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Notes From the Scene

Hi Enthusiasts –

Most posts on this blog will be of the “news you can use” variety – reviews, new spots, suggestions, or highlights of what our great City has to offer. But from time to time, I’ll send along tales from my adventures in the cocktail community.

For those who don’t know, Los Angeles is experiencing a cocktail ‘moment’ – a moment that is poised to last. (For a much better and longer description of what I’m talking about, read this LA Weekly article, by Jonathan Gold.) We are seeing a renaissance of the days when “having a cocktail” meant something – when the drinks used fresh ingredients and were thoughtfully made, when you knew your bartender (and, perhaps more importantly, they knew you), and when drinking was more social and convivial and less about getting drunk. When people knew how to hold their alcohol and have fun with their friends. The days before “shots” and “martini menus.” And this has been brought about because some dedicated bartenders – bartenders who see their work as a “profession” and not just something to do between acting jobs – have taken pride in their work, set up some great drink menus at restaurants that care enough not to overlook this vital part of the dining experience, and have come together as a true community, sharing stories, secrets, and spirits. I have been lucky enough, amateur enthusiast though I am, to be accepted into this burgeoning group. So, from time to time, I’ll tell some “tales from the inside.”

A couple nights ago was the finale of a drink competition sponsored by Gran Centenario Reposado tequila at Malo in Silverlake. My friend Christine, Malo’s Beverage Director, worked hard to put this event together, and it came off beautifully. For those who haven’t been (or haven’t been lately), Malo has a great drink program, and has recently opened a really nice upstairs space that’s all exposed brick and very “loft-y” in feel.

Drink competitions are really fun for a couple of reasons. First, the cocktail community comes together to support their own – and to let their hair down a little. (One of the judges Wednesday night, who will go nameless – for now, judged the whole thing in drag.) Second, the drinks are really interesting and different, sometimes for better and sometimes … not. But people who make their living slinging too many vodka/tonics for sloppy drunks get to really strut their stuff for people who appreciate their artistry. (I always say great bartenders are like great chefs – they don’t think in terms of recipes, they think in terms of how to combine ingredients to make something wholly new.) And third, there are usually often some great prizes for people who are doing what they love to do anyway!

Wednesday night’s event was titled “Chicks Behind The Stick” – featuring female bartenders, who sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. (“Getting behind the stick” is bartender slang for serving drinks.) Not all the finalists were women, but a number of them were, and they made some tremendous cocktails.

I won’t bore you with all of them, but here are a couple examples of drinks you won’t find in your local bar any time soon (they all had to have Gran Centenario tequila, but sorry I don’t remember the names – which is half the fun):

— one with tequila, creme de cassis, and egg whites which came together as a sort of “tequila fizz”, like a ramos gin fizz.

— one with tequila, lemon, housemade honey-cabernet infused simple syrup, and Luxardo maraschino liqueur, made by Natalie, the Liquid Muse.

and the winners:

Judges’ Award: The Lullaby, a drink with tequila, melted Nutella, and steamed milk that made a sort of Irish-coffee tasting delicious warm drink that was concocted by Matty Eggleston, who you can find at the Hungry Cat in Hollywood or the Varnish in Downtown on any given night. His drink won for balance, consistency, appearance, tequila taste, and originality.

Peoples’ Award (decided by popular vote): Casa Blanco, a drink with tequila, rum, muddled pineapple, basil, and sweetened condensed milk, created by Silamith Weir who, by day, is the liquor rep for Martin Miller gin. Sounds gross, right? Well, that’s what makes a great cocktail sometimes – taking unpredictable ingredients and combining them in a way that is balanced, new, and delicious. And it was!

So it was a really fun night all the way around. Silamith and Matty won some extra cash, Christine got to show off Malo and highlight her sisters-in-arms, and the rest of us were treated to some creative, one-of-a-kind cocktails from some of the City’s most creative drinkmasters.

Have a great weekend, and happy travels!