Appleton Estate ’ReMixology 2012’ Hits Boston
The third annual Appleton Estate ReMixology Challenge came to Boston recently. As in other cities where semi-finals took place (Miami, San Francisco, New York), the Boston edition featured top-flight area bartenders who, with some tuneful inspiration, got creative and whipped up original cocktails using Appleton Estate Reserve rum.
The Boston event took place at the upscale Julep Bar, located at 200 High Street, in Boston’s Financial District. Julep has a post-industrial vibe about it, with mesh and recessed lighting on the wall behind the bar, chrome-bright chandeliers, funky faux-exposed brick, and long couches positioned before picture windows.
The event drew something of a post-industrial crowd, too, mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings, the sort of after-hours young professional set that you might expect to find at a haunt like Julep.
But the contestants, along with the Jamaican-style rum, were the real draw. Even before the emcee introduced this year’s contestants--five in all--they were mingling, working the room and greeting fans and colleagues alike. Two stations set up opposite the bar kept four bartenders busy serving up the five featured cocktails, each of them the brainchild of one of the evening’s star mixologists.
The hors d’ouvres, like the drinks, were in keeping with the Jamaican theme: braised goat on plantain, piping hot deep-friend cod fritters, beef-filled hot pockets with a sweet sauce, and jerk chicken wings with pineapple salsa kept the crowd fed.
The newly invented cocktails took their inspiration from everywhere, though: One drink updated and re-imagined the classic Aviation; another used the ’80s fiddle-rific hit "The Devil Came Down to Georgia" as a springboard. Watching, sipping, and taking notes were this year’s panel of judges: Brother Cleve, Kate Palmer, and Sean Frederick, who took top honors at the Boston semi-final in 2011.
ReMixology, emcee Willy Shine told the crowd, is "all about music, all about cocktails, all about having a good time!" The emcee went on to remind us of the way the contest works: Each of the five contestants would be introduced, then have a minute to check that the bar was equipped with the ingredients and utensils they needed for their recipes. Then, as a song they’d chosen to reflect the theme of their original drink played, they’d mix up their inventions and pour them out for the three judges.
Ready, Steady, Mix!
First up was a returning contestant, Sam Treadway, who works his magic at Backbar. Treadway struck a formal note, dressing in a tuxedo. The look echoed singer Dean Martin, to whose "Volare" Treadway muddled blueberries, gave the glasses a rinse of Amaro Nonino, and poured a mixture of Blue Curacao, lime juice, and Luxardo Maraschino. This was the Blue Flight; Treadway served it up to the judges in a martini glass with a twist of lime, even as curious onlookers sampled the concoction courtesy of the bartenders on the floor.
"I love bartending to this song," Treadway confessed when Shine handed him the mike.
Online, at the Appleton Estate ReMixology page for Boston, Treadway expanded on this. "Volare means to fly in Italian, and the whole song is about being uplifted and wanting to sing and be happy and fly through the sky up in the ’blue, the painted blue,’ " Treadway noted in the comments published online. "So to have some fun with these flying and blue themes, I came up with a blue aviation variation."
The ’Lazy Sunday’ Look
Ted Kilpatrick of No. 9 Park took to the bar next. In contrast to the stylishly outfitted Treadway, Kilpatrick dressed for relaxation, donning a bathrobe and wearing a strip of blue masking tape like a streak of war paint under one eye, leading the emcee to dub him "Left Eye."
Kilpatrick’s potion, mixed to the beat of TLC’s song "Waterfalls," was named the Organized Noize. It was a fairly boistrous drink, in which Appleton Estate Reserve rum met up with Angostura bitters, grenadine, lime juice, and a couple of droppers’ worth of Chalula Mexican hot sauce. As Kilpatrick put it himself, when he addressed the crowd, "How do you get those ingredients to play nice in a glass?" But the mixologist was swift and skillful as he put it all together and served up his cocktail to the judges.
"He’s losing no time in that dress," the emcee quipped.
As with the other drinks, the crowd was able to obtain their own Organized Noizes from the staff at the back of the room--who were having just as much of a party as anybody else. The bartender who poured mine did so with flair and a friendly grin.
The rum and bitters balanced each other quite nicely, while the hot sauce tied the whole palette of flavors together with a spicy kick.
Would You Trust This ’Stranger?’
Round 3 saw Catalyst Restaurant’s Jason Kilgore setting to work to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s "Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants."
Kilgore dressed the part of the cocktail professional, with black trousers and a crisp white shirt. His hair was pulled back into a ponytail--until, that is, he set it free and shook it around, head-banging his way through the recipe. His drink dared you to place your trust in him: Kilgore called it The Stranger’s Candy.
The cavalcade of ingredients blended Appleton Estate rum with grapefruit juice, dry curacao, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, simple syrup, Amaro Montenegro, a dash of Cynar, and a jigger of Hudson single malt whiskey. The result was a slightly syrupy, definitely citrusy cocktail.
’Love, Hate... Spice!’
Kevin Mabry of JM Curley stepped up for Round 4. Mabry, a compact dynamo of a man, was dressed in a cap and vest--a look not everyone can pull off, but his personal style projected such élan that he had no trouble. Mabry took his theme song, "Saw Red" by Sublime and Gwen Stefani, at face value, creating a drink he dubbed "Dreaded Redhead." Suitably sweet and sassy by turns, this cocktail combined Appleton Estate rum, lime juice, Pineapple Drambuie, Bitter Truth Allspice, a dash of cayenne, Cherry Heering, and Falernum bitters--and was topped off with a flaming strawberry and a sprig of mint.
His inspiration, Mabry said, was "Love, hate--and spice." Mabry had a point with this: Who’s going to argue with a flaming strawberry?
The Devil and the Details
Round 5 took it all down home, as Tyler Wang, also of No. 9 Park, sauntered behind the bar, shirtless, in denim overalls and a straw hat. As the Charlie Daniels Band’s "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" crackled, Wang conjured his Golden Fiddle, made from Appleton Estate rum, lime juice, Crème de Cassis, rye, a dash of flamed angostura, and a splash of absinthe.
Online, Wang explained that he based this cocktail on the El Diablo. "The ginger lime and cassis pair well with Appleton as they would in a delicious tiki cocktail," Wang added. "I’ve decided to embrace the diabolical nature of this song by blazing my Appleton Reserve with a little Angostura and Absinthe."
Moreover, "This cocktail is cool on the lips in spite of it’s fiery creation, because no matter how hard the Devil wants to overpower Johnny, he stay’s cool and confident," Wang noted. "This is Johnny’s celebration."
A second set followed, with all five contestants returning to present another song and another creation. These drinks weren’t available for sampling, but the crowd were well enough pleased with the five selections they’d been so generously provided, and as the fun and noise ramped up it was harder to hear the emcee’s explanations.
"Hopefully, all of you are nice and soused!" emcee Willy Shine shouted into his mike, as the crowd roared with delight. "Appleton Rum is your #1 legal enjoyment," the emcee added, garnering enthusiastic laughter.
Treadway lost his tux and had the DJ spin up some hip-hop. Donning a black hat and sunglasses, Treadway created a fresh take on the mojito. Kilpatrick covered himself from head to toe in bright green spandex; how could he see? How could he breathe? Well enough, evidently, to do a jig as he mixed up his second invention of the evening, a "sangrita" that blended Mexican Coca-Cola with a mole tincture. (Ay, carumba!)
Kilgore threw on some stadium rock, and Mabry singlehanded turned the place into a discotheque as he danced his way to the bar, shaking his groove thing through the crowd and wearing a huge black fright wig. By this point, even the judges were screaming with excitement; one couple on the floor began a tipsy swing dance, miraculously avoiding any collisions in the crowd.
Not to be outdone, Wang fetched up in a sleeveless T and tight blue jeans, still wearing his straw hat and rocking out to "Fat Bottomed Girls" by Queen. It was impossible to hear, but I think Wang created a mixture of Appleton Estate rum and Budweiser beer. (I think. If this is true, kudos to Wang for sheer daring!)
The judges scribbled notes and looked thoughtful; the crowd buzzed with happiness. The prizes were set out for all to see: A large silver punch bowl and a four "ReMixology" backpacks. The criteria applied by the judges were creativity, innovation, and performance; in the end, Ted Kilpatrick, he of the bathrobe and green spandex, the "Left Eye" legend behind the Organized Noize, took top honors. (Am I allowed to mention here that, as I told Kilpatrick when he stopped by my table, the Organized Noize was my favorite cocktail, with the Dreaded Redhead a very close second?)
Kilpatrick will head to New York City for the September 10 finals. He’ll be competing against the best that New York, San Francisco, and Miami have to offer, and New York will have the home field advantage.
Personally, I have faith in Kilpatrick’s "lazy Sunday" flair... and absolute confidence in raucously flavorful music of his Organized Noize. (Now, that’s what I call a "spirits"-ual.)