The largest trade association for bartenders and spirits professionals in America, the United States Bartender’s Guild (USBG), hosted the most recent regional competition, part of a worldwide title for Most Imaginative Bartender, in Chicago, IL this week. The private event, sponsored by GQ Magazine and Bombay Sapphire, attracted a swarm of bartenders and friends for an evening of inventive gin cocktails under blue lights amongst light beats.
Six mixologists from critically acclaimed bars and restaurants in Indiana and Illinois, such as Violet Hour and Untitled, competed for two awards on Monday, August 17, 2015 at the Rooftop at the Wit Hotel. To win the regional title of Most Imaginative Bartender from the judges and advance to the national competition in Las Vegas next month, mixologists crafted a Bombay Sapphire gin based cocktail with up to 6 other ingredients. Participants also had a say in the gin libations, as well. Each attendee cast their GQ chip for the People’s Choice Award.
Gin Cocktail Sampling:
Though each cocktail was gin based, mixologists infused and blended distinguished ingredients with the versatile, 10 mineral spirit to create a unique cocktail, unparalleled in taste and presentation with its competition.
The first sample on the menu was “The Monks Envy” by Liz Pearce from The Drifter. Her blend of lemons, juice and gin, started off the night on a healthy note. It tasted light, like a vegetable juice cleanse.
Violet Hour’s, Andrew Makcey, was up next. With no previous experience, Makcey learned and crafted his skills on the job at Violet Hour three years ago. While Mackey does not use Bombay Sapphire gin at Violet Hour, he was given a complimentary bottle to experiment and create his gin concoction.
The gin drinks went from light to heavy with Egor Polonsky’s gin cocktail, “Native Speech.” This drink, the winning drink, had 2 oz. of Bombay Sapphire gin infused with bread syrup. Then, he added a reduction of Doppelbock, a malty beer described as “liquid bread” because it is so filling.
“It was created by German monks while they were fasting,’ explained Polonsky. He added some sugar—brown sugar and then hickory.
After he poured his liquid blend into sample cups, he finished with air on top mixed with a special Polish Rye, Polugar, which for a long time was the standard of quality.
“It is one time distilled in a pot still,” he said, “Here, you keep the flavor—the rye and bread flavor.”
Next up was “The Jewel of the Nile,” a North African inspired gin cocktail. It tasted like an elevated Old Fashion with the addition of simple syrup. While it is refreshing at first, it surprises with a spicy kick at the end from a dash of Baharat, a widely used, pungent spice blend from the Middle East. “The Jewel of the Nile” won the People’s Choice Award.
But wait, there’s more. From North Africa, attendees were treated with a tropical pineapple and cream gin cocktail.
With just one sip an attendee divulged, “I’m not here right now,” who felt that the took him to an exotic beach.
How to be a Good Bartender:
Whether serving a packed bar or a lonely couple, bartending is more about the people than about the product. I asked three bartenders, “What makes a good bartender?”
“Patience,” said Mackey from Violet Hour. “It’s a people game. The mixology is fun. You can geek out over it.” He finds inspiration from previous teachers including Violet Hour veterans, Mike Ryan, Kyle Davidson and Stephen Cole.
“Personality,” said attendee Mary Crosby started classes at ABC Bartending and currently works at The Continental in Humboldt Park.
Polonsky, who manages Untitled, said, “There is no way to manage the bar well unless you are behind the bar.”
Untitled Chicago Wins:
It was a close competition. The winning mixologist, 28-year-old, Polonsky, won by half a point.
When I asked him how long it took him to make his winning gin cocktail he smiled and said, “I made it this morning.”
“Go on,” I insisted.
“I brought the idea and executed it in a different way,” Polonsky explained of his final gin cocktail innovation.
Polonsky began bartending when he was 20 years old in Russia. He came to America in 2007 and today manages the Chicago speakeasy, Untitled.
Polonsky took home the glass award and won himself a three-day trip to Las Vegas in September to compete against other regional winners such as Tampa’s Brenda Terry.
“Vegas is different,” Polonsky notes. “There are a lot of challeges. You have to be creative on the spot.”
He explained, “Last year you had to make something that is Las Vegas.”
In Las Vegas, there will be one Grand Prize winner who will be featured on the cover of GQ magazine in the promotional edition which has a circulation of 5,000. The national winner will then compete in the World’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition in May 2016. The location is to be determined, but the retail value of the trip is said to be approximately $7,500.
Good luck to our Chicago mixologist, Egor Polonsky, representing us in nationals!