The hardest part about judging cocktail contests is going out drinking with the contestants afterward.
Monday evening I helped judge, along with Carlos Yturria and David Nepove, the Laphroaig cocktail contest at Rye in San Francisco. I had a feeling bartenders were going to bring their A-game to this contest and I was correct (as usual!). All of the top five drinks were contest-winning quality, which made choosing between them very difficult. It also made going out barhopping with the non-winners slightly uncomfortable (luckily, there were drinks to fix this), as explaining why you chose one awesome drink over another awesome drink never ends up sounding logical.
So what did people do with Laphroaig? The third place winner was Owen Westman of Rickhouse with the now internationally famous Laphroaig Project. This drink combines Laphroaig with green and yellow Chartreuse, lemon, peach bitters, and maraschino liqueur.
In second place and also the winner of the crowd favorite was the Urban S'more, created by Chase Williams of 21rst Amendment Brewery. It was almost the simplest drink of the night, but the combination of Ghiradelli chocolate and Laphroaig with a vanilla-rosewater cream on top was just plain delicious and best allowed Laphroaig to shine through in the drink.
The winning cocktail was created by Tony Devencenzi, now of Bourbon & Branch, with his drink called the Island Fever. It had a lot of tiki elements to it: It was made with Laphroaig 10 year-old, Tia Maria, lime juice, falernum, and orange bitters, and had a foam on top made of orgeat and chocolate bitters with a Chartreuse spray and grated nutmeg. The drink in the glass was excellent, but it was when you licked the foam off your lips after sipping that it all came together.
Other drinks well worth mention were Yanni Kehagiaras of Nopa's supple two-kinds-ofsherry-plus-Laphroaig drink (with the best drink name of the night) The Eucharist, and Brandon Josie of 15 Romolo's The Devil Never Knew that was made with Laprhoaig, Galliano Ristretto, lemon, cayenne syrup, raspberry lambic beer, peach bitters, and had a foam of (a different) beer and chocolate on top.
You can see how NOT EASY it was to chose a winner from these drinks.
Good news about the winning drinks- you can actually try them! I believe you can get the Urban S'more at 21rst Amendment, you can order the Laphroaig Project at either Bourbon & Branch or Rickhouse, and the Island Fever will be served at WhiskyFest in San Francisco this Friday.