As the bar began to fill up with guests, the bartenders and their respective barbacks put the finishing touches on their stations, familiarized themselves with the pantry, and shared some laughs before the event kicked off.
Finally, with a packed house, we all learned about the primary charity that would be receiving a portion of the proceeds from the evening – the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. And then Catoctin Creek Tasting Room Manager Denise Petty announced the rules.
The first secret ingredient was cold brew coffee from Virginia Commonwealth Roasters, and you could feel the energy and focus in the room as each of the bartenders tasted it with an eye toward a completely unique creation to impress the judges and the crowd.
After a frenzy of shaking, stirring, adjusting ratios, and doing the math for large-scale batching, our contenders presented their creations to the judges. Here’s what they had to say.
With both Eric Bowers and Erin Robertson on the board with points in round 1, the secret ingredient for round 2 was introduced: a chili-infused lacto-fermented vinegar that rested for several years in Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye barrels. I could see the bartenders getting excited as they approached this spicy, tangy new ingredient, and you could see a major shift in the style of drinks they put together.
Following that dark and silky cold brew coffee, you saw our fierce mixologists aim for ingredients that would both complement and soften the intensity of the chili vinegar.
With one vote going to Alex Moreno and two votes going to Nikki Drake, we had a bit of a situation on our hands going into the final round. Nikki and Eric were tied with two points apiece, but it was still anyone’s game to win or lose.
The secret ingredient for the final round was…Cannibalism! No, not actual human flesh, but a local milk stout by Adroit Theory brewed with coffee from Papua New Guinea. As you can imagine, beer is about the last thing that bartenders expected as a secret ingredient in this competition, since it usually stands alone in a bar setting. But the dessert-y flavors in the coffee did somehow seem fitting for the last drink of the evening.
In this final round, stuff got wild. Everyone was working with all their might. You could see the bartenders with one or two points on the board looking to pull away from the rest of the pack, and everyone else was feeling the pressure to absolutely sweep the judges off their feet and bring home the trophy with one round of life-changing cocktails.
Nikki Drake was crowned the winner of the second annual Battle of the Bartenders, with Eric Bowers taking home the ever-popular people’s choice vote.