Bartending competitions where no one knows what's going on are always fun. That was this week's Bar Brawls, hosted by Max's Social House in Delray Beach.
The three local bartenders who faced off against one another this week were on equal footing for the first round of Bar Brawls when not one of them was able to deliver the mystery drink of the evening with the exact ingredients or proper presentation. For the first time since Bar Brawls kicked off in early October, all three competitors —
In fact, their reactions after hearing the mystery liquor (
Klein: "Can you please use that in a sentence?"
Medero: "A clover leaf?"
Yes, that's right; not one of the night's mixologists had any clue how to make the 199-year-old classic cocktail consisting of gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and egg white. The libation — served in a coupe glass and marked by a frothy head — is named for the Philadelphia men's club of the same name, which met in the city's Bellevue-Stratford hotel. What the judges got was a range of interesting takes, none of them close to the correct execution.
The judges for the evening included Palm Beach chapter United States Bartending Guild President Rob Husted, Fort Lauderdale-based attorney Lee Cohen, and Pineapple newspaper co-owner Ryan Boylston. While Husted was looking for perfect execution, Boylston and Cohen were more keen on offering advice on how "sweet" or "balanced" they felt it was — and whether they'd order enough to get adequately wasted. By the end of the first round, it came down to who made the best-tasting drink, even if it tasted nothing like a real clover club.
Out of all three, Klein's was by far the worst. Boylston even told him so. Served in a short glass on the rocks, he added a touch of grenadine — a possible substitute for one ingredient, the raspberry syrup — it earned him the boot in the first round. Moving on.
Hart took the bar next, looking less confused than Klein but equally clueless. His interpretation was the closest, however, served in the right glass but missing just one ingredient — the egg whites. That left Medero, who also served her drink in a short glass on the rocks, garnished with a lemon wedge and mint. Husted remarked that it was closer to a Ramos gin fizz. Everyone agreed it tasted good. And it looked pretty.
"Leave it to the girl to make the prettiest drinks," said Boylston.
A half-hour later (could these competitions drag out any longer, Bob Higginbotham?), finalists Hart and Medero re-entered the bar for round two, where they were introduced the next two mystery ingredients: fermented ginger kombucha prepared by Max's Social House executive chef Eric Baker, and St. George spiced pear liqueur. With 30 minutes on the clock, Hart and Medero banged out several drinks each in syncopated rhythm but with clearly different styles. While Hart went the more traditional route with a mix of bitters and liquor, Medero went for an added layer of flavor with fresh herbs, jalapeños, and fancy presentation.
Hart's first drink was a mashup of Botanist gin with High West rye whiskey, mixed with Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, orange bitters, and kombucha. It was served in a short glass over crushed ice and garnished with a raspberry. Husted thanked him for using one of the ingredients from the first round in his second-round concoction but critiqued it for "lacking aroma."
Medero's first drink was — much like her — sexy and complicated, what someone described as a "tequila daiquiri" made with basil, lime juice, and cucumber to balance the gin and kombucha combo. It was served in a coupe glass with a pretty basil-cucumber garnish. A second didn't win such rave reviews, critiqued for being too spicy.
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In the end, Medero won the night. The secret to her success may have been in her method: She made a single drink
A word of advice to next week's competitors Jessie Bell (3rd & 3rd), Andrew Luzenko (Sweetwater Bar & Grill), and Julie Antoine (Rack's Fish House): Get out your copy of Death & Co., and please, for the love of God, be prepared.
Bar Brawls is held at (allegedly) 9:30 p.m. every Wednesdays at Max’s Social House through December 9. Admission is $10 and includes one complimentary drink. Max's Social House is located in Delray Beach. Visit the Facebook event page.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.