Maybe it's time for a showdown. Or a shakeup.
After tasting my way through two different cocktail contests last week, the Park City Cocktail Contest, the latest in several years of events put on by Park City Restaurant Association and benefitting the People's Health Clinic, the Farm to Glass Cocktail Contest put on by this magazine and the Downtown Farmers Market benefitting, um, imbibers, I gotta say…
Well, here's what I gotta say: There were 15 contenders in the PC contest–anyone could kick in and participate–and only five in the SLC contest–all by invitation–and a lot of other factors that made the contests very different. So not at all oranges to oranges or even maraschino to maraschino.
But the Salt Lake cocktails were all winners–every one. Artisanal, balanced, thoughtful. Concocted with attention to the way flavor moves through the nose and palate. Made with awareness of a beginning, a middle and an end. You could appreciate these drinks like you can wine. They have a flavor story. Take a look at the recipes here.
In Park City, the cocktails generally seemed to have been made with of aging sorority drinker in mind: most of them were unsophisticated, cloying and cheesy. One had both commercial pumpkin spice eggnog and Bailey's Irish Cream in it. Another called for the glass to be rimmed in coconut flakes. As always in the fall version of the PC contest, there was too much cinnamon.
My co-judge Vanessa Chang tweeted: "1982 called and wants its cocktails back."
I did like the winning PC Cocktail.
The Mountain Derby made by Dave Wallace from Montage:
1 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve, 1 1/2 fresh grapefruit juice, 1 oz. lavender/chamomile honey and 1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice. Shaken, strained, served up with a simple lemon wheel.
But I liked the winning SLC cocktail even better.
The Sugarhouse Smash made by Scott Gardner from Finca:
1 1/2 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 aromatic steamed beet
4 big basil leaves
Put all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and shake until the basil is bruised and the beet is pulverized. Double strain over ice into a collins glass. Fill with soda and garnish with basil.
All I'm saying'–maybe those Park City bartenders ought to come down the mountain more often.