The New York City cocktail landscape is an everchanging one. The proliferation of watering holes devoted to the craft of the cocktail doesn't seem to be slowing down one bit, something I'm quite thankful for. Just in the last month bars like Painkiller (tiki meets 70s NY punk), Cienfuegos (specializing in rum based punches), Casa Mezcal (the object of its devotion being obvious), and the Empire Room (art deco lounge at the foot of the Empire State Building) have sprouted to diversify the NY cocktail scene.
Last week I had the opportunity to check out the Empire Room and get behind the bar to lend a hand to fellow members of the US Bartenders' Guild as they competed to see who could create the best gin-based aperitif cocktail. The event was sponsored by Plymouth and Beefeater gins, and up for grabs for the top cocktail creator was the Meehan Bartender Bag, named after Jim Meehan, proprietor and bar man at PDT. With a price tag over $600, you can bet the competition was fierce (don't let those smiling faces fool you).
The three finalists (above from left to right) were Edward Henwood, Lindsay Nader of PDT, and Brian Matthys of Izakaya Ten (a place I've been neglecting to visit for far too long now).
The three top aperitif cocktails above, from left to right: Ship Rock (Henwood), Sakura Fest (Matthys), and the Noce Royale (Nader).
And now for your home mixing pleasure I've listed the recipes for each cocktail--with the exception of Mr. Henwood's, whose recipe I've not been able to acquire, but will post if and when I get it.
Noce Royale (above right)
1 1/2 oz Beefeater Gin
1/2 oz Plymouth Sloe Gin
1/4 oz Nocino (walnut liqueur)
Moet Imperial Champagne to top
Pour everything except Champagne in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with a splash of Champagne.
Sakura Fest (above center)
1 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
1 oz Dewazakura Oka ginjo sake (or similar aromatic ginjo sake)
1/4 Creme Yvette
1 barspoon (approx. tsp) Yuzu citrus juice (unsalted)
1 barspoon Agave nectar
Garnish: Luxardo maraschino cherry
Combine ingredients in shaker over ice (preferably large solid pieces) and shake 'til well chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with cherry.
According to Brian, this apertif celebrates the coming of spring, which is respresented by the blooming of cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan, and hence the name of the drink. It's light and refreshing with a subtle complexity which is sure to engage the appetite.
And the winner was...
The Shiprock (above left)
2 ½ oz Plymouth Gin
2 or 3 leaves of sage (size dependent)
½ oz ginger syrup
½ oz of lemon juice
1 drop Orange Blossom Water
Bruise sage in shaker, then add the remaining ingredients along with ice; shake and strain into cocktail glass, and garnish with round twist of orange.
Yes, Mr. Henwood's Ship Rock cocktail was the crowd's favorite. It was a tight vote but the Ship Rock edged out out the competition and helped its creator take home the coveted (and mad expensive but well worth it) Meehan Bar Bag.
I wonder if he'll let me borrow it sometime...
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.