Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Averna Mix-off!

Recently, Averna Amaro ran a contest for cocktails featuring their delightful dram, with the winners getting a fat stack of cash. Having picked a slew of finalists, they set up regional semi-finals with winners of those getting sent off to Italy, and fortunately for me one of those semifinals happened to be here in San Francisco at Cantina (seriously, shouldn't they just get it over with and put me on the payroll at this point?).

I'll take a moment to go ahead and admit that Averna is an Amero that I wasn't familiar with prior to my arrival at Cantina. Sacrilege I know, but were you to see deeper into the areas my radar has a tendency not to cover you would almost certainly brand me a wretched sham of a cocktail geek. To remedy this I had myself a wee pre-finals taste of the stuff, and - Hot damn! It's a fantastic bitter, though calling it a bitter is hardly fair. There certainly is a bitterness (duh), but it was melded to a contrasting sweetness and a really nice, spicy depth.

While the semi-finals were open to the public, it wasn't so much structured to be a "show" so much as the contestants doing their thing for the judges. Because of this, I wasn't really able to keep tabs on the participants, and as several sample drinks were sent out to the floor before it was made clear where they were located, I also lost track of who made what drinks. Basically this is the worst event write up ever - Still, my desperate need to chronicle the booze related minutia of my life demands I do my best, so here's something I can actually testify to.

On the menu were several Averna drinks cooked up by the surprisingly well dressed Duggan McDonnell (serious guys. Payroll?), and of course I tried many of them.


This was a combination of Pisco, Averna, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and a few dashes of the house bitters. I suppose some might think piling bitters on top of bitters would be a disaster, but (as I said above) using the term bitters to describe an Amero in the first place is something I think is somewhat misleading. Bitter in the right amount, with the right complementary flavors is plenty delicious, and there's no doubt that Averna's got it right. The drink had a nice spicy kick with an enhanced floral quality, and a somewhat buttery mouth feel. Tasty, but not a super home run for me.

Midnight Smash

I am, for some reason, very odd when it comes to the muddling of things in my drinks. I honestly don't know why, other than that I often times think it's something that's overused as a way to try and look good rather than really add non-trivial flavor. So I was a bit hesitant about the Smash - Muddled blackberries and meyer lemon, Creole Shrub, Averna, and a little bit of ginger beer. You're probably already thinking I'm an idiot or freak or idiotic freak, and you'd be right. This was a seriously tasty piece of work, and I thought it did a great job of representing the West Coast "style" of mixology in its excellent use of fresh, seasonal ingredients.


This was my hands down favorite - Averna, lemon, lime, and ginger beer. The ginger beer had a much stronger presence in this drink than the Midnight Smash, and that's a damn good thing. Averna and ginger beer, it turns out, is a lusty match, made in delicious heaven, living blissfully in a palatial estate in my belly. It was also a great testament to the fact that simple doesn't always make for an inferior drink.

The one downside to eight-plus hours of cocktail geekery (did I mention this was the second event of the day I had been to)? I couldn't stay for the whole event. I was tired, sobriety impaired, and visions of pizza past were haunting me. I wasn't too happy about it as I really wanted to make it all the way through, and perhaps chat with some of the fine folk who were floating about, but sometimes you just gotta pack it, head home, and drink a gallon of water.

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