The Chartreuse Sweet 16 Competition: 16 bartenders, four rounds, 30 cocktails
The Carthusian monks who produce Chartreuse might not blanch at the prospect of having to taste 30 cocktails made with their secret-recipe herbal liqueur. I, on the other hand, wasn't so sure about my capacity to drink that much. But heck, if I've tasted my way through scores of Slovenian wines, witbiers and tequilas, what's 30 Chartreuse cocktails?
Besides, I love Chartreuse (check out this Chartreuse souffle recipe) and am happy to see it showing up on more cocktail menus, along with the herbalicious likes of Cynar and Fernet-Branca (though I'll pass on Branca Menta). So when I was asked to be a judge at the Chartreuse Sweet 16 Competition, I was pretty thrilled.
It went down Monday at the Doheny downtown, in a single-elimination tournament where 16 bartenders went head-to-head, creating Chartreuse cocktails on the fly. It was a blind tasting, so us judges (myself, Bar Keeper owner Joe Keeper, and Chateau Marmont chef Carolynn Spence) were sequestered behind black velvet curtains. We tasted cocktails in pairs and picked which was the better of the two to decide which bartender would advance to the next round. We were stumped at the end of the round of 16, when we couldn't choose between a Champagne cocktail with a huge curl of lemon peel (which we later found out was made by Matty Eggleston of Wurstkuche) and an intriguingly cloudy, lime peel-garnished drink that nicely highlighted the Chartreuse (made by Damian Windsor of the Roger Room). It was a tough call, but it ended up going to Eggleston.
In the quarter-final round, the standout was a cucumber-Chartreuse drink from Chris Bostock of the Varnish. And in the semi-final round, we couldn't stop drinking a gin-Chartreuse-Concord grape concoction from Matthew Biancaniello of the Roosevelt Hotel (which he has named the Grapes of Wrath; see the recipe after the jump).
The championship round came down to Biancaniello and Eggleston, with an unlikely but well-balanced bell-pepper drink and a not-too-ginger-y ginger cocktail, respectively. It was another tough call.
But after some back-and-forth between the judges, the winner was ...
Biancaniello. Who could have imagined that it would be a bell-pepper cocktail that won the contest? Improbable but true. And though both of the championship-round drinks were delicious, it's still the Grapes of Wrath that I keep thinking about, just because it went down so darn easy.
The Grapes of Wrath
From: Matthew Biancaniello of the Roosevelt Hotel.
Several Concord grapes (plus three grapes marinated in Grand Marnier for garnish)
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce agave or simple syrup
1½ ounces Hendricks gin
½ ounce green Chartreuse
Muddle the grapes with the lemon juice and agave or simple syrup. Add the gin, green Chartreuse and ice; stir. Garnish with the Grand Marnier-marinated grapes.
-- Betty Hallock
Photo of the aftermath by Betty Hallock