At the fashionable Departure Lounge on the top floor of The Nines Hotel in downtown Portland last week, hundreds gathered at the behest of the Oregon Bartenders Guild to sample the wares of some of the sharpest bartenders in Portland. The bar and terrace were crammed to fashionable capacity with the vivacious and stylish crowd on a night when the Lounge was usually closed and dark.
What was the occasion? An invitation-only event by the Oregon Bartenders Guild and the national US Bartenders Guild in conjunction with Bombay Sapphire Gin to find the most inspired bartenders in the country. The Portland event was one of the last semi-finals to determine who goes to the main event in Las Vegas to select that single bartender.
The results of the bartender shoot out will be featured in GQ magazine in early 2012.
Nine bartenders gathered at Departure ready to make their individual inspired cocktails for the adoring crowd. Then they had to impress the judges that were tasked with deciding who would go to Vegas.
There were some tough choices for the judges! Some of the hottest talents in a talented town were ready with their best. And their best was uniformly pretty damned good. Inspiration comes in many ways, and that was what was on display Sunday evening.
Other than the commonality of using Bombay Sapphire Gin, the contenders showed the crowd what inspired directions were possible with their cocktails.
Art Tierce, from The Teardrop Lounge, stepped up with his “Oh My Bramble!” laced with plump Oregon blueberries, lemon, honey and Oregon Pinot Gris.
Adam Robinson, from the Bent Brick Tavern (and formerly at Park Kitchen) strutted his style with a cool, tall drink, “Driftin’ Along” (to evoke the slow drift of a boat during summer on the Willamette), with Bombay Sapphire, local Krogstad Aquavit, Dolin Vermouth, and Fever Tree Bitter Lemon, all muddled and garnished with….Bergamot Mint! As usual, Adam’s cocktail impressed everyone.
Alex Blair, from Bluehour/Hoyt23, mixed up his homage to the classic gin cocktail of yore, The Last Word, with his take, “The Other Word”, a delightful and heady mix of Bombay, Bulleit Rye, Luxardo Maraschino, Chartreuse Green, Regan’s Orange Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters, a touch of salt (!) and lemon peel. With all that alcohol, it was a heady drink; it was also tasty and lovely to look at..
Jordan Felix, our Aussie cousin (he’s a Melbourne lad) from Clyde Common, whipped up the “Triple Entendre”, a classically simple but hugely impressive mix of Bombay Sapphire, a startlingly good simple syrup made with local Oregonian Pinot Gris wine, and a dollop of Apricot Jam. This was a reminder that sometimes it’s not the number of ingredients that defines a great cocktail, but the simple balance of good ingredients that does it.
Dillon Turner, from Urban Farmer, decided to go exotic on us all with “Ceylon.” Taking a basic gimlet style cocktail, he dolled it up with Bombay Sapphire, fine crushed pink peppercorns and a touch of Orange Flower Water for the contrast of gin botanicals, spice, fruit and floral. It was a pretty little cocktail, too, with the flecks of pink peppercorns and a garnish of blueberries and orange peel.
Next, the shy and painfully introverted Jen Winklepleck (her friends and customers are laughing and snorting right now) announced her presence with a combination cocktail and dessert entry, the “Feelin’ Good Too.” She was, and the crowd was too, with this Uptown Billiards girl mixing up her elaborate and gorgeous mix of Bombay Sapphire, Pallini Limoncello, basil, lemon, and a dollop of sorbet made from the same—drink and dessert all in one out of a martini glass!
Ricky Gomez from The Teardrop Lounge dazzled with the “Montgomery Burns” cocktail, a lovely pink tall cocktail of muddled watermelon, lemon juice, jalapeno simple syrup, and small additions of Kubler Swiss Absinthe and—surprise!—Ardbeg 10 Islay Scotch. Topped with a garnish of a watermelon ball touched with Black Lava Flake Sea Salt, it was a tour de force.
Jeanette Adams-Napier from the XYZ Bar at the Loft Hotel PDX, mixed her intricate and fruity tall drink, “Into The Mystic” for the crowd’s enjoyment. This mystic mix of Bombay Sapphire was a crowd-pleaser with mingled pear, hibiscus, grapefruit, and fresh apple supported by gin and vermouth.
Yet another jalapeno-enhanced cocktail showed up from the creative and stylish Jeremy Stone, Heathman Hotel, and his “Bombay Sapphire Red Rick.” This florid red showcase of sweet/spicy/hot/herbal/bitter was an eyeful and a mouthful with the gin, a bold Jalapeno pepper flavor, lemon, and a complex sweet and tart Rhubarb Gastrique.
The judges struggled with the difficult decision of just who among this crew of super-talented bartenders would be the final choice as Portland’s cocktail ambassador for the final round as GQ’s most inspired bartender. But it had to come down to one, so it did. Since this article has already gone on too long though, that one will be announced shortly—in the next Portland Spirits Examiner article! Stay tuned.