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The Final Four

April 5, 2019

Wait a minute, it’s April. Does that mean March Madness is over? Can I no longer use sportsball metaphors from the tournament? And who won the big dance anyhow? This is the big dance, isn’t it? Or is that something else?

So many questions.

No, the final four I’m talking about are the four bartenders who have won the Albany Distilling Company’s Cocktail Competition in their respective cities. These are the champions of Troy, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Albany. And on Saturday, they are going head to head to head to head in two rounds of battle, so that one of them can be named the best bartender in the Capital Region!

Last year I attended the finals at ADCo’s brand new bar and bottle shop, and watched as Sonia Castellani took the win for Hamlet & Ghost. This year, she will return as one of the judges for the finals. But everyone who attends gets to be a judge for the people’s choice award.

Will the official blind judges line up with the people’s choice in 2019? We’ll have to wait and see. But until then, just in case you haven’t been following along these past few weeks, or even if you have, I thought it would be helpful to give a little summary of who these champions are, and how they found their way into the finals.

They do stuff like this before the sportsball too, right? Okay, here we go.

Representing Schenectady and The Glass Tavern we have Lauren Bingenheimer. She edged ahead of Terry Aldrich from Backstage Pub and his incredibly well balanced Fort Pickford, on the strength of her hauntingly good and perfectly executed Ironweed rye sour.

From Troy, where she can be found behind the bar at Franklin Alley Social Club, please give it up for MacKenzie Holmes. Her Hot Little Biscuit made with Ironweed Rye was a scorcher and put her over the top ahead of Jay Perez of Brown’s. If you told me I was going to love a rye cocktail sweetened with banana liqueur and spiked with mango habanero vodka, I would have called you a liar. But somehow MacKenzie made it work.

Saratoga Springs is a town full of great cocktail talent, and Seth Brannock of Flatbread Social pulled off the upset of Hamlet & Ghost’s Brendan Dillon. I’m still enamored with the mountain of foam on Brendan’s Fort Orange Nitro Fizz, and I’d drive an hour and pay $20 for the opportunity to enjoy a drink like that again. Which just goes to show what an impression Seth’s oven-charred fruit juices made on the judging panel. Both his Creamsicle Bikini and Sage Against the Machine were great showcases for ADCo’s spirits.

Albany’s champion is Renee Mathews from New World Bistro Bar, who was in the kitchen working under Ric Orlando before making the move behind the stick. And this kitchen experience really shows in the way she makes drinks with savory seasonings and vegetables. The Sunday Morning Jammer was a real winner with its red bell pepper, crushed black pepper, and chili lime salt rim. And her PDA based on Ironweed rye included butternut squash juice. Go fig. Although big props also go to Trudy Steier of Savoy Taproom who also did the impossible with her drinks, and created what may have been the most beautiful cocktail of the competition.

So we’ve got four champions. But there can only be one.

And on Saturday, they are going to be tasked with creating two new cocktails based on two entirely different ADCo spirits. Which ones? Ironweed Bourbon and 10th Pin Apple Brandy.

The last one is a real special treat. It’s distilled from Nine Pin cider, and they say it “spends roughly two years aging in barrels that have been previously soaked in Albany Distilling’s signature Ironweed Whiskey as well as a special barrel-aged release of Nine Pin Cider.” It’s an incredible cycle of use and reuse that creates more deliciousness and depth of flavor at each step.

What amazed me was how much of the Nine PIn cider flavor comes through in the spirit.

Over the course of that bottle, I had my own thoughts on which flavor combinations worked best with the spirit, but I’m not telling. I can’t wait to see what these four come up with for this hyper-local brandy.

On the flip side, it’s been awhile since I’ve had the Ironweed Bourbon, as I’ve had more of a love affair with the ADCo rye and straight malt whiskeys recently, so this might be a good chance to rekindle those flames.

Anyway, all the fun starts at 7pm on Saturday. I’ll be there early if you want to say hi. But as one of the judges, I’ll be whisked away into a private corner, so we can evaluate the drinks blindly. However, once the contest is done, I’ll be sticking around. It’s a Saturday night, so hopefully some of you might hang out too. It would be great to see you there.

And if cocktails aren’t your thing, don’t forget about Schenectady’s Jewish Food Festival on Sunday. Or you could be like me and do both. Cheers!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2019 8:41 am

    One of these days you have to try some of the bar cocktails that the Bar Rescue TV show mixes up. I never understand why they go in there to make simple cocktail recipes, but the mixes they use have like five different ingredients, three different garnishes and exotic toppers. But that’s just me.


  1. What’s Up in the Neighborhood, April 6 2019 – Chuck The Writer

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