Let the games begin
On Sunday night, the dapper dons and divas of the local drink mixing scene converged on Icehouse to watch the competition for the coveted North Star Bartender's Guild (NSBG) Iron Bartender title. The first round featured some ruthless concocting, a bevy of secret ingredients, and a few surprises.
The competitors hailed from Sea Change , Parlour , La Belle Vie , Zzest Cafe in Rochester, Amore Victoria , Marin , Eat Street Social , and Heidi's . The event was hosted by Bittercube Bitters owner Nick Kosevich, who acted as more than emcee. He was part-comedian, part-librarian ("Hey! SHHHHH! Quiet down"), and all around benevolent bartending overlord. As the second round's secret ingredient was revealed -- Angostura bitters -- Kosevich deadpanned to Saffron 's barman and NSBG member Rob Jones, "You're dead to me."
I sat on the judging panel along with Jeff Rogers, a well-known bartender who now works with Southern Wine and Spirits, and Michael Rietmulder of Vita.MN and the Star Tribune. DJ Ben Quam (also a professional drink mixer) kept the good times coming, spinning everything from DMX to MC Hammer.
The first round's secret ingredients were apples, apple cider, and apple cider vinegar. Shawn Jones (former Hot Dish contributor
) of Parlour whipped out a magic bullet and pulverized the fruit. Both teams served drinks using apple cider, but it was hard to beat the sizzling hot Parlour made with Paddy's Irish whiskey. Parlour took home the win for this round.
The second bracket paired last year's winner from La Belle Vie against the lesser known Zzest Cafe, the only out-of-town competitor. To the untrained eye, this might have seemed a pairing of David and Goliath proportions, except that Zzest's barman, Josh, is a veteran competitor with an ambitious cocktail repertoire. Whipping up his drinks, he pulled out what looked to be a bong, but turned out to be a smoker. His drink was a campfire-scented take on a classic Manhattan. Unfortunately for him, La Belle Vie dominated this round, creating a delicate little number that was not only the perfect vehicle for the secret ingredient, Angostura bitters, but possibly the most perfectly balanced drink of the evening.
Marin on stage in a bid to out pour Amore Victoria
Amore Victoria going head to head with Marin was another intriguing combination. Marin, best known for its California cuisine, offers one of the best drinking nooks in the cities. The judges waxed poetic about the cozy library setting at its basement bar as the battle raged on. Amore Victoria is better known for Italian comfort foods than its stellar bar program, but one day that ought to change. Both teams killed it with the secret ingredient of coffee, but Amore Victoria was victorious. Avoiding the Godiva truffle post-dinner drink that coffee often inspires, Amore Victoria opted instead for a snifter of warm, whiskey-spiked coffee with a radiant cinnamon-spice that exorcised the bone-deep chill from the late night's drizzling rain. They would be wise to add this cocktail to the winter menu and call it Better than Cableknit. That is a beverage to wrap yourself around for every one of the cold, dark months approaching.
And the password is... coffee
The final round brought together possibly the best-dressed crews of the evening, with Jordan Stielow of Heidi's sporting the reddest red corduroy suit ever sewn and Nikola Govich of ESS rocking an Ernie sweater as only he could. The final ingredient of the evening was Ames farm honey. The serious shakers of Eat Street Social brought the win home with a flip that mastered a creamy mouth feel, a light honey coating, and a beautiful boozy presence.
Throughout the evening, spectators took part in various raffles for bottles of booze, gift certificates to Borough, and other goodies, with all of the proceeds benefiting Public Functionary.
Want to get in on the action? The Iron Bartender competition will be held every Sunday night through the month of October until the grand winner is announced. Entry to Icehouse is free, and the showdown begins at 8 p.m.
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