disclosure, my idea of a quick cocktail is either a) cracking open a bottle of
beer, which is not a cocktail, or b) taking a shot, which is also not a
cocktail. Give me a little more time, maybe put on some relaxing, lounge-y
music, leave the room, and I can definitely whip something up for you. Maybe.
it's fair to say I would have been out of my depth behind the bar at Monday
night's American Idol/Iron Chef Cocktail Competition at The Hawthorne. And--because I know some of you
read that last sentence and thought, American Idol?-- no, the bartenders did
not need to sing while they slammed together artful combinations of spirits in
shakers, and the goateed Kevin Brauch, thankfully, was not there.
there was: a crowd of half craft
cocktail geek--half Boston University alumni and well-to-dos (this whole
shindig happened to double as a benefit for the BU School of Hospitality Administration), six
young bartenders who are kicking the industry's ass with their talent, and
Jackson Cannon, Mr. Cocktail himself and mastermind behind The Hawthorne.
>>VIEW: Photos of the competition<<
arrive, Cannon is darting around the room, settling the judges, checking the
bar, disappearing into the kitchen, shaking hands with guests. I ask him if
he's the Chairman in this whole set-up, or more of an Alton Brown, and he
laughs before he says, "Oh, both. I feel like I'm all of them at this moment,"
grins, then dashes off again to start the proceedings.
popped a mini grilled cheese into my mouth and squeezed in at the marble bar
with the most eager of the attendees. First up, the young guns of the city's
watering holes: Drink alum Bryn Tatten of backbar, Joe
Cammarata of Drink, and Seth Freidus of Eastern Standard. Their mystery
ingredient, revealed seconds before they sprung into action, wound up being
blueberries. Deceptively simple, I thought, as I watched handfuls of the
berries being muddled in front of me.
what seemed like 15 seconds, but was probably closer to five minutes, the
drinks were brought up to the judging panel (a self-described Simon, Paula and
Randy of mixology), comprised of one of the world's leading tenders of the bar,
Salvatore Calabrese, leading
hospitality man about town Robert Earl, and radio personality Lauren Beckham
Well, hot damn. These judges were
not the sort of fluffy, everybody wins judges I'm not ashamed to admit I was
expecting. The bartenders were thoughtfully called out on everything from choice of glass to
portion size, and after a quick deliberation, Tatten--who presented a variation
on a blueberry smash--was deemed the winner.
Next up, three slightly more
seasoned gentlemen, Sam Treadway of backbar, United States Bartender's Guild Boston chapter president Corey Bunnewith,
and Ryan Lotz of The Hawthorne, took their places. Cannon's voice boomed
over the sound system.
"The mystery ingredient...beer!"
Now we're talking.
At this point, I became a little
mesmerized by the movement behind the bar and glazed out for a second. These
three moved quicker, with a dash more confidence and swagger. And, I feel safe
saying this, I don't think anyone can say they don't love watching an
experienced bartender with a cocktail shaker. Amiright? I can't help but keep
my eyes glued to it, minorly terrified that they'll drop it, or send it flying
through the back bar.
Here's where I tuned back in, and
noticed a couple I had met minutes earlier beckoning me back to center bar. Treadway
had plunked down a tester in front of them for notes and left the drink for
them to finish.
>>VIEW: Photos from the competition<<
"Taste this," they told me, and pushed the glass into my hands. I
knew there was beer involved, but what I tasted was an explosion of cinnamon
and ginger, a hint of carbonation--that had to be the beer--and a deep, sexy,
smokiness. My jaw dropped.
That cocktail ended up winning,
although the judges had confessed all three drinks were spectacular. This meant
a backbar finale, pitting bar manager Treadway up against his co-worker, head
bartender Tatten, for the final round.
Bryn Tatten of backbar during the final round
By now, the crowd was loving it,
and as squeeze bottles of balsamic emerged from the back room, a murmured
"Oooh," rose up around me.
Wouldn't you know it, the student became the master
in the end, as Tatten's cocktail was chosen as the competition's final winner.
Afterwards, as cameras flashed and the bartenders
mingled, Cannon stood to the side, surveying the crowd.
know," he says, "I'm not a fan of a super competitive environment behind the
bar, but I really loved seeing all the bartenders just having a great time. Did
you see Sam trying to help out Bryn at the end? That was so cool to see."
would have Cannon have done with the tricky balsamic?
I would have used watermelon if it had been in season," he says after thinking
for a moment. "But since it isn't, I would have definitely used those
strawberries that were up there. I think that would have come out nice."
myself nodding, and immediately start imagining myself muddling strawberries
into a red mush, gleefully splashing balsamic over it, working a cocktail
shaker and not dropping it, jazzy music playing in the background. We'll get