Thursday, August 29, 2013

Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival 2013 - Bartending Competition

True story: Back in college and on one of the many occasions I was short on cash I had the bright idea to place a classified ad in the local paper (people, this was pre-internet) offering my bartending services for private parties. My qualifications for this service? Less than zero. Not only was I underage, but I had never mixed anything more complicated than a Screwdriver in my life. The foibles of youth. Anyway, someone actually calls me and I get a gig at some random, newly minted dentist's birthday party. I tried to memorize some cocktail recipes beforehand but ultimately wound up winging it all night long. I learned many things that night. Among them:

  • Inebriated young professionals can be very generous with tips
  • Bartending is best treated as a profession and should be practiced by professionals
Wait. What? How many cocktails have I had?
The audience at the Bartending Competition were
treated to performances by Kansas City's own
Burlesque Downtown Underground
In the ensuing decades there has been a cocktail renaissance in the US and it appears to be going strong. Need proof? Look no further than the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival held every year in Kansas City. The nearly week-long “PopFest” was founded by industry pros Doug Frost, Ryan Maybee, and Brandon Cummins and "is intended to celebrate the history and culture of Kansas City, while appealing to the professionals in the bartending and spirits industries as well as the casual enthusiast. Their goal is to showcase KC’s thriving food, drinks, and music scene, while providing an annual destination in the middle of the country for those looking to expand their knowledge of wine, beer, spirits, and cocktails".

I attended two PopFest events last week - Saturday's "Winetails vs. Beertails" dinner at The American Restaurant (blogpost to follow soon) and Sunday's Bartending Competition at The Uptown Theater. This year's competition had 12 finalists (10 from K.C. and 2 from St. Louis). They reached the finals by submitting an original cocktail recipe to a panel of judges several months ago to be judged largely on two factors, Originality and Balance of Flavor. By making it to the finals these 12 mixologists then had to make it past two events at the Uptown Theater:

Batching Competition
Team Ryan Miller (Voltaire) and his mixing his original
cocktail, "Marc" in the batching competition.
(2 oz Beefeater 24, 3/4 oz Cocchi Americano Rosa,
1/2 oz Del Maguey San Luis Del Rio Mezcal Vida,
1 dash The Bitter Truth grapefruit bitters,
 the oil from a peel of one grapefruit)
Each contestant was required to make a large batch of their original cocktail for a minimum of 100 people. and be present to aid in the service of his or her cocktail to the audience members. Contestant serving stations were set up at various locations throughout the venue and audience members (like me!) were encouraged to sample (full-size cocktails btw) them and vote for a Fan Favorite via Twitter.
This was a helluva lot of fun for adventurous spirits who crave adventurous spirits - these cocktails included common and seldom seen liquors as well as various shrubs, syrups, bitters and other flavor makers that could keep a palate busy for hours.

Final Competition
Caitlin "Corky" Corcoran getting grilled by the judges as
she makes her original cocktail, "Powers to the People"
( 2 oz Power's 12 year, 1/2 oz Mezcal syrup (sombra/brown
sugar), 2 dashes Gary Regan's Orange Bitters, 2 dashes
Peychaud's bitters,  splash of Calvados (rinse))
About 7:00 PM, one-by-one, each of the finalists makes their way to the Uptown Theater stage where they are faced with a panel of judges, a small bar setup, bright lights, TV cameras, and hundreds of audience members. At this point they must do several things:
  1. Recreate their signature cocktail for the judges
  2. Create a "classic cocktail" as ordered by the judges
  3. Engage in intelligent, friendly banter with the judges on all manner of cocktail topics (spirit categories, ingredients, history, etc...)
The three categories above are almost evenly weighted - with a slight emphasis on the "Knowledge & Skills". Oh yeah... they only have five minutes to complete the four cocktails. #pressure

Ultimately Paige Unger of Extra Virgin was crowned the winner (sorry Paige, I done you wrong - no decent photo) with her very delicious The Beet Goes On (1 oz Beefeater, 1/2 oz summer beet shrub, 1/2 oz lemon, 1/2 oz Campari, 1/2 oz St. Germaine).

Beau Williams of Kansas City's Hawthorne & Julep and Mandi Kowalski of Sanctuaria in St. Louis (both pictured below) had equal votes in the Fan Favorite category and shared that award.

Look some of these great bartenders up this weekend. Raise a glass to K.C.!

The Judges
Celina Tio, Sean Kenyon, Chris Patino, and Doug Frost
Beau Williams & Keely Edgington mixing up "Raman's Misadventure"
(1 1/2 oz Paddy Irish Whiskey, 1/2 oz ginger syrup, 1/2 oz Chai Peach cordial,
1/2 oz lemon juice, 3 dashes Angostura Aromatic bitters)

Mandy Kowalski serves me "Her Majesty's Pleasure"
(1.5 oz. Plymouth Gin, .5 oz. Graffigna Malbec, .5 oz. Lemon Juice
 .5 oz. Hibiscus syrup, .5 oz. Grenadine,  2 dash Cardamom tincture,
 1 oz. Fever-Tree Ginger Beer (topper) )

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