Chartreuse Sweet Sixteen Cocktail Competition
Recently I participated in a amazing cocktail competition set-up in the style of the NCAA Mens Basketball tournament sponsored by the venerable and much loved Chartreuse. The field consisted of sixteen LA bartenders going head to head bracket style, whittling the opposition down to the elite eight, the final four, and ultimately the championship. The Doheny in downtown LA provided a perfect backdrop for this cocktail throwdown. Here are a couple links to check out for some photos and more coverage.
What I loved about this competition in relation to most other cocktail competitions was indeed the format. All we had to bring in preparation was ourselves and a few ideas regarding the best way to use Chartreuse in cocktails. After we had all arrived and were treated to shots of green Chartreuse for breakfast, we were then informed as to what would be available for us to use for our cocktails. The fine folks at Doheny opened up their resources and allowed us to use (within reason) a wide array of mise en place and booze. Marcos Tello, who helped put the competition together along with Carbino Cattani of Cattani imports, even brought a cornucopia of fresh market goods, with everything from fresh thyme to multi-colored peppers. For the Top Chef fans out there, the competition took the form of multiple quickfire challenges, only with this competition the judging was blind.
One of the great things that became prevalent early on was the overwhelming sense of camaraderie. Sure we were all competing, but we were also learning from each other. It was great to see some of the tricks my cohorts had up their sleeves. My first round competitor was Vincenzo Marianella of Copa d’Oro. A draw that I wasn’t very happy to see as he is credited as being one of the bartenders that sparked the beginning of LA’s cocktail renaissance. Needless to say, a hoss. Earlier, once we had been informed of the available ingredients , I started writing down some notes and ideas for cocktails to compete with. I wanted all of my recipes to have been written that day as I wanted to challenge myself as much as possible. What fun would it be to have brought in recipes that you had used a thousand times? Another strategy at play here was what cocktail idea to use first. I felt all of my ideas were good, but since four cocktails would have to be created to ultimately win I took the stance of coming out guns a blazing knowing that each round you had a chance of being eliminated. Vincenzo and I squared off and I came out the victor with what turned out to be the only cocktail that day featuring rum. Here’s the recipe.
Combine all ingredients to shaker tin and first dry shake without ice. Next add ice and shake well again. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with 3-4 healthy drops of Peychaud bitters swirled onto the surface of the cocktail.
I was number 15 for the day.
Next round I faced Joel Black, another Copa d’Oro bartender and as of this writing, the new GM of the Doheny. Once again after fighting the good fight and enduring the barrage of Chartreuse shots all while trying to bang out a cocktail, I won my round. Through all the mayhem I forgot to take a picture. Conversely, this cocktail happened to be my favorite of the day. I wanted to use Yellow Chartreuse as the base spirit and it really came out delicious. Here’s the recipe.
1.5oz Yellow Chartreuse
.5oz fresh lime juice
.5oz ginger agave syrup (I believe the house formula was 3:2 fresh ginger juice/agave nectar)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 good size chunks of cucumber
Start by muddling cucumber, thyme, and ginger agave syrup. Next, add lime juice and Yellow Chartreuse. Shake with small amount of ice and double strain into ice filled collins glass. Top with soda and garnish with a cucumber slice threaded with a thyme sprig.
Now that I had made it to the final four, my next competitor was good friend and Varnish co-worker Matty Eggleston. Matty ended up being the Syracuse to my Texas in the 2003 NCAA Men’s Tourney. For those who don’t know what that means; I lost. I will say this, making it to the final four was pretty sweet. Especially considering the field that day. Having made it to the final four, Chartreuse was kind enough to bestow upon us their Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse (Diffusion). This is a powerfully potent little potion (142 proof) and is evidently illegal to import into the states. I’ve been waiting for the right time to fully experiment with the stuff. More on that later. Here is my losing recipe. The cocktail was delicious…and so was Matty’s. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the other recipes.
1oz Famous Grouse scotch
.75oz Yellow Chartreuse
.5oz fresh lemon juice
3/8oz honey syrup (1:1 honey/water ratio)
3/8oz ginger agave syrup
Combine all ingredients in shaker and really shake it hard. Strain into ice filled double old fashioned glass and float a quarter ounce of Green Chartreuse over the top. Finish by garnishing with a swath of lemon peel and spraying its oils on the surface.
At the end of the day it was Matty Eggleston and Matt Biancanello going head to head for the championship with Biancanello taking home the trophy. All in all this was one of my favorite competitions to have been a part of and a format that I hope to see more frequently. The blind judging, show us whatcha got, pay the winner in cash money attitude was a treat and everybody involved (even spectators) had a blast being there. Congrats to Matt Biancanello of the Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel for winning the $500 bucks and both the oak aged Yellow and Green VEP Chartreuse bottles. You can also check out Matt Biancanello’s new blog Ultimate Cocktails. Meanwhile I’m going to go hit him up for some of that Yellow VEP.