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Chicago bartender wins top prize in gin cocktail competition

February 18, 2009 |  6:34 pm


From Scotland comes a gin called Hendrick's
A libation not suitable for schmendricks
But don't overdo
This botanical brew
Or your head will feel crushed by ten bricks

-- unknown drunkard, circa 2009

There are no losers in a cocktail competition -- how can you complain about a contest that encourages you to get tipsy? -- but there are definitely winners.

At the finals of Tuesday night's steampunk-themed Marvelous Hendrick's Limerick & Cocktail Competition at the Edison, local bartender Eric Alperin of the soon-to-be Varnish earned second place for his Southern Continental Breakfast Cocktail, a savory concoction of bacon, maple syrup and butter-infused gin mixed with fresh lemon juice and a spoonful of homemade rose jam. [Click here to read more about the "fat washing" process.]

His tart, smoky cocktail was only three points below winner Peter Vestinos' Cotswold Afternoon. Chicago-based Vestinos of the Wirtz Beverage Group created a powerfully sweet combo of gin, lemon juice, flower water and orange marmalade topped with a sharp-tasting caraway seed foam. If only the gin were infused with pastrami!

Creativity rather than drinkability was of paramount importance with bartenders vying to outdo each other in strangeness. One elaborately prepared cocktail tasted like cleaning fluid, while another tasted bland and gritty but painfully alcoholic. Perhaps the most pleasant cocktail of the night was also the simplest. Sierra Zimei's Secret Garden -- made with gin, cilantro-infused simple syrup, grapefruit juice and lime juice -- was a light, refreshing drink that tasted for all practical purposes like a cucumber martini. Even as she was making it, she explained to the judges that it was a very simple recipe she'd given out hundreds of times. Most importantly, it's something you might actually order at a bar.

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: Peter Vestinos mixes A Cotswold Afternoon. (Rob Takata / For The Times)