It was a lengthy session Thursday evening (Aug. 5) — eight original gin martinis and cocktails at eight downtown bars. The Hendrick's Gin Contest Crawl went quite nicely, though, thanks to the efforts of Beth Sill of the Ben Arnold Beverage Company, award-winning British mixologist Charlotte Voisey (the portfolio ambassador for William Grant & Sons USA), and the bar staffs who participated.
Hendrick's is a small batch, hand-crafted gin distilled in Ayrshire, Scotland. Lighter in body and considerably more complex and delicate than the usual well gins around town. They infuse a mash of cucumber, creating a unusually subtle flavor and aroma.
The crawl kicked off at 6 p.m. at Social before meandering through the Market to High Cotton and Club Habana and up King Street to Rue de Jean, Halls Chop House, Chai's, O-Ku, and Midtown Bar & Grill. Each featured bartender was required to mix, name, and serve an original concoction using Hendrick's. They were also asked to recite an original limerick when they served the three judges. Organizers requested that all limericks be "of enough taste for to publish on Hendrick's website or Unusual Times Blog" (some were more tasteful and true to proper limerick form than others; click the audio button to the right for a sample). The panel of judges meticulously appraised the whole bar and drink experience at each stop — from the bartender's attention and demeanor and the atmosphere of the area to the specific details of each drink, including the name, appearance, aroma, special ingredients, flavor, texture, balance, and overall drinkability. All eight drinks scored well.
Rue de Jean's Michael Moore took top spot with an elegant and rich peach/thyme martini called "On Georgia Thyme." He rubbed fresh thyme along the rim of each glass and used a fresh peach puree with a splash of ginger ales. He garnished with a thin slice of peach skewered with a small sprig of thyme.
Social's Jonathan Calo came in at a close second with a delicate, citrusy cardamom and cantaloupe cocktail garnished with a simple lemon twist He named it "The Gaelic Ghandi." Chai's was a close third with "Bloodshot," a zesty red grapefruit juice/cayenne cocktail created by David Callaghan. He garnished the peppery drink with a spiral of candied grapefruit rind and fresh basil leaf.
Clad in full Scottish highland dress (kilt, sporrans, hose, and all) High Cotton's Luca Barwick served a peppery "McSweeney Thai-tini," made with a Thai chili pepper, cucumber, lemon, and coriander. His slightly naughty, two-verse limerick, "McSweeney's Thai-tini," won for judges' choice of the evening.
Upstairs at Club Habana, bartender Melanie Calabro went all-out on a flowery costume for the occasion. She carefully mixed and served a citrusy "Southern Elder," accented with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, bitters, lime, and rhubarb.
Hall's Chop House provided snacks of crab, oysters, and shrimp with bar manger Robbie Cecil's intensely fruity cocktail, "Gin-Til Melon," which popped with watermelon flavor and champagne effervescence.
Across the street at O-Ku, the manic Kane Sanders carried on like Billy Connolly, shouting greetings in a convincing Glaswegian accent. His fruity, citrusy "Cool Blue" featured cucumber, lemon, lime, and fresh blueberries.
The gin journey ended a few block up King Street at the Midtown Bar & Grill, where James Maybank and bartender Chris Houston handed out sweet and slushy Midtown Melon Snowcones in martini glasses. They admitted a secret ingredient: a few spoonfuls of Kool Aid powder.
Voisey announced the winners upstairs at Midtown around 11:30 p.m. Moore received $500 and a trophy as the first-place winner. All participating bartenders received a handsome, dark brown, apothecary-style bottle of Hendrick's Gin. Plans are already in the works for the Hendrick's Gin Contest Crawl 2011. Cheers to that.