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More Notable Cocktails in Albany

March 29, 2019

In case you missed it, the qualifying round of Albany Distilling Company’s 3rd Annual Cocktail Competition has come to a close. Monday, this ambitious roadshow rolled into the back bar at The Hollow. It featured five Albany restaurants and bars, who were all brave enough to put their top cocktail makers to the test.

It should be noted there were a few who had to drop out at the last moment. This is important, and I’ll come back to it later.

But big props to The Hollow, Savoy Taproom, Loch & Quay, 677 Prime, and New World Bistro Bar for bringing the passion and their most creative applications for ADCo’s Fort Orange Vodka and Ironweed Rye.

We’ve talked in the past about how the judging for these events goes down. This round we were joined by guest judge Emmanuel Treski who has been back at Speakeasy 518 for some time now. And once again I was surprised to find the orange vodka cocktails were some of my favorite of the night.

It would take too long to give the full play by play of the night. You should have been there. But today, I’m pleased to present the highlight reel, and sing the praises of the Albany champion.

There were really three standout drinks from the Fort Orange Vodka round.

One was called the Julius Maximus, and we’ve seen a few takes on the Orange Julius in this competition. But any well made variation of a Ramos Gin Fizz is always going to make me happy. We did not know it at the time, but this one was crafted by Olivia Savas of 677 Prime.

To create that classic Julius flavor, she added banana liqueur and vanilla simple syrup to the mix. And since she was making these in quantity for the competition, Olivia brought an immersion blender to help with the task.

This was a real treat, and I’m sure the sample cups didn’t do it justice. But the official entry in its carved crystal highball glass was a sight to behold indeed.

Without a doubt, the most stunningly beautiful cocktail of the night was called The ABC’s. And it’s a terrible name. But as far as I can tell, it stands for Aquavit, basil, and chamomile. This beguiling drink was a bizarre but inspired combination of orange vodka, aquavit, and chamomile grappa, topped with Champagne. So maybe the C stands for Champagne?

The mere fact that this drink was palatable was a small miracle, as I’ve never enjoyed aquavit, despite my best efforts to develop a taste for the stuff. But it was. In fact it was better than just palatable, it was delicious. And as I mentioned, it was gorgeous. The drink was served in an iridescent flute, with a string of whole basil leaves suspended in a long clear ice cylinder. Major props to Trudy from Savoy Taproom for conceiving and executing this intensely herbal and aromatic drink.

But the top pick from the round was something called the Sunday Morning Jammer. I have no idea what that means. However, what set this drink apart was its vegetal nature. Basil, red bell pepper, cracked black pepper, and lemon juice are muddled in a glass. Then orange vodka, yellow chartreuse, and celery bitters are shaken with ice. The rim of the glass is coated with a chili lime salt, and the drink is topped with seltzer. It’s all garnished with a basil leaf and a lemon wedge.

Can I just say, wow! It was delicious, creative, and all those flavors came through. But it was absolutely the chili lime salt that put this over the top.

Part of me thought that this drink came from Savoy because I remember how much Emma Sawyer was excited by salty and spicy concoctions on the rim of drinks. But the creator of this cocktail was Renee Matthew of New World Bistro Bar. She has only been bartending for a year, but has spent nine at the restaurant, including years in the kitchen. And I’m pretty sure that it’s this comfort with savory ingredients that put her over the top.

Actually, forget that. I’m totally sure.

Because it turns out that Renee won the whole thing. Her rye drink was something called the PDA. Again, I’m not entirely sure about the name. But it was based on a Manhattan. Except instead of the vermouth it used Dimmi Milano Liquor which carried a strong apricot note. That was enhanced with cardamom bitters, and the entire thing was rounded out with… wait for it… butternut squash juice.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s just nucking futs. But it worked. And as Emmanuel put it, the drink made you want to come back to it again and again.

Savoy put up a fruity rye drink called Tally Me Banana, which was fun and tropical. 677 Prime made two different caramels for the City High which was more like an old fashioned. And in the end, the contest was very very close. But there can only be one. And the judges agreed this week it was Renee.

So she’s going on to the finals where she’ll face off with the champions from Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga Springs. Everyone will be coming down to the Albany Distilling Company Bar & Bottle Shop on Saturday, April 6 at 7pm to see four top bartenders go head to head with all new drinks based on a different set of ADCo spirits.

What sets the finals apart from the earlier rounds of the competition is that there is a people’s choice vote too! That means if you stick it out to the very end, you’ll get to see if your tastes line up with the judges. But we’ll talk a little more about the finals next week.

Have a great weekend. See in you April!

Oh yeah, remember how I said there was one very last minute cancellation? Well, it was so late that the judges received scoresheets for the entries, and I’m still in mourning about the rye cocktail that got away. It would have been called the Summer Saz, and it was intended to be a “Sazerac slushee for patio weather.”

The build was rye, lemon juice, black cherry juice, all spice, anise, and absinthe, all thrown in a blender with two ice cubes for ten seconds. It sounded fantastic, and now I want one. Badly.

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