Our own Cheryl Baehr was a very distinguished judge at this week's Cocktail Wars competition. Of course, we had to be on hand to document her American Idol-style commentary (would she be a Simon? A Paula?) and watch the bartenders doing what they do best.
Check out our recap after the jump, plus lots of photos from inside Mad Art Gallery (2727 South 12th Street; 314-771-8230).
Onstage, Baehr was joined by fellow judges Allyson Mace of Sauce and Justin Cardwell, president of the St. Louis chapter of the U.S. Bartender's Guild. Tim Eby, general manager of KWMU (90.7 FM), kept things light (and occasionally humorous) as the night's emcee.
It was Dishcrawl's first cocktail competition, so there were a few technical and logistical snafus here and there, but luckily the crowd seemed to be enjoying its drinks too much to notice. Kyle Harlan from Mission Taco Joint made his "Kentucky 75" first, a delightful bourbon twist on a classic cocktail.
Drinks were judged on more than just taste: Things like presentation and conception were just as important. Each bartender walked the crowd and the judges through their thought process and inspiration as they mixed up the drinks. Then the judges were served (Eby too!) and had a few minutes to taste, mull it over and discuss. Each judge explained their reaction to the bartender, followed by a score from one to ten. The highest single score given was a nine.
The judges weren't the end-all, be-all, though. Audience members scored each bartender on a variety of things and turned in ballots at the end of the night, which would count for half of the bartenders' score.
At the end of the night, Kevin Arndt from the Royale won Best Tasting with his drink, the "Home Alone." He said it was inspired by the fact that Home Alone is his favorite movie of all time -- and seasonally appropriate, to boot. The drink combines bourbon with Big O liqueur and vanilla, lemon, apple, brandy and black-walnut bitters. Arndt calls it an elaborate sour, approachable and well-balanced.
"It tastes like fall. They're the most delicious bitters I've ever had, but I wouldn't put them in just anything. It's really something to accent whiskey," he told us. "While the drink itself is cold, it's got a lot of really warm characteristics. I could sit there and drink it all day."
Stephanie DiCamillo won Best in Show for her Thai-inspired drink. Harlan's "Kentucky 75" won Best Presentation, and "the Misfire" won Tyler Baublitz Most Creative. The event winner was Best Cocktail -- Matt Osmoe from Katie's Pizza and Pasta and his "Julieta Cabassac." His "perfume in a glass" drink was inspired by the book The Fly-Truffler. In the novel, a lonely man falls in love, but his young wife (the eponymous Julieta) dies shortly after. The drink was inspired by one of his memories of her.
"She's been picking flowers and she's kneeling in this field. He describes her beauty in great detail. The flowers, the herbs and her hair in the sun -- it kind of stuck in my head," told us earlier this week. "I wanted to create a drink based on that moment, since he was so vivid about the smells. I just built the cocktail from smells -- it builds a perfume in the glass."