Guests were asked to try 12 cocktails (3 from each category, based on Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray No. TEN gin, Bulleit bourbon and Ron Zacapa Rum) and vote for their favourite in each category via a clever passport (with voting slips) provided on entry.
We'll focus on the Bourbon cocktails (for obvious reasons), but to quickly cover a few standouts in the other categories:
- Rob Libecans' "The Fly & The Loaf" Martini (Black Pearl, Melbourne) - Ketel One vodka, Lillet blanc, Liquor 43 vanilla liquor and reposado tequila. Served with carbonated grapes (which had to be tasted to be believed), this was not your usual Martini.
- Andrew Bennett's "The Tanqueray Toffee Apple" (The Classroom, Perth) - Tanqueray No. TEN, apple cider reduction, grapefruit marmalade served with a toffee apple. Sweet and candy-like, exactly as the name implies.
- Christian Blair's "Finca la Perla Zacapacino" (Eau de Vie, Sydney) - Ron Zacapa 23, coffee liquer, maple and chocolate bitters topped with aerated banana and toasted rice-infused tres leches sauce. We're big fans of Zacapa, but even we had no idea it was so versatile. An incredible cocktail.
Being a Whisk(e)y blog though, we (my wife and I) took particular note of the Bulleit cocktails - which were equal parts Americana, childhood memories and twisted classics.
First up (and our favourite) - Jessica Arnott of Gardels Bar's "1965 - An American Cocktail", which definitely wins the award for the best presentation. Created in the style of a Happy Meal, this wasn't just a cocktail, but a whole tray of goodies - including smoked peanut brittle, "Elvis" cake, and a toy (we got toy cars). The cocktail itself was made with Bulleit (duh), pumpkin-pie infused spirit, smoked maple syrup and chocolate bitters. Every bit a "Gardels' Bar" drink, if you've ever been. About as Rock-n-Roll as they come.
Next was Chris Hysted of Black Pearl's "The To-Go Drink" (sidenote - if you get the chance to try Chris' "Grounds for Divorce", do so. Talisker and Porter, with walnut liqeur and creme de cacao - magic.) Chris explained that the famous "Flip" class of cocktails was the partial inspiration for this, coupled with his experiences in New Orleans where cocktails could be taken on the trip home, "to go". Bulleit, spiced apple, vermouth and almond, this was a tasty number, made all the more fun by the fact that any onlookers would simply think you're drinking a takeaway espresso! Full marks for ingenuity.
Lastly was Tim Laferla of Mechanic's Institute's "A Diplomatic Resolution" - a heady number with Bulleit, cranberries, spice and "whiskey barrel smoke", pumped over the cocktails with a smoking gun (something I hope to have of my own soon!) I love a smokey cocktail, and an unexpectedly smokey cocktail even more so, so this was a winner in our books.
After guests had tried all 12 cocktails, the night ended with the lucky door prizes (in which yours truly won the above bottle of Zacapa!) and the announcement of the winners, namely:
- Ketel One: Luke Ashton (The Roosevelt, Sydney)
- Tanqueray No. TEN: Krystal Hart (Canvas, Brisbane)
- Bulleit: Jessica Arnott (Gardels Bar, Sydney); and
- Ron Zacapa 23: Christian Blair (Eau de Vie, Sydney).
All up, a fantastic night, and we can't wait for Round 2 in 2013!