By Marie Idelkope
I first caught wind of the Eat Street Social Trophy Hunt on Instagram. It sounded fun, but I didn’t give it a second thought...until Brian, my husband, suggested I try it. With his encouragement, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I fully expected to be dismissed as wife of a cocktail bar and distillery owner. Boy was I wrong! They chose me along with three others to compete for the Trophy. I didn’t know exactly what the competition entailed, but it sounded like a ton of fun.
For the competition, two things were assigned to me. First, I was paired with Scott Weller, a veteran bartender from Parlour Bar. He became my coach and mentor. Second, Tanqueray gin became the spirit I was charged with. This was a lucky break because the signature drinks I developed used Copperwing Gin and Vodskey, both easily transferrable to Tanqueray.
I met with Scott a week before the competition to go over my signature drink. We came up with two ideas, the Kiss My ‘Biscus, which is a Collins drink, and a spicy Gimlet. In the end we went with Kiss My ‘Biscus because it was visually striking and stood a better chance at winning. At that same meeting, we also went over the rest of the competition including the Speed Round and the Dealer’s Choice. This is when my nerves started flaring. What did I get myself into?!? But onward, I went. Scott coached me on the Seven Pillars of Classic Cocktails by Bittercube. I memorized it for the competition and this proved to be extremely valuable in the speed round. Thank you Scott!
I arrived at the competition on Sunday afternoon with Brian and our three boys. I was told I was going to be doing the Speed Round and Dealer’s Choice first, then the signature drink. This is when I got butterflies in my stomach. I was really doing this!
So, Speed Round first. For this, the judges randomly picked three drinks. We had one minute to talk it over with our coaches, then five minutes to make all three drinks. I had to make a Negroni, an Old Fashioned, and a Sour. When I heard Negroni and Old Fashioned, I was relieved! Both those drinks are on the Copperwing menu and ones I’ve made many times before. Though, when I play around with recipes at home, I'm only working with Copperwing spirits. With the competition, I had different different types of spirits to choose from, like rye or bourbon whiskeys and a variety of liqueurs. Thankfully, Scott was able to help out with that. He put the ingredients in front of me and I made the cocktails. The Speed Round was rough. I didn't have time to add garnishes to my drinks, but I got positive feedback about the taste and appropriate dilution, so I was pleased.
The Dealer's Choice was a strange one. The spirit was Ketel One Vodka to use in an Old Fashioned and the modifier was to make it refreshing. Scott and I came up with peach syrup and Jamaican Bitters #1. My competitor made the exact same choice of syrup, but decided to use Jamaican Bitters #2. In the end, it came down to the bitters used. The judges seemed to like the #1 a little better, but overall, thought it was a weird combination that was drawn. We all had fun with it.
Then, the Main Event: I had to present my signature drink. It was blueberry cinnamon simple syrup, lemon juice, and gin, topped with club soda and atomized with fennel. It was super nerve racking! Not only do you have to make the drink, but you have to talk and interact while you are doing it. And remember, I’m an amateur! I was a little worried about the double shake since I've never really had to do that and my small hands have a hard time getting over the tins. But, it worked and the audience got into it. I cracked the tins on the first try, which I practiced a lot. Then, as I poured the bright, magenta-colored drink, I could hear “Ooohs" and “Aaahs” all around the patio. I garnished it with an orange flower and atomized it. More “Ooohing” and “Aaahing”. It lifted my spirits. The judges loved my drink! They also really enjoyed the name: Kiss my 'Biscus.
Then I was done.
There was only a 3.5 point difference between first and last place. It was a nail-bitingly close competition. When they got down to the last two names, it was between me and Michelle. They announced Michelle's name as runner-up and I was floored. I had won! Nathan, my oldest son, was right next to me and gave me a big hug with a huge smile on his face. It was all worth it for that moment. It was so rewarding. Scott also won the coach competition for a punch he created. He and I cleaned up at the Trophy Hunt.
Some things I realized in this process... being a bartender is not easy. The good ones make it look easy. It’s really difficult to make a good drink quickly and under pressure. Bartenders do an incredibly difficult job, take much pride in what they serve, and always strive for each drink to come out just right.
Also, everyone I have met in the bar industry is incredibly supportive. They truly want everyone else do to well. It doesn't seem like there are a lot of egos in the room.
Lastly, it’s really cool feeling to create something and have people I don't know try it, and like it. I hope I can keep doing it.