Cocktails & Spirits

Bar Brawls Week 8: Everyone Brought an A-Game This Week

Regular guy goes up against two formidable women in a bartending competition. Regular guy wins. Sometimes, life can be surprising. 

Sweetwater’s Andrew Luzenko is a professional who takes his trade very seriously and didn't seem intimidated by his co-competitors' feminine charms. Jessie Bell, a statuesque blond who tends bar at 3rd and 3rd, wasn’t afraid to do some voguing as she took her place behind the bar last night. Julie Antoine of Racks Fish House and Oyster Bar brought the geek chic with her thick-framed glasses.  

Week 6 competitor Randy Rapposelli returned to Max’s Social House, this time as a judge. Turns out, he actually can “math and read real good.” (Well, good enough to judge a bartending competition.) Leslie Streeter of the Palm Beach Post and USBG member and Bar Brawls fixture Josh Gates were on the panel as well.

Round 1:
Bell, up first, was presented with the mystery spirit, Templeton Rye. Originally produced by some bootleggers in a small Iowa town, it earned the nickname “the good stuff.” The classic cocktail to make? The official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac. It was created in 1838, when apothecary owner Antoine Peychaud used his homemade bitters to create a cocktail for his friends. Here's the recipe:

1 ½ ounces rye whiskey
¼ ounce absinthe
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon peel

For the first time, all three competitors knew how to make the cocktail. Bell poured her drinks as the last ten seconds counted down, finishing each one with a spritz of Herbsaint, an anise-flavored herbaceous liqueur used as a stand-in for absinthe. Rapposelli was first to comment on the drink.

“I would have liked the glass to be filled out a little bit more,” he said.

Streeter agreed: “More is always more, but it was well put-together. I like it.” Gates remarked that it was one of the most spot-on classic cocktails he’s seen so far.

Luzenko was up next, repping his bar with a Craft Cartel T-shirt (Sweetwater’s catering offshoot) and a black vest. After delivering his cocktails with 45 seconds to spare, the judges had nothing but praise.

“I told Jessie Bell that hers was the closest to the classic cocktail. Well, you topped that,” said Gates.

Rapposelli had a more colorful comment for Luzenko: “We all know you’re dumber than shit, but when it comes to cocktails, you’re a fucking savant.”

Last up was Julie Antoine, all smiles and dimples, who “prefers her cocktails strong and her puns intended.” After mixing and portioning her drinks, Higginbotham asked her to comment. “That’s a Sazerac, Bob,” she said matter-of-factly.

Unlike last week’s brawl, all three competitors got the classic cocktail right. However, Antoine’s was missing the “punch” the judges were looking for. Bell and Luzenko went on to round two, where two more ingredients were unveiled: smoky, slightly spicy Ancho Reyes Liqueur and — via the  kitchen of 13 American Table in Boca Raton — a smoked maple syrup infused with bacon fat and rosemary. Round Two:
Luzenko and Bell were given 30 minutes to make at least two cocktails using the secret ingredients.

Bell’s first was a clean mix of Templeton Rye, Ancho Reyes, lemon juice, and Fernet Branca, served “up” in a Nick and Nora glass with a lemon twist. She followed up by using all three secret ingredients in a take on an old fashioned that smelled like the best Christmas ever, with Templeton Rye, rosemary- and bacon-infused maple syrup, Ancho Reyes liqueur, chocolate bitters, and an orange twist. The chocolate and orange really came through in the drink, which one couldn’t help but keep sipping. Her third was a frothy egg-white-topped creation with Templeton Rye, Ancho Reyes, and lemon simple syrup, artfully presented. The frothed egg white was a snowy-white backdrop for a bit of green cilantro and a dot of reddish Angostura bitters. "It's like having pad Thai without really having pad Thai. The notes are so authentic," said Streeter.

Luzenko put out four original cocktails. His first was a play on the Sazerac with the infused maple syrup, Templeton Rye, Ancho Reyes, Herbsaint, and orange peel. Next was a frothy mix of Templeton Rye, Ancho Reyes, the infused rosemary-bacon maple syrup, egg white, orange bitters, and soda water. His third offering was a base of yellow Chartreuse with Templeton Rye, Ancho Reyes, orange cream citrate, and lemon peel. His last drink didn’t use any of the secret ingredients — a combination of blackstrap rum, velvet falernum (a slightly obscure spiced syrup used to flavor Caribbean cocktails), honey water, and Paychaud’s bitters —  but the flavor didn't disappoint.

The Winner:

Luzenko and his original cocktails took the win. We'll see him again during the semifinals, which start next week, on Tuesday, November 24, instead of the usual Wednesday, due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Bobby Brown of Craft Cartel goes up against David Bouchard of the Cooper and Matt Swig from Sundy House.

Bar Brawls is held at (allegedly) 9:30 p.m. every Wednesday 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.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Claudia Dawson