Hands-down, New Orleans is the cocktail epicenter in steamy, sweltering July, when Tales of the Cocktail takes over the town for five days of education, parties, gin-soaked dinners, and sampling rooms at the Hotel Monteleone. Trends for 2017 were on parade, from lower ABV cocktails, martinis with more than a hint of vermouth, port in cocktails, apertivos such as Campari and Aperol (among others) combined with sparkling wine or soda, tiki drinks, beverages with healthful elements, and “guilty pleasure” drinks of the '70s and '80s taking hold in new iterations.
Earlier in the year, however, same city, Catersource hosted its first annual cocktail competition, sponsored by Libbey and Fresh Origins, and proved yet again that when it comes to cutting edge, caterers definitely know where it’s at.
Four caterer-bartenders took the stage with yours truly as emcee, creating three cocktails for a team of judges. Our competitors included:
Mark Baldwin, Blue Ridge Catering, Roanoke, VA
Jeffrey Selden, Marcia Selden Catering & Event Planning, Stamford, CT
Roger D. Reynolds, Audubon Nature Institute, New Orleans, LA
Dan Smith Chavira, 451 Events, Denver, CO
Beverages were judged on taste, presentation, creativity, and originality—with recipes provided for the audience. Competition categories were as follows, with a goal of developing a “mini” bar program that would work well in a catered environment:
ROUND ONE: RUM
Tick Tock—it’s TIKI!
With a nod to native of New Orleans and father of the Tiki drink, Don the Beachcomber, our contestant bartenders will attempt to dazzle the judges with their best tiki libation. Is it Nordic tiki? Caribbean tiki? Good ‘ol NOLA tiki? So many options! Bonus points for best garnish. Libbey glass: Tiki (clear)
ROUND TWO: VODKA
Hello bartenders. It’s me, Vodka. I pay the bills.
Gin might be on the rise and bourbon might be the tall, dark, and handsome of the spirit world, but vodka accounts for over 32% of liquor sales. In this freeform competition, bartenders will be tasked with creating a signature drink that speaks to a wide variety of imbibers. Libbey glass: Lowball (Modernist collection) or coupette (Spiegelau 4508008 Perfect serve 8 oz)
ROUND THREE: BOURBON
I like my kitchen neat…just like my bourbon.
Well, we won’t go that simple in this final round, but will be looking at the spirit-forward goodness of an unpretentious but exquisitely crafted bourbon cocktail. Libbey glass: Lowball (Modernist collection) or coupette (Spiegelau 4508008 Perfect serve 8 oz)
The winner of the competition (ultimately, Dan Smith Chavira) took home a beautiful trophy, a $500 check, and bragging rights.
Let’s take a look at some of the cocktails (and recipes!) provided by our team of contestants.