I helped judge the Angostura rum/bitters Global Cocktail Challenge regionals in San Francisco last week, alongside Smuggler's Cove owner Martin Cate and Angostura brand ambassador David Delaney.
For this competition, bartenders submitted recipes online. The top ones (I think around 30 or so) on paper were then reproduced by a team including Delaney, and tasted blind. Of those, 12 US finalists were chosen independent of location.
Three regional finals were conducted in convenient cities to where finalists lived. The San Francisco regionals had three bartenders from Los Angeles and one from Oakland:
- Aaron Stepka of Blue Collar
- Ali Tahsini from The Double Standard, Oakland
- Colin Shearn from Magnolia House
- Harry Chin from Caña Rum Bar
The winner of each of the three regionals will fly to New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail to compete for the US championship.
Each competitor was required to make two cocktails, the one they submitted to get this far, plus an additional cocktail.
Aaron Stepka of Blue Collar made a summery rum cocktail with Angostura White rum, St. Germain, Angostura bitters, lemon, simple, and Stiegl Radler Grapefruit Beer, garnished with a slice of caramelized grapefruit; and a New England fall-inspired cocktail with pear eau de vie, velvet falernum, bitters, honey, and lemon.
Ali Tahsini from The Double Standard in Oakland made The Rabbit's Hole (which was garnished with pineapple fronds like bunny ears) with blanco tequila, sloe gin, pineapple and lemon juice, agave nectar, and Angostura bitters; and The Hummingbird made with Angostura aged rum, basil eau de vie, lemon, simple, bitters, and it was garnished with cracked white pepper.
Colin Shearn from Magnolia House made a banana-forward cocktail with calvados, Aperol, banana liqueur, lime juice, and Angostura bitters; and one called The Night is the Notion with Angostura 7 year aged rum, coconut liqueur (hand-carried from LA), maraschino liqueur, and bitters. This drink was served with no dilution in a cognac snifter at room temperature and it impressed the hell out of the judges.
Harry Chin from Caña Rum Bar also made a banana drink with a full 1.5 ounces of Angostura bitters, cream, banana liqueur, hazelnut liqueur, honey, and cold brew coffee that was a terrific digestif; plus a simple yet fantastic cobbler with Angostura 7 year rum, cinnamon syrup, and bitters (plus a whole lot of garnish).
The total score was 300 points, and all of the bartenders were within 6 points of each other, so yeah, pretty close. It was a great judging experience because while some of the flavors of the cocktails were amazing, the bartender's technique may not have been as in-point. The best-tasting drinks weren't necessarily the best-looking ones, and the worst-sounding drinks were some of the best.
By a very narrow margin Harry Chin from Caña Rum Bar won the competition and will compete in the national finals at Tales of the Cocktail. Congratulations Harry!
Harry will compete against Elizabeth Mickiewicz from drumBAR in Chicago and Aaron Butler of L’Artusi in NYC.
Want to watch the finals live? Here's the info:
U.S. Finals Thursday, July 16 at the House of Blues in New Orleans. The event is from 12:30pm – 2:30pm.