The GOP consolation prize: Palin's Christmas Punch -- drink up!
Thanks to Imbibe Magazine and Martin Miller's Gin (particularly Siobhan Crosby of the former and Janet Wampler / Emma Davis of the latter), in New York City I was able to check out some of the best and most creative cocktails out there . . . at the Martin Miller's Gin Masters Competition, with the best bartenders from the U.S. and the U.K. having a drink-making deathmatch at the appropriately named venue Death & Company in the East Village, facing off in 1) making the most creative cocktails, 2) doing the best job of making a classic gin cocktail and 3) making the most drinkable gin & tonics in the allotted time.
The event was very fun, but my friend and I definitely felt like fishes out of water since all the other attendees are professional bartenders, spirits aficionados or somehow connected to the cocktail/bar scene -- whereas we're amateur enthusiasts who just like good drinks a lot. But as time wore on and everyone got more "social" we did loosen up a little had some great chats with others (not to mention getting some wonderful recs on where to eat and drink around the Big Apple -- coming up in another post).
As for the competition itself, between the loud cheering and taunting and the free-flowing gin drinks, not to mention numerous samplings of the assorted creations, we lost track of who made which cocktail and what went in them. Character-wise, I think Team U.K. (with the hilarious Ben Reed as self-appointed captain) won hands down -- they were funny, they had great anecdotes about their drinks and knew how to engage the audiences (with everything from a boat-racing drinking contraption to pseudo-bribing with autographed books and branded memorabilia). Team U.S. made equally whimsical and great-tasting drinks too, but their more serious and quiet attitude when prepping the beverages didn't seem to work as well with a room full of rowdy, inebriated folks.
Of the highlights we *did* remember...
~ The London Cup (being passed around for sampling in picture above) made by Gilles Looker, a refreshing variation of the Pimms Cup made with Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength, Campari, Cointreau, orange jiuce, grapefuit and garnished with mint, strawberries and cucumber. A very well balanced, not-too-sweet, beautiful drink perfect for summertime!
~ Ben Reed's Reedo's Gin Jizz made with pineapple (which he proclaimed to have invented and became a running joke for the rest of the afternoon), cinnamon tea infused MM Westbourne gin, citrus and *ahem* a white, creamy, gloppy mixer. THe drink, a hybrid of Ramos Gin Fizz and pina colada, was actually pretty good even with "Reed's Love Juice" reminds, it's thick texture and fruity-tangy taste reminds me of yogurt smoothie (liquored up, of course).
~ From Team U.S., Milk & Honey's bartender Sam Ross and his Palin Christmas Punch with his housemade pine liqueur, MM Westbourne gin, date syrup, champagne, absinthe and garnished with pine sprig and date, plus punch-bowl version with basically a miniature pine tree!
~ The delicious bar bites offered by up the Death & Company, including tempura-fried cauliflower florets, salmon sliders and truffle oiled mac 'n cheese.
~ And of course, the delightful company who were great to talk to, vastly more knowledgeable than we were in the spirits realm and yet didn't mind explaining to us (repeatedly) everything drinkable.
For a more thorough report of the competition, check out the entry from Meaghan of the Spirit Me Away blog.
In the end, despite the Brit's personality points -- Sam Ross was declared the winner! Again, the diligent Meaghan got the lowdown on his infamous recipe (I'm sure the VP candidate will have plenty of time to chug this down now...) but everyone definitely gave a genuinely good effort, and we are personally amazed by the passion and enthusiasm that the bartenders, judges and the others have for crafting, tasting and analyzing cocktails. Thankfully, one of the contestant is from L.A. (Vincenzo Marianella, who bartended for Providence and consulted for the cocktail menu in the upcoming Drago Centro in downtown) so there's at least one place I can go around here to rekindle a little fond memories.