Monday, April 21, 2008

San Francisco Bartender Guild Booze-Off!

As I mentioned at the end of my last entry, I had spent the day at two cocktail contest events. The first one I attended was the San Francisco Bartender Guild's drink-off, with the winner to head out to Long Beach for the nation Guild competition. I heard of this event because our very own Ed was one of the participants! As it was generously open to the public, I couldn't imagine not going to root Ed on, and help calm his jangly nerves (I was useless in that capacity by the way).

The first thing that kind of surprised me was the rather formal set up of the competition. Each contestant had a limited time to set up all of the items they would be using, as well as a limited time in which they were to mix up four drinks (three for the judges, and one for display/tasting by the onlookers). Each ingredient had to be shown to the technical judge (David "Mr. Mojito" Nepove. Perhaps best known for his reign behind the bar at Enrico's) as they were used, and contestants had to show that they had used all of the contents of their shakers when they had finished pouring their drinks. To a hobo like myself, it seemed a little but over the top, but in this cocktail day and age, I can't really blame them for honoring traditions.

There were 20 people taking part in the event, and I was rather pleased to see a diverse array for cocktails being churned out. Not that I thought I'd be seeing a lot of bartenders grinding out the same derivative sorts of drinks, but with a fairly serious bounty of local fruits hitting the markets, I wondered if most (if not all) folks would be thinking the same thing - The strawberry syndrome if you will. While certainly there were many appearances by ingredients I would have expected, there was plenty of variation to be had. Several folks turned out tasty desert drinks, and one individual took an interesting tact and used vinegar as one of his components.

One of the things I liked the most about the structure of the competition was that all ingredients used had to be readily available to anybody. Homemade syrups, tinctures, and the like could not be used. Now, I loves me some house made products in my drinks - I think it's one of the better ways to really see the creativity of any given bartender - but it's nice to see a playing field that isn't necessarily altered by one bartender having more knowledge in the creation of additions that another, more neophyte bartender, might not be able to do to compete. It also made those participating either focus more on getting the most out of simplicity, or look to more novel/creative combinations of standard fare.

While I certainly learned a lot from just observing all those folks work their boozy mojo, the thing that most impressed me was seeing what a fantastic array of seriously talented bartenders this town has. And, goddamed it, I have an even larger list of places I need to drop by for a drink now.

If you ever get a chance to go to something like this, I couldn't recommend it enough.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.

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