Hendrick's and the Ben Arnold Beverage Company teamed up on July 12 to present the Hendrick's Gin Contest Crawl, a judged contest between eight bartenders at eight fancy downtown venues. The panel of judges included British mixologist Charlotte Voisey, the portfolio ambassador for William Grant & Sons USA (the importer of Hendrick's), award-winning bartender and knowledgeable spiritist Luca Barwick (last year's Hendrick's Gin Contest Crawl champion from High Cotton), and myself. Each bartender had to devise an original cocktail recipe using Hendrick's and any other ingredients they like. They had to mix the drinks in front of the judges and serve them while reciting an original limerick about the concoction. The judges scored them on the name of the drink, availability, aroma, presentation, flavor, balance, and drinkability.
Clad in 1920s-era suits, hats, wigs, and dresses, the judges, an entourage from Ben Arnold, and a dozen guest pub crawlers kicked things off at Coast around 6 p.m. Bartender John Aquino served a light, fruity, ginger-accented cocktail called "The Refresher Course," which featured fresh watermelon, mint, ginger beer, and vanilla-pepper syrup. Down East Bay Street, Gin Joint bartender and co-owner Joe Raya put some muscle into "The Drunken Botanist," an herbal, floral, cocktail made with heavily muddled shiso leaves (a Japanese culinary herb), lime juice, lemon oleo-saccharum, and yellow chartreuse. Social's Christian Broder's light and delicate "Grazin' in the Grass" aimed for a slightly savory mix of gin, pepper, and fresh celery flavors with a subtle hint of horseradish. Across the street at the Speakeasy, mixologist Jon Calo surprised the judges with citrusy gin/beer floats made in pint glasses with local microbrewery Westbrook's spicy White Thai ale, house-made lavender bitters, agave nectar, and lemon-lime-cucumber sorbet.
For the last four stops, the crawl headed up King Street and landed at the newly opened Proof, where Craig Nelson mixed Lillet Rose, fresh lime, agave nectar, bitters, and fresh rose petals into a flowery cocktail in a martini glass called "The Scottish Rose." Across the street at a very packed Halls Chophouse, bartender Hugh Kimbel hustled to mix a sweet, cucumber-based, lime-accented concoction called "The Hefner." Things were a little more laid back at the Macintosh where Jackson Holland carefully mixed the sweet and flowery "Antebellum Vellum" with Rhuby (a rhubarb flavored liquor), green chartreuse, lemon, bitters. The crawl concluded upstairs at the Cocktail Club where head bartender Jasmine Beck mixed the "Summer Snow Drift" with pear brandy, muddled cantaloupe, chipotle, and lemon bitters. She poured it over an herb-infused ice cube and topped it with a glug of champagne.
The Gin Joint's Joe Raya won the top spot with his complex and balanced cocktail, receiving a Hendrick's scale trophy, 13 bottles of William Grant & Sons products, and a recipe book. The Speakeasy's took second place, followed by Social's Christian Broder in third. Coast's John Aquino snagged the Best Limerick of the night. Check out hendricksgin.com for more.