You may remember when I announced that I had been chosen to serve alongside the founders of Ripe (JD Altobello) and Onyx Moonshine (Adam von Gootkin) as a judge at the first Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market Farm-to-Shaker CT Bartender’s Challenge. There are really too many good things about this opportunity for me to gush about. The moment I was asked to take part in the event, I felt officially recognized as a knowledgeable source of information about my local area – and a source with good taste at that! It really validated all the hard work I’ve put into this blog, and also assured me that I am portraying an accurate version of myself each time I post. I am so enthusiastic and passionate about sampling interesting craft cocktails, and the fact that JD of Ripe knew this after only meeting me once (at Taste of the Nation) means my blog has been speaking the truth to its readers!
I’m also so happy that my parents and Heather were able to be present at an event that was so special to me! And every time I looked over at Heather chatting with my parents, I couldn’t help but smile. I just love seeing people I love getting along #sap. It particularly meant a lot to me that Heather came to the event and stuck it out the entire time, because while cocktails may be my thing and while she and I may get along famously, they certainly aren’t her thing as well and the food being served (by Morton’s!) was mostly not vegan-friendly!
I met up with my fellow judges before things got going, and was so happy to find that I’d ALSO be judging alongside a pretty amazing individual I met at the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest – Signature David, master mixologist! He frequently appears on FOX61 showing off his crazy concoctions.
I’ve met Adam of Onyx at several events in the past! It was great to see him again and get to drink so many different cocktails with his wonderful, smooth moonshine.
He mixed up a very special blend for all the guests – Apple Cider Onyx Moonshine! Holy crap this was SO GOOD. And unlimited!
Heather and I were chatting with JD of Ripe and found out that he is a vegan! So when the watermelon, beet, and goat cheese salads over arugula came out, he was able to secure a cheeseless version for himself and Heather.
I also had the chance to work with the event’s emcee, Chion Wolf, of WNPR!I am a total NPR nerd – my addiction began after I graduated from college and started a job with a semi-lengthy commute. Now I listen even when I’m not in the car! In fact, playing NPR’s app on my iPhone and coloring in my bed are two activities that, combined, equal a number-one stress reliever for me. I was so happy to be able to share that with Chion at the event.
And I’m so glad I did, because she was visibly touched to hear that fact and added that she doesn’t often get a chance to meet listeners and even sometimes forgets when in the studio that there are people out there listening. Well Chion, I know that I and many others are listening with great attention!
To hear her introducing me as a judge – and reading out loud my blog’s “sidebar” description, felt so epic!
Each competitor from an area CT restaurant would need to use in his/her cocktail the Onyx Moonshine, Ripe juice mix, and two of the many secret ingredients from the day’s farmers’ market that JD had picked out.
Some were pretty typical (strawberries), and some were downright weird(brown cucumbers? tomatoes that looked like plums?)
The winner was to receive this shaker trophy!
The competition got rolling so that we could find out who that winner would be! The competitors were listed for the event attendees, who were to submit their favorite drink at the end on a ballot so that we judges could take the Peoples’ Choice vote into consideration.
First up, we had Suzanne of Morton’s (Hartford, CT) mixing up a cocktail of raspberry, peaches, and sugar muddled into a combo of Onyx and Ripe’s Pure-Squeezed Agave Punch. She shook it all up and added a splash of club soda.
I could tell just from the ingredient list that the drink would likely be too sweet for my sugar-sensitive taste buds, and I was right. While my mom enjoyed it (she doesn’t like any kick in her cocktails), I craved something more unique and was disappointed that Suzanne chose two very “normal” secret ingredients – raspberries and peaches. However, I still love that she incorporated muddled fresh fruit into her beverage and the presentation of the full-size version was flawless!
I totally loved the next cocktail, and that’s not just because it was prepared by Chef Scott Miller, Exec Chef of Max’s Oyster Bar and the maestro that prepared a gorgeous meal for Jeff, me, and many others at the Max Chef to Farm Tomato, Tomato dinner a couple of weeks ago.
A mason jar was an appropriate choice in which to display the full-size version of Millers’ Muddle Maple Moonshine cocktail, which consisted of maple syrup, Onyx, Ripe’s Agave Lemon Sour, blueberries, lemon, club soda, and a splash of beet juice!
I’ve gotta give Scott props for not sacrificing taste for convenience. He was muddling blueberries into EACH sampler cup for each audience member, instead of muddling them and the syrup together in a big batch and pouring the results into all the cups. That’s dedication!
The drink was pretty incredible. I was worried that the syrup would make the drink too sweet for me again, but the use of a sour Ripe mix balanced out the syrup’s sweetness perfectly. I also like the sour added by the fresh lemon. And of course, the unexpected choice of beet juice as an ingredient totally impressed me. It was meant to add color to the cocktail, but also added a special something in the flavor department.
Next up we had Albana of Zula, whose current cold inspired her to choose the soothing ingredients honey and cinnamon cloves to her cocktail, as well as fresh lemon! Mixed with the Onyx and Ripe’s Agave Margarita mix, and combined with a very careful presentation, Albana’s cold certainly ended up leading to a great drink.
Mmm. Calming and the cinnamon added a hint of autumn! The other judges loved it too. This was gonna be tough…
I was way excited to see what Samantha of Firebox would have up her sleeve because I once had one of the best Manhattans EVER there! It’s a farm-to-table restaurant and its chefs and bartenders are very used to working with only the most local, fresh ingredients.
Though simply presented, Samantha’s beverage tasted great enough to stand out among the competitors! True to Firebox form, she didn’t need many ingredients to make something great – just Onyx, Ripe’s Mojito Mix, and fresh ginger-peach iced tea. I commend her for the way she used her chosen local ingredients!
Finally, Michael of Pond House Grille added a touch of science to his cocktail submission! Pond House uses liquid nitrogen in its restaurant as part of the presentation of some menu items. They view food and drink as works of art – hey, me too!
He muddled cilantro, Anaheim peppers, and fresh lemon into Onyx and Ripe’s San Marzano Bloody Mary Mix. Oh, and a splash of liquid nitrogen – NBD.
We judges were fearful of taking our first sips because we didn’t want to get “burned” by the liquid nitrogen’s extremely cold temperature!
I ended up enjoying the Bloody Mary and its pepper-y kick. I also appreciated the addition of the lemon juice. However other than the presentation, it wasn’t set apart from other Bloody Marys I’ve had in the past.
The judges huddled outside to deliberate while the crowd submitted its votes for Peoples’ Choice.
Don’t worry, the judges and the members of the crowd were still coherent enough to accurately critique the cocktails, since they’d paired them with food from Morton’s!
After hearing the Peoples’ Choice pick and considering our own opinions, the judges arrived at a decision on the winner. But he was MIA! JD and I knew where he was though, and nabbed a golf cart to go grab him.
Our winner was actually across the way cooking up a dinner for over 100 people. Yup, it was Chef Scott Miller, and he was working on the Nathan Hale Homestead Chef to Farm dinner! Luckily we were able to “drag” him back over to the barn to accept his shaker trophy.
A well-deserved win for Chef Miller! And you can re-create his winning cocktail at home using the recipe below – or order it up yourself at Max’s Oyster Bar, because it’s going to be added to the cocktail menu! I hope it’s still served in the mason jar!
The 1st Coventry Farmers’ Market Farm-to-Shaker CT Bartender’s Challenge was a great success, and all in attendance seemed to have an enjoyable time. Adam was even joking that we should call this contest a summer edition so that the wait before the next edition wouldn’t be too long! I’m all in favor – especially if I can judge again!
Thank you to the Coventry Farmers’ Market, Ripe, and Onyx Spirits for involving me in such a unique event. It was right up the Cait Plus Ate alley!
Have you ever been to a cocktail competition?
Which cocktail would you most want to try?
Has your blog ever brought you any exciting local opportunities?