This year's Hendrick's Gin Contest Crawl on June 30 was a busy, elegant, and delicious night on the town. Assembled by the local Ben Arnold Beverage Co., four judges and a small entourage of gin aficionados hit eight downtown bars over the course of five hours, sampling, evaluating, and debating the characteristics and nuances of concoctions devised by some of the most creative bartenders in town.
Hendrick's is a small batch, hand-crafted gin distilled in Ayrshire, Scotland. Light in body, crisp, and complex, it's infused a mash of cucumber, creating a unusually subtle flavor and aroma. It's a versatile spirit that blends well with variety of ingredients.
The crawl kicked off at 6 p.m. at Club Habana and twisted from Husk to the Speakeasy, High Cotton, and Social Wine Bar in the Market area. It concluded along Upper King Street at Fish, the Cocktail Club, and the Belmont. The team of judges included award-winning British mixologist Charlotte Voisey (the portfolio ambassador for William Grant & Sons USA, importer of Hendrick's), Jim Ryan (also of William Grant & Sons USA), sommelier Patrick Emerson (wine and beverage director of Maverick Southern Kitchens), and yours truly. Voisey dressed in a full ballroom gown, while Ryan and Emerson got into the Fourth of July spirit a little early with full colonial military uniforms.
Participating bartenders were expected to compose an original recipe using Hendrick's, mix and serve the drink for the judges, and recite an original limerick about the drink as they served it (click the audio file on this page for a compilation of all eight ditties).
The judges considered the entire bar and drink experience at each stop — from the bartender's serving style and the atmosphere of the bar to the specific details of each drink, including the name, appearance, aroma, ingredients, flavor, texture, balance, finish and overall drinkability. Most of the drinks scored very well.
Last year, Rue de Jean's Michael Moore won first place with a rich peach/thyme martini called "On Georgia Thyme." This year, High Cotton's Luca Barwick served a fruity, bright-green "Honeydew Sling," made with fresh cucumber, Bénédictine, honeydew melon, and lemon. Runners-up included Club Habana's Kili Wein, who offered a flowery cocktail called "Mother's Tea" (accented with fresh local lavender and chamomile), and Speakeasy's Jonathan Calo, who served an herbal "Oh, Doo-Dah Day" martini (made with Galliano, Fernet, heavy simple syrup, basil, and cinnamon — and named for the Stephen Foster song).
Voisey announced the winners at the crowded Belmont around 11:45 p.m. Barwick received a Hendricks bar bag, a trophy, and a William Grant & Sons home bar, which includes 12 bottles of liquor from the supplier William Grant & Sons. Second place received eight bottles, and third received six bottles. Visit hendricksgin.com for more.