Tuesday night four of the Twin Cities' most creative bartenders came together to compete in the GQ/Bombay Sapphire "Most Inspired Bartender" contest. The winner is sent to Las Vegas and represents Minnesota against bartenders from all around the U.S.. Each bartender developed a cocktail using Bombay Sapphire gin and presented it to two of the most qualified judges Minnesota could offer: Johnny Michaels and Nick Kosevich. If you're new to town, or just turned 21, Johnny Michaels heads the bar at La Belle Vie and has lent his creativity to many local drink lists (Masu Sushi and Robata most recently), and Nick Kosevich is one half of Bittercube, a hand-crafted bitters company (the other half is Ira Koplowitz formally of Chicago's Violet Hour) Nick has also had a hand in shaping many cocktail lists both locally and in Wisconsin.
Richy Rivera (of Eli's), Gina Kent (of Bradstreet Craftshouse), Rob Jones (of Meritage) and Chad Larson (of Barrio ) were each set up with a station on the rooftop of the Epic nightclub downtown. Pip Hanson was the fifth finalist but was unable to compete, as his new spot went live this week (more on that later). Each contender made samples of their cocktail for all to try, and the judges made their way around to each one.
Richy's drink, the Sapphire Island Storm, was multidimensional, with tamarind, vanilla, and ginger mixed with the herbal qualities of Yellow Chartreuse. A little muddled cilantro gave it a pleasant kick, and it was topped off with some sparkling wine, giving it some body and a crisp finish.
Rob Jones' Another Castle was a delicious summer drink using Blonde Lillet (a French aperitif) dry vermouth, Mathilde Crème De Peach, and a healthy dose of orange bitters. Dangerously smooth and refreshing, his table was popular all night.
Gina Kent's creation, A Dragons Kiss, made with Aperol (an Italian bitter), egg whites, muddled Thai basil, and lime juice, was amazing. Egg whites give cocktails such an terrific mouth feel and a light, velvety texture. She also used a Thai chili tincture, which brought great complexity, she finished the drink with a little grated cinnamon and a basil leaf.
Chad Larson's Coliseum was a refreshing libation made using Yellow Chartreuse and Cocchi Americano. Cocchi Americano is a delicious aperitif that blended perfectly with the Chartreuse and Sapphire, creating a very well balanced cocktail.
After visiting each table the judges recessed to tally the scores. The cocktails were judged based on the following criteria: practicality, taste/aroma, and appearance. After some time they returned and named Chad Larson the winner. In September Chad will fly to Las Vegas and compete in an "Iron Bartender"-style contest with the winners from the other states. For the first time in the contest's history, the winner of the Vegas contest will be flown to London to compete with the best bartenders from around the world.
Both Judges described the contest as a very close call. "After the qualifying round we gave each contestant feedback on their drink," Kosevich says. "In the end those changes are what helped us determine the winner"