Folks were certainly in a celebratory spirit at Town MV’s annual Holiday Cocktail Competition on Monday, Dec. 4. Milling about the crowded room, you saw many dressed to the nines, and everyone was having a rip-roaring good time. Spirits were high, the drinks were plentiful, and the music was rockin’. DJ Mike Roan, who hosts Trivia at Town, kept the energy up, as he has done so for three of the competition’s four years.
Town general manager Camilla Tamargo recruits the Island bartenders who compete. “It’s a fun little holiday event we like to do for the local bartenders,” she said. “We change the sponsor annually, which is a way for them to reach the bartenders and get their product into the bar.”
The evening of mixology meeting creativity was sponsored this go-around by Black Infusions, which makes fruit-flavored vodka, and chose its Black Fig Vodka to be the star spirit this year. Each contestant was allowed only five additional ingredients of their choice to invent a unique, prizewinning concoction.
And how many ways are there to mix this beverage? Well, at least nine. That was the number of professional bartenders who came to try their hand at winning for creativity … although their showmanship was certainly part of the fun. The contenders included Ashley Stites from Lookout Tavern, Mia Benedetto from Bad Martha’s, Kyle Cameron of Rockfish, Kevin Allen with Fishbones, Brendan Woods from Bettini at the Harbor View, Dave Boylan with the Ritz, Kamila Heller of the Square Rigger, Katie Garcia from the P.A. Club, and Jon Silva from the Wharf.
While each dressed specially for the occasion, some really stood out. Boylan sported a full Santa costume, including wide cuffs that made mixing quite the feat. Woods looked natty in a bold blue jacket festooned with white stars, over very red pants. But perhaps Garcia was most unusually dressed, as a sassy Christmas elf, including the pointy ears — or actually only one, since she lost the other. Her drink was, appropriately, the Naughty Elf, which entailed a process that included Garcia walking atop the square bar, sifting snow on top of everyone’s drinks.
All the cocktails seemed to be shaken, not stirred. But other than that, each was unique. The audience got to taste-test, too, drinking the samples each bartender fixed in the back before coming out to “perform” with flair before the judges. Not everyone shared their ingredients, but we do know Silva’s Berry Figness included raspberry lemon juice and egg whites. Benedetto concocted her Evil Newton with classic simple syrup, honey, sugar, water, orange peels, vodka, and champagne.
Peter Dansdill from Rockfish, Alex Tsukrov from Alchemy, and Megan Amburn, a sales manager for Black Infusions, were this year’s esteemed judges. Speaking with Amburn about being on the panel, she said, “I’ve been in the restaurant industry for a long time, including bartending. So I know my way around a cocktail.” The judges scored on criteria that included taste/balance, control/cleanliness, creativity, difficulty, and theme appropriateness, with a maximum of 25 points. Amburn explained that she was looking for overall balance. “Something that isn’t overwhelmingly in one direction — too sweet or sour, bitter. The flavor profile, which with fig is a little difficult, so it was a challenge for the bartenders to highlight it, because it imparts great flavor into cocktails, but it’s not a dominant flavor. But everyone did a great job finding things that complement it.”
While the judges were in the back deliberating after all the bartenders had presented, patrons got to judge as well, and there were fans for each contestant. Cassandra Meloa, a bartender herself, was with a group who came out to support Silva: “We work at the Wharf together, and we’re very excited. Fig isn’t for everyone, and there were a million directions they could go. They had their work cut out for them.” At the end of the night, Silva, in fact, was voted the winner by the crowd, winning $250.
The grand prize awarded by the judges, $500, went to Boylan from the Ritz for his Fairytale of Oak Bluffs cocktail. Amburn said, “Dave did an excellent job. His cocktail was well-executed and thought out. He really got into the theme and spirit of it all. It was an easy choice for us.”
Clearly it all was a friendly rivalry, as the bartenders came out into the crowd after the competition, and warmly greeted one another. The music kept playing, and folks kept merrymaking. As Meloa said when asked why she comes every year, “It’s something fun to do in the off-season. It gets everybody together, and gets the holiday festivities going.”