As mentioned in my previous post, my prize for winning the Live TDN at Portland Cocktail Week was a slot in the semi-finals of the PDX Cocktail Invitational. I had watched the finals of the 2009 competition live-streamed, and already knew many of the bartenders competing this year, so I knew it was a great event to be a part of.
But I also knew the rules included bringing all your own equipment, and guess who had come down to Portland with no tools, not expecting to be in a competition at all? Yours truly. So when I found out at 9 pm on Friday night that I would be competing sometime the next day, a mad scramble began.
First was getting samples of the products I had to choose from to feature in my cocktail. I learned from Dänny Ronen that my cocktail needed to feature at least one of the three products from the Fair Trade Spirits Company. My choices were the FAIR. Vodka, Goji, and Café. Dänny helpfully brought over samples of each, and lent me some of his bartools so I could start experimenting with ideas.
While I enjoyed the Goji and Café liqueurs, I decided to focus on the Vodka.1 This product is made from 100% fair-trade sourced quinoa.2 It manages to keep hints of the nutty flavor of its base product, with a rich mouthfeel.
Given my short prep time, I decided to go simple in my final cocktail, and chose to do a riff on the perfect martini. I would be competing against bartenders who knew what they would be working with for more than a few hours, and would have more complex signature cocktails, likely including homemade ingredients. I decided that for my first live cocktail competition I would focus on featuring the product as well as I could, and, frankly, not embarrassing myself. This was my first chance to play with the big boys, after all!
The next big step was to gather additional ingredients in sufficient quantities. A big thanks to John the Bastard, who drove me to Pearl Specialty Market, where I was able to choose from several dry and sweet vermouths. Also thanks to Trader Tiki, who gave me his bottle of Urban Moonshine citrus bitters when I made a desperate call out.
Then it was back to my hotel room to make sure my idea would work. I decided to use Cocchi Americano, first because it’s an excellent product, and second, because I thought the cinchona flavor would help create a theme for my variation; as with quinoa, cinchona is a native South American ingredient. I also chose to go with Vya sweet vermouth, as I really enjoy its overall flavor profile and how well it mixes.
I have to say, I was very happy with the result. I felt the Urban Moonshine citrus bitters were aromatic enough to preclude the need for an additional garnish.
2 oz FAIR. quinoa vodka
0.25 oz Cocchi Americano
0.25 oz sweet vermouth (Vya)
2 dashes citrus bitters (Urban Moonshine)
Stir over ice until as cold as an Andean glacier, strain into a cocktail glass.
I decided to name this drink after one of my favorite archaeological sites in Peru, Pisaq, located in the Urubamba valley.
Now having created the drink, I had to compete! I was pretty nervous, especially when I arrived at the Great American Distillers Festival, and realized I would be making drinks on a stage overlooking the whole event! Everybody with the Oregon Bartenders Guild was very reassuring, however, and before I knew it, I was up there, stirring and straining, and even talking reasonably amiably with the various attendees passing by for tastes.
Then I was told it was time for judging. I had to make a full size drink for each of my judges. Naturally, I didn’t have my own glassware, so the OBG provided me with wineglasses. I was amused to discover one of my judges would be David Pickerell, former master distiller at Maker’s Mark and mentor to Woodinville Whiskey.3 The judges were very friendly and put me at as much ease as I could possibly manage.
And then they were gone. I mixed a few more drinks for tasting, and then my 45 minute shift was over. I had competed in my first real cocktail competition, and hadn’t embarrassed myself, at least not that anyone would tell me.
Congratulations to the winners of the finals, Ali Tahsini (first), Tommy Klus (second), Art Tierce (third) and Trevor Easter (fourth). Thanks to the OBG and GADF for letting me participate. It was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to next years festivities.
1 I know! Whoda thunk it!
2 Yes, wurmouroboros, you were right, it’s not a true grain
3 It was no doubt bad form, but I had to ask him if it would it help my chances that I used his Headlong White Dog in the cocktail that got me into the competition. He laughed.