Bar Brawls Round Two: More Panty-Dropping, '20s Style

Delray's finest gear up for battle
Delray's finest gear up for battle
Kelly Coulson Photography

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, "I was right in the middle of a(n) [expletive deleted] reptile zoo, and somebody was giving booze to these goddamn things." 

This is Bar Brawls, and it’s a beast.

Last night's competitors in the booziest throwdown since, well, any Real Housewives spinoff were Jess Hart, one-time would-be lawyer and now bar manager at El Camino in Delray; John “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, former nightclub owner and now bar manager at 32 East in Delray; and David Bouchard, one-time Connecticut resident (he was voted Best Bartender of the Year in his home state in 2013) and now bar manager at the Cooper in Palm Beach Gardens.

The three competitors had different wheelhouses when it came to spirits. Fitzy, the consummate Irishman, said,“The most exciting drinks are made with whiskey. Bourbon and Rye are kings.” Bouchard prefers the more obscure Chartreuse, a liquor of said color, made by Carthusian Monks in France since 1737 and containing 130 herbs, plants, and flowers. “Chartreuse is the most versatile spirit on the planet,” he said. “It’s complex with a lot of character and mixable with any other base cocktails.” Hart, the zenlike bar manager at El Camino, is obviously extremely comfortable around tequilas.

The night’s judges were Sean Inglehart, co-owner of Boynton Beach's Sweetwater Bar & Grill and Craft Cartel (the restaurant’s catering faction); Rob Husted, CEO of BarWars LLC (a flair bartending company with a mission to elevate the bartending profession) and the totally dexterous guy behind the bar in the iconic Alan Jackson/Jimmy Buffett music video “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere"; and Caryn Pomeranz, 23-year Sysco rep and Chef vs. Chef veteran.

Round one introduced the first secret ingredient: Del Maguey Mezcal. Like the name suggests, mezcal comes from the heart of the maguey plant, known as the piña (for its resemblance to a pineapple). According to Wikipedia:

The process begins by harvesting the plants, which can weigh forty kilograms each, extracting the piña, or heart, by cutting off the plant's leaves and roots.The piñas are then cooked for about three days, often in pit ovens, which are earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks. This underground roasting gives mezcal its intense and distinctive smoky flavor.These piñas are then crushed and mashed (traditionally by a stone wheel turned by a horse) and then left to ferment in large vats or barrels with water added.

Fitzy gets down
Fitzy gets down
Kelly Coulson Photography

One by one, each of the three bartenders had five minutes to make a classic cocktail using mezcal. The classic cocktail tonight was the Blood and Sand, a cocktail inspired by the 1922 Rudolph Valentino film of the same name. (Valentino was a hot-blooded Italian silent film actor who made pre-Prohibition-era women literally drop their bloomers.) The drink first appeared in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book and the recipe is as follows:

The Blood and Sand
• ¾ oz blended scotch
• ¾ oz blood orange juice
• ¾ oz sweet vermouth
• ¾ oz Cherry Heering

Cherry Heering is a Danish cherry liqueur and part of the better-known cocktail the Singapore Sling. Although the Blood and Sand is traditionally made with blended scotch, smoky mezcal was a perfect stand-in. Bouchard was up first, serving up the requisite four portions of the libation in five minutes, with ten seconds to spare.

“Amazing nose,” said Inglehart. “Thank you,” replied Bouchon, “It was different before I got to Palm Beach.” Husted said, “It was a well-balanced drink overall,” and Pomeranz said, “I loved the flavor and the smell. It could have used a more traditional garnish, but overall it was good.”

Local legend Fitzy was up next, working the crowd and eliciting cheers with his showmanship. He may have been having too much fun, because he only made two portions of the drink, then had to make up for lost time making the second two, which were obviously much darker in color. Still, he had a great time, bellowing “I feel great! I love you, Delray!”

The difference in color was chalked up to Fitzy forgetting the Cherry Heering in the first two drinks (which would prove to be his undoing), but Husted said, “I love your energy.” Bob Higginbotham, Bar Brawls host and emcee (and fan of the Miami Vice white blazer look), leaned over the bar to ask Brett Robertson (a contender in next week's battle) “If you had to make a Blood and Sand, how would you feel?” “Nervous,” said Robertson.

Hart was up next, amid whistling, shouting and catcalls from his El Camino compatriots. Although he seemed nervous at first, he whipped up the cocktail and was the first to attempt a garnish — the classic burnt orange. Although it didn’t really work out, he got props. Husted, noticing Hart’s nervousness, told him, “All these mother—-ers are here to see you! Own that bar!”

Bouchard and Hart went on to round two after a brief intermission when Delray’s own gelato pop-up, Gelato Petrini, served up samples of their creamy treats.

The round began with two more secret ingredients: Chocolate truffles and Crème de Violette, a French liqueur made with crushed violet flowers. The bartenders had 30 minutes to create at least two cocktails using at least one of the secret ingredients.

Lots of apothecary bottles of hand-crafted bitters were on hand to make the round two cocktails. Hart presented the first one: a mix of scotch, mezcal, crème de violette, simple syrup, and orange and Angostura bitters, garnished with an orange twist. He followed that up with a Smoky Chocolate Covered Cherry, made with muddled chocolate truffle, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, chocolate mole bitters, Del Maguey mezcal, and Angel’s Envy rye, garnished with a skewered chocolate truffle and an Amarena cherry.

Hart's Chocolate Mezcal Mojito
Hart's Chocolate Mezcal Mojito
Kelly Coulson Photography

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About halfway through the battle (to be expected from an event centered on booze), one feckless drunk had to be ejected from the building. Everyone cheered, and the competition went on without a hitch.

Bouchard’s first cocktail was a “riff on the pisco sour,” with mezcal, frothed egg white, muddle chocolate truffle, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, chocolate bitters, demerara sugar and a garnish of grated chocolate.

A third cocktail from Hart was a Chocolate Mezcal Mojito. The recipe is:

1 oz simple syrup
1 oz lemon juice
1.5 oz mezcal
¼ oz. crème de violette
Aztec chocolate bitters
Topped with ¼ oz. Averna
Garnish: chocolate truffle and mint leaves

Bouchard’s second cocktail was the Smokin’ in Pink, a libation of mezcal, crème de violette, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, demerara sugar, and a garnish of lemon swath. His final drink, the Bartender’s Breakfast, AKA Coffee and Cigarettes, was a smoky concoction of mezcal, Dolin Véritable Génépy Des Alpes liqueur (like a green chartreuse), muddled truffle, chocolate bitters, Angostura bitters, Tia Maria, and a whole egg. (We’re guessing a “bartender’s breakfast” involves dry heaving over a toilet bowl.) Even though the thought of drinking a cocktail containing whole eggs is a lot to swallow (pun intended), Bouchard took the win in this week’s battle. 

Bouchard takes the win
Bouchard takes the win
Kelly Coulson Photography

Stay tuned until next week, when the showdown continues with Cody Parker of El Camino, Matt Swig of the Sundy House, and Brett Robertson of Kapow! Noodle Bar.

Bar Brawls will be held Wednesday nights at 9:30 p.m. at Max’s Social House from September 30 through December 9. Admission is $10. Max's Social House is located at Delray Beach. Visit the Facebook event page.


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