically a bourbon milk punch but instead of the bourbon we use Kahlua, and actually just kahlua and simple syrup with crushed peppermints in the shaker; that’s pretty much the drink with a peppermint garnish on the rim,” said Arant.
While each submission was a spectacle of creative mixology, the overall winner was James Conway of City Pork with his entrant, the Everything Nice. Made of spiced grenadine, fresh satsuma juice, white creme de cacao, Absolut and 3 pom berries, this sweet and spicy concoction won the hearts of both the judges and the people alike. City Pork’s blossoming bartending work is clearly making waves in the Baton Rouge community, and this superior drink is a prime example of their overall creativity.
“It feels great to win,” said Conway. “This drink was a little challenging for me because I learned about the competition close to the deadline for submission. I really wanted to pull influence from seasonal, local flavors, but also hit those holiday notes. It seems almost everyone knows someone who has a satsuma tree this time of year. In fact I pulled the ones I used for the competition from the tree myself that morning. So it’s great to see that hard work appreciated.”
Making cocktails, especially those catered to a particular season, is both an art and a science. It takes a master of precision to ensure every drink comes out identical to the last, memorizing hundreds of recipes and stories, working quickly, efficiently, and with the care of a craftsman is a scientific endeavor. Yet, competitions like this are vital to highlighting the artistic talent that the Baton Rouge bar scene is so carefully nurturing. We’ve commented frequently on just how much potential this city has for craft drinks and that potential finally seems to be flourishing. Bartending competitions aren’t a typical endeavor, but with a city as willing to accept them as this, it’s no surprise that the spotlight has been shined on these people.
“I think cocktail competitions are a good way to bring more attention to the cocktail scene,” said Conway. “We have some great bars here, and it’s fun to see all the creativity that everyone puts into their drinks. Also, it’s a unique opportunity for cocktail enthusiasts to be able to sample such a wide array.”
There were only three winners of the competition itself, but seeing as the bigger result of the contest was the creation of over 20 new cocktails that the residents of BR can now enjoy, it seems to population of the city was the biggest winner of all.