June 28th was the third round of Columbus Chopped Mixology, hosted by Mozaik. (Here are the Week One and Week Two roundups) I was once again a judge, and had a great time. If you don’t think that judging a contest like this is hard, however, you are wrong.
It’s a hard knock life, sitting there at a table while bartenders bring you cocktail after cocktail to try….
No seriously, it’s hard work!
I can tell.
Clearly, your fellow judge here is weary from all the drudgery….
She was going that extra mile in getting a clarification on his technique!
And shut up.
The first round secret ingredients this week were Espolon Tequila Blanco, seedless watermelons, World Market Blood Orange Soda, and Tropical Punch Kool-Aid! That last ingredient confirmed to me that the organizer, Brandon Bowsher, has an evil streak.
For Michael Valentino, of Hyde Park’s Eleven, the pink powder was the source of both a great idea, and his downfall. His drink, Sunset at Eleven was a tequila punch. His cool idea was to rim half the cocktail glass with salt, and the other half in a sugar/Kool-Aid mixture. It was an innovative idea, and it looked great when he first did it. But he finished too soon, and the rimming dissolved before he could present it to us. Also, he just used too much of the Kool-Aid in the drink itself to let much of the tequila flavor come through. When you have never competed under clock pressure before, knowing how much time you have is hard. I think if Michael had realized how for ahead of things he was, he’d have realized he had more time to get the balance right. Regardless, I’m shamelessly stealing the yin-yang rimming idea.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most innovative and successful presentations of the entire contest so far. Adam Winham, of Brewsky’s Sports Bar, presented us with a flight of shots, instead of a single cocktail. Not only was it a ballsy, out of the box move, but he nailed it. Each of the three shots was good, and one was really good.
Round two featured a secret ingredient basket that contained the sponsor’s SKYY Vodka, Campari, fresh ginger root, and a bottle of mango pureé. With Campari and ginger, that’s two ingredients that have great character, but can go from awesome to too much in a very narrow range. For me, that’s what got Mozaik’s own Eric Barhorst in trouble. His Ginger, Spice, ‘n Everything Nice had the most complex flavors of the bunch, but the pungency was just a little too in your face. In talking to Eric before the contest, he told me that he has a weakness for hot or spicy cocktails, so I can see where he was going.
The final round pitted the aforementioned Adam against Jordan Conkey of Smith and Wollensky. Based on thumbnail resumés, these are not the two a cocktail snob would have expected to be in the finals. Adam works at a popular beer and shot sports bar, while Jordon has been bartending for barely a year. Neither had ever been in anything like this competition.
Resumés mean nothing!
As the last round progressed, the judges discussed what it was about both these guys that makes them good. Both have a great skill set. Their drinks were both very consistent in appearance and amount from glass to glass, which is harder in these circumstances than you think. Also, both are very good with their knives. There were a few garnishes by Adam and Jordan last night that Rick Stutz would’ve been proud of. Both also have great flavor instincts. All three drinks by each (well, five for Adam) were balanced and pleasant. Finally, both guys used those skills in a creative fashion throughout the contest.
The final mystery basket contained Wild Turkey Rare Breed, rhubarb raspberry jam, and Trader Tiki’s Cinnamon Syrup (from some damn crazed blogger in Portland). One of the best things about this week is that we got two utterly different drinks to judge.
Adam offered us his Just Desserts, which was a chocolate, whipped cream confection. It was sweet, and pretty, and the stuffed strawberry garnish rocked. (Is it fair to have a garnish, a plate of which might have won all on its own?) We all liked it, but it wobbled a bit in the way a lot of the sweet round drinks have throughout the contest: You lost track of the featured spirit.
Jordan served us his Redneck Holiday, an Old-Fashioned/Mint Julep hybrid. It was gorgeous to look at, meticulously constructed, and tasted wonderful. Lots of sweet drinks taste good, but it’s damn hard to make them also feel “clean” on the palate. The Redneck Holiday managed that difficult feat. It was refreshing as well as tasty, and they took mine away before I was finished!
And so we conversed. The challenge in judging the last round is that we are to judge the entire, three-drink “cocktail menu” the contestants have created. We took longer than we should have, but in the end we had to lift away a bucket and declare Adam to be chopped.
Jordan moves on to the finals on July 12th.