Being a judge at a cocktail competition is one of the best things in the world to do.
Not only do you have a series of talented bartenders make drinks for you (and four others) to sample, but you get to watch the entire fascinating creative process as the different ingredients are meticulously blended and balanced.
Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” made something of a mockery of professional bartenders—and he’s not very popular with most bartenders as a result. They generally sneer at him, because they take their trade seriously. They are intensely aware of what they’re doing, and they are impressive to watch—not for the pyrotechnics though, but for the consummate craft of what they do.
In turn, the judges have the responsibility of taking the bartenders seriously as well, and of paying close attention to what they do, how they do it, and how good their creations are.
At the Northwest Food & Wine Festival 2010, a lineup of some of the most talented bartenders in Portland competed with original cocktails. Only one took home the money; but all ten were talented winners, for they showed they were amongst the best of their trade.
Here’s one of them: Lindsay Matteson, Mint/820
Lindsay Matteson, of Mint/820, is relaxed, charming, and comfortable when she steps behind a bar.
And Lindsay smiles a lot. It’s not a careless smile either, or one just pasted on to be polite. It’s real, and it reaches all the way up to her warm, dark eyes. You get the idea that Lindsay likes what she’s doing, likes where she is, and just generally enjoys being who she is.
It’s such a pleasant smile, it makes you want to smile too. That’s a nice characteristic for a bartender to have.
Lindsay quietly explains her drink for the competition—which is a neat feat, since the background is about a thousand people milling around behind us at the NW Food & Wine Festival, eating, drinking, and gossiping over each other’s raised voices. But Lindsay makes it look easy, pitching her voice at just the right level; she doesn’t make a lot of noise, but she does engage your attention.
Lindsay’s drink for the evening is the Aurora Borealis, and for the base spirit she chose New Deal Distillery #3 Gin. When asked why, she immediately said, “It has a nice purity of flavor, and it’s very focused.” Could be because the #3 (so named because it is the third recipe the distillers designed when they were creating their gin) is massively focused on one thing: juniper.
Yes, most gins are lavish with juniper, as it’s the one botanical that distinguishes gin as a category. But New Deal goes one better: why, they asked, if juniper is so important, why shouldn’t we use juniper only? So #3 Gin has exactly one botanical: juniper. And it is a very intense, focused, crisp, robust evergreen explosion of juniper, so it is well suited to mixing in a cocktail. It doesn’t get lost in the mixture of flavors.
Lindsay mixes the #3 Gin, POM pomegranate juice, a splash of orange juice, a dash of her house-made Minx Orange Bitters (when asked if she is then the minx in question, she smiled and said, “Well, that depends….”, and left it at that). She poured the drink out into a coupe glass and as a final touch topped it with a float of Gruet Sparkling Wine from New Mexico (a lovely sparkling wine at an even lovelier low price).
The crisp snap of the gin remained fully intact, but the tart/sweet fruitiness of the pomegranate, the sweetness of orange, and the balancing brace of orange bitters made for a nice mixture overall, with the clean fruity briskness of the bubbly adding a festive component to the drink.
Mint/820 is one of the top cocktail venues in the city, and known for its good food. Drop by Mint/820 for dinner, and Lindsay will be happy to mix up her Aurora Borealis just for you.
And she’ll probably be smiling when she does it.