Cocktails & Spirits

Bar Brawls Week 6: Would You Drink Squid Ink?

This Wednesday may have seen the rowdiest group of bartenders for Delray's Bar Brawls competition yet.

Randy Rapposelli of Brule Bistro (the guy who didn't show up for the Bar Brawls draw party on September 30) finally graced the crowd with his hitherto unknown presence. Alain Camacho brought tequila expertise from Delray's The Office. And, Marc Volpicelli, well, he gets the ladies pretty riled up. See video evidence below:

After our first female victory, we're back in Week 6 with a battle of the boys! Come out tonight to see Alain Camacho of The Office vs. Randy Rapposelli of Brule Bistro vs. Mark Volpicelli of Sweetwater.Video credit: Damage Studios

Posted by Max's Social House on Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Now for the judges. Josh Gates, the most critical of the Bar Brawls judges to date, returned to lay the smackdown on a new group of contenders. Week 2 battler John "Fitzy" Fitzpatrick was on the other side of the bar this evening, and Chef vs. Chef emcee and Max's Harvest/Max's Social House chef Eric Baker escaped the kitchen for a night to taste some cocktails.

First up was Mexican-born Camacho, who tends bar at the Office in Delray, sporting a newsboy cap. "I was hoping you'd be wearing a bustier like they do at the Office," said Baker, referring to the female bartenders' uniforms.

This week's secret ingredient for the first challenge was Chinaco Anejo Tequila. Using that, Camacho went to work making a Paloma, the most popular tequila cocktail in Mexico — not the Margarita, that's for gringos. The name Paloma was supposedly inspired by a nineteenth-century Mexican folk song, and here's the recipe:
2 oz. tequila 
Juice of half a lime
3 oz. grapefruit juice
3 oz. seltzer
1 pinch salt
Garnish: lime wedge
Camacho banged out his four drinks with 30 seconds left on the clock. He added a touch of Cointreau to the cocktail. Gates was the first to comment on the drink: "It's missing effervescence but has a decent balance. It's also missing some grapefruit."

Baker said, "The balance is way off — it's extremely bitter. The lime was overpowering. There was a battle among the citrus flavors, where the grapefruit should have been predominant."

Ouch. Fitzy was more kind: "I don't think Cointreau was part of the original recipe, but it was a nice effort, man."

Camacho seemed nervous throughout, and didn't really work the crowd, yet he kept his cool. Maybe wearing that bustier would have helped him loosen up a bit.

Next up was Marc Volpicelli, the self-described "One-Man Wolfpack." His parents came all the way from Rhode Island to see their baby boy compete. As Volpicelli got busy crafting drinks when the five-minute timer began, it was apparent that he had more than a few admirers in the crowd. "He's so awesome at making drinks and he's so hot!" effused a woman wearing a pom-pom antennae headband.

With 20 seconds remaining, Volpicelli finished all four portions of the Paloma and presented them to the judges. "I'm still not getting the grapefruit, but I could finish this one," said Gates. Baker gave Volpicelli kudos for actually tasting his drinks to make sure the flavors were right.

Randy Rapposelli was introduced last, with a bio that described him as an "expert at many things and stuff," and his ability to "math and read real good." 

Rapposelli made a version of the Paloma with Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and simple syrup. "That tequila is super salty!" he said. After sipping, Baker said, "The Luxardo took away from the flavor of what I was expecting — but that's not to say I didn't like it." Gates said, "This is one of the best variations of a Hemingway (a daiquiri made with rum lime, grapefruit juice, and Maraschino liqueur)  I've ever had."

Volpicelli and Rapposelli moved on to round two, where two more secret ingredients were unveiled: Branca Menta, a mint-flavored liqueur with herbs and spices, and salty, fishy squid ink. Volpicelli presented a "smoked Menta tequila negroni": a combination of tequila, Branca Menta, Casoni (sort of like aperol), and grapefruit and orange bitters, served up in a smoked glass with a squid ink-swiped single block ice cube and a flamed orange zest. Whew! 

Referring to the secret ingredients, Baker said, "It's not an easy task. (Well, maybe if Mama Gizzi were here.) The citrus matched well with the squid ink and the sweetness balanced it out."

After tasting, he praised the creation. "The prelude was the ink — salty, briny. Then there was the cooling factor of the cucumber and mint to freshen it up." 

Rapposelli's first drink was a "squid ink tequila sour," with lemon and lime juice, simple syrup, orange juice, grapefruit bitters, and frothed egg white. It was pretty to look at and darn delicious.

Finally, Rapposelli and Volpicelli presented their second drinks. Rapposelli presented the favorite drink of the night: an after dinner drink composed of cold brew, tequila, Angostura, orange, and black walnut bitters, Branca Menta and simple syrup.

"I didn't get much of the tequila," Baker said. "But I got the coffee and the citrus."

"Good use of the Branca Menta," said Gates.

Volpicelli dubbed his second drink "abstract ink," with muddled cucumber and strawberry, agave nectar, tequila, Branca Menta, lime juice, orangette, and chocolate bitters, and garnished with a squid ink-dipped strawberry and a swoosh of ink along the rim of the glass.

"I was hesitant about Marc's second drink," said Baker. "But it got better as it went on, and I was pleasantly surprised."

Volpicelli was about to pour a third cocktail, but time ran out. He was visibly aggravated.

Last week there was a tie, which was broken by Max's Social House bar manager Scott Clifford (a man unafraid to kiss Randy Rapposelli on the mouth). This week, he almost had to do it again. He said, "I'm truly amazed by these cocktails." Last night, it came down to which man used the squid ink better in both cocktails. That man was Marc Volpicelli, the One-Man Wolfpack.

Come down to Max's Social House for Bar Brawls week 7, featuring Lee Klein from Burt & Max’s, Brett Hart from Hullabaloo and Yeiry Medero from Oceans 234. 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 in Delray Beach. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.
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Claudia Dawson