The Columbus Iron Bartender competition, 2011 edition, was last Sunday night, at the Park Street Saloon. This year’s Iron Bartenders were last year’s winner, Cris Dehlavi of M at Miranova, Chris Dillman (of the late, much lamented Details), representing the just reopened Jury Room, Zak Colburn of Bodega, and Catherine Morel of DeepWood.
This year’s event was a good time again, and promoters Reed Woogerd and Hans Maggard in fact delivered on thier promise of a better competition. The change in venue to Park Street Saloon was a net positive. While the western decor isn’t really the ideal fit for a classic cocktail competition, the physical layout of the place made for a much improved experience for the audience. The long, barbell-shaped bar made it easy for people to get a good view of the Iron Bartenders at work. They also mounted a high camera to pump video of them at work to the numerous TVs all around the bar. (Allegedly, this was my idea.) The stage, which let people see the band, also gave us an opportunity of see the contestants while they explained their offerings to emcee Monica Day. The sound system was also an improvement, but there is only so much you can do with bartenders who won’t speak up! (Seriously guys, you make yourself heard over the din every night you work. Would it kill you to use those pipes to let us hear what you did?) As a final note about the venue, the judges sat in one of three, what I’m guessing are, innovative, western-style bottle service areas. They are large booths, with swinging doors, and in addition to a table for bottles and prep stuff, not one but two beer taps!
As the competition began, the bar was very well-appointed with exotic ingredients, from fruits and veggies, including pineapples, kumquats, cucumbers, and a whole horseradish, to spices, herbs, and bitters. The botanical selection was so complete, I speculated with the guys from Middle West Spirits that Reed was going to require the contestants to make their own gin and serve a basic Martini. Fortunately, this was not the actual case. The secret ingredient was… Peppers. Lots of peppers, from bell to hot, fresh and dried.
The only real problem with the night came right after the start, when all four contestants ran as one back to the kitchen, I’m guessing to make syrups. Once they got back to the bar, folks crowded around to have fun watching them work. The video camera really helped this process when the crowd got thick.
The first runner up was Cris from M. She is a good friend of ours, and I was sorry to see her, and her spicy tequila and blood orange concoction which she called Truth Serum, not win. It was a gorgeous and very tasty drink. In retrospect, however, I think it might be better for the Columbus bar scene, and Cris herself for that matter, that she doesn’t win every damn single bartending contest she enters….
The 2011 Iron Bartender is Chris Dillman, representing the Jury Room. I’m not usually a chocolate drink afiicianado, but his concoction of Godiva, dark rum, hot pepper syrup, and cinnamon, rimmed with a beautifully balanced mix of cinnamon, fresh grated pepper, and sugar was a real winner. This little molé-like concoction had a sweet burn that kept all its very different parts in line nicely. I will say that Chris probably benefited from one of the judges being Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. If something very like Chris’s offering doesn’t show up as an ice cream from Jeni real soon, I’ll eat my hat.
Zak and Catherine both produced good offerings as well, but my notes on their work are less… coherent than I’d like. Go visit them at work and ask for a sober run down of what they gave us. The whole evening was a lot of fun, and I look forward to Reed and Hans doing it again next year.