The Things They Poured: Cocktail Wars rise again at the Sinclair
Bartenders are accustomed to dealing with busy crowds, and the best of them are capable of serving labor-intensive cocktails with both speed and elan. But when you take bartenders out of their environment and pit them against one another in competition, suddenly their job seems less of a craft and more of a fight to the death — and that’s before we’ve even gotten to the twist of Cocktail Wars.
The recurring bartending contest has been on hiatus for over a year. It was a staple at the now defunct Woodward at the Ames Hotel, where it began about five years ago as the brainchild of William Codman and Paul Monahan. This Sunday, it returns for one night only at the Sinclair.
“We came up with the idea because I had done so many cocktail competitions, and some of them were stale and stuffy,” Codman, the Master of Whisky for Diageo Boston explained. Monahan is now national brand ambassador for Sailor Jerry rum.
“I wanted to do one by bartenders, for bartenders, but also something more challenging than just batching up a cocktail ahead of time.” In contests for which you prepare ahead of time there’s room for outside help from colleagues, he explains. “Cocktail Wars is 100 percent you. You come up with something on the fly, and it challenges the different layers of what bartenders can do.”
The way it works is four bartenders – Crystal Kelley (Brick and Mortar), Will Tomlinson (Tavern Road), Jason Cool (Citizen Public House) and Ray Tremblay (Newtowne Grille), in this case – are set up with a full compliment of spirits, ingredients and tools. Then, as in cooking competitions like “Iron Chef,” they’re presented with a mystery spirit and ingredient. They have 20 minutes to design a recipe that tastes and looks good — and have to justify it all to a panel of judges (including this writer, which, considering I have only vague memories of the last time I judged this contest, may or may not be a great idea).
I don’t even remember the above photo being taken, to be honest.
Earlier in the evening, guests will get to sample a signature cocktail from each of the contestants, and vote for their favorite, using tokens.
Sounds straightforward, right? Wrong. Creating a cocktail on the spot is easier said than done when things like kiwi, avocado and chocolate bars, and lesser-used cordials like Zwack, Agavero or Luxardo Amaretto are sprung on you at the last second.
“We usually make it things that don’t want to go together,” Codman says. “It’s all well and good to be behind your bar having fun, but once you get in the arena where it’s a competition and it’s timed, it becomes very nervous.”
If you go
Sunday, 9 p.m.
52 Church St. Cambridge
Photos by Natasha Moustache