Last night I attended the Miami semifinal of the Appleton Estate Bartender Challenge that took place at The Blackbird Ordinary. The "Remixology" event was one of four nationally, with the winner going to the New York final in a few weeks. Five bartenders were challenged to take some musical inspiration to name and create a unique cocktail using Appleton Reserve Rum. Here is a list of their creations and some rationale as to why they chose a particular song.
My date for the night was Ed Roberts. When we arrived 20 minutes before the start, we just walked in and blended with everyone as they were setting up for showtime: cameramen, DJ, servers, bartenders, etc. I even bumped into my friend Becky who was working as one of the Appleton Girls. No one knew who we were and since we were not in the way, no one asked why we were there. Even the hostess never asked our names to compare to the guest list. We obviously fit in. LOL.
A little before it started, one of the servers showed up with his Parrot. I'm pretty sure it's not a parrot, so please correct me when you see the picture. But I got to hold it on my arm and it even talked to me. Very cool.
Once the event began, bartenders from Blackbird Ordinary started preparing the cocktails that the contestants were about to make for the competition. They were stationed around the bar in different locations. We started with Hot Buttered Buns and worked our way around, trying each throughout the evening.
Once everyone else arrived casually late, the competitors were introduced and the competition began. There were two rounds (so that's two drinks that each prepared for you mathematically challenged). The bartenders had costumes, props, support actors, a theme and of course the music that they were inspired by when creating their drink recipes.
Cricket Nelson shocked everyone by dropping panties in front of each of the judges before they even knew what was going on. I got hit with a pair of red ones when she tossed them into the crowd. Yeah, we had front row action! I think Ed is still explaining the whole thing to his wife since he took them home with him.
The panties theme was explained when Erykah Badu's Annie Don't Wear No Panties started playing. Then we watched Cricket prepare her Hot Buttered Buns. I mentioned it was the first we tried. The nutmeg on the top was very powerful smelling and tasting. It was a sweet, creamy dessert cocktail with a noticeable amount of rum flavor. One of my favorites of the evening.
Ben Clemons next created Big Woo, yes, named after that movie volcano. I don't remember much about the drink. I noted that it tasted a lot of vanilla and rum, not necessarily a bad thing. What I did remember was when Ben used the 151 Rum to blow fire from his mouth. Pretty good start, and we got a rum shower from it as well.
Nick Nistico then came out to the Beastie Boys' Sabotage. He was dressed with a big bandana, long fake hair and a fake mustache (that wouldn't stay on). Oh yeah, and a giant gold chain around his neck. He made Flip The Script for the judges, which turned out to be another of my favorites. Sweet melon, really enhanced the rum and you could taste a lot of flavor from the quail egg in the drink. Not sure what the hell he was talking about, but he ended with, "Natty Ice. Game Over."
Richie Petronzi then made his version of an Old Fashioned called Die Die My Darling, inspired by Michael Buble's cover of Mack The Knife. This turned out to be the best drink of the night for me, and Ed also felt the same way. Great flavors, nice rum and refreshment.
Finally, Rob Ferrara made The Notorious P.U.N.C.H. The song inspiration name was Juicy (so I was told) by The Notorius B.I.G. (which I was also told). That's right. I'm not as cool as you think I am and didn't know the song. I did think the rationale for song and name was probably the best of the night. Biggie is part Jamaican, perfect for a Jamaican rum. He used orange juice to go with the Juicy name, and he said Biggie = Brooklyn, so he used Brooklyn Brown Ale in his recipe.
After a break, Round 2 began. The audience didn't get to try these drinks. But the theatrics were definitely still there. Lots of dancing, joke making, one dude handed out 40's of Olde English 800 to match his theme, one guy said "fuck" about 800 times in his post-cocktail-making presentation. It was all good.
In the end, Ben Clemons (yeah, I originally said Richie Petronzi; must have been the squirrel hat Ben was disguised in during Round 2 that threw me, LOL; anyway, I confirmed with the Appleton communications agency that Ben won) was declared the champion. He drank Appleton Reserve from a giant silver trophy bowl and made a speech. Ed and I dreamed Richie won since he created our favorite cocktail of the evening, but all of the competitors were awesome and worthy. Good luck in New York, Ben!
Everyone had an obvious good time. Over the course of the evening, I got my picture taken with a few of the contestants, bumped into the famous rum guy Robert Burr, and hung out with James and Annette from Soul of Miami. I'll be doing a shorter recap there in a little bit, but with more pictures, so check it out!
Thanks to Appleton Estate for the invitation, and I hope to be invited back next year or sooner.