Appleton Estate Reserve Remixology Challenge Boston
The crowd at Drink was ready to party as three of Boston’s top mixologists headlined the evening’s event: The Appleton Estate Reserve Remixology Bartender Challenge.
Drink, one of the city’s most chic spots, takes cocktail culture seriously, but not to the exclusion of a good time. The basement space, located beneath upscale restaurant Sportello, has a crisp, post-industrial feel about it. This is a bar you expect to find stocked with good liquor and a trendy young professional clientele.
Attendees were feasted on a variety of tasty hors d’oeuvres such as plump shrimp deep fried in a thin, crispy batter coating, mini tacos filled with pulled pork, toothsome chicken, and fried "yucca" that could have passed for french fries, if french fries were made of plantains instead of potatoes.
Appleton Estate rum is produced in Jamaica’s Nassau Valley, and has been since 1749. Appleton Estate produces a line of superior rums, including a 12-year-old, and 21-year-old, and a 30-year-old. Drink’s bartenders offered the night’s partygoers a menu of cocktails using the brand’s products, but the event’s host was the Reserve rum.
Appleton Estate’s Reserve label is a blend of 20 aged rums. Sweet, complex, flavorful: The rum was the star of the evening, the ingredient around which a half-dozen newly invented cocktails were built by some of the city’s top tavern talent.
DJ T.J. started the evening with a mix of his own -- party music from the heyday of the 1980s dominated his set: "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Eye of the Tiger," "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This." That last could well have been written for the rum, which was strong, but flavorful.
The partygoers seemed like a fun-loving crowd, but there were definite signs that they were also cocktail connoisseurs. One young man sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the legend, "I [Heart] New York" -- the "I" in this case being represented by a martini glass.
Meantime, the evening’s judges convened at one corner of the bar: Misty Kalkofen, Drink’s own John Gertsen, and John Mayer. No, not the pop star; this John Mayer won last year’s Boston semi-final.
A fourth judge (at least, he was listed as such) was WIllie Shine, the event’s organizer. Shine, a Boston native, is with Contemporary Cocktails, Inc., in New York. The event, he told the crowd, marked an opportunity to return to his old stomping grounds.
Drink’s bartenders -- neatly turned out, professional looking, and knowledgeable; you’d have to go to Rendezvous in Central Square to comparable masters of mixology -- kept the crowd well-oiled with a selection of four cocktails.
The night’s real draw, of course, was to see what new take on Appleton Estate Reserve the three Boston contenders could come up with. Willie Shine introduced them one by one: Sean Frederick, who carried himself with the confidence of a natural performer; Stephanie Clarkson, who had only been a mixologist for all of five weeks and who had entered the contest at literally the last minute; and William "English Bill" Codman.
Each of the Boston semifinalists had to come up with two cocktails. One was to be inspired by a song; the other by a movie.
Sean Frederick had been wearing a tie and fedora when he was first introduced, and he looked like a retro-remixed vision from the 1940s.
But when he emerged to mix his first cocktail, "Street Meat," to the strains of Lionel Richie’s "All Night Long (All Night)," Frederick treated the crowd to a mini striptease, even as he mixed up his concoction, a drink made with lime juice, pineapple juice, and ginger-demerera syrup.
Frederick called his tropical treat "My tribute to the smokey, spicy, jerk meat available from Jamaican street vendors that fuels dancing in the streets... all night long."
After a costume change, Frederick was back -- garbed in Celtics gear -- to mix up a tipple he referred to as "The Flip From French Lick." His movie choice? "Celtic Pride."
The crowd didn’t sample the drinks he invented, but they did appreciate Frederick’s showmanship, as he took a lap around the bar wielding a shaker in each hand. A cheer went up as Frederick used stencils to paint a green shamrock on the foam topping each glass.
’Sweet Dreams’ and Style Council
DJ TJ ushered the second contestant, Stephanie Clarkson, with the Eurhythmics song "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This."
Clarkson lived up to the billing, preparing an elixir that included egg white and Curaçao along with Appleton Estate Reserve rum. The song she worked to was "Solid Bond in Your Heart," by Style Council.
"The song chose the drink," Clarkson said. "I had nothing to do with it; I started out wanting to make a long cold rum drink for Style Council’s Long Hot Summer, and then I took one sip for this, and it... wasn’t the right drink.
"But I really liked it," Clarkson continued. "So I listened to the band some more, and sipped, and just felt it was right when I heard the opening ’Feel is a word I can’t explain’... I knew this was this drink."
Clarkson’s second drink took inspiration from two movies, "Good Will Hunting" and "Fever Pitch." And what sort of mixological offspring could those two films produce?
Clarkson called it "Muddled Math."
"I went straight to this song because of its use of sugar, the source of rum, in the title, plus it is TOTALLY awesome," said the evening’s third contestant, William "English Bill" Codman.
Codman gave credence to his nickname, dressing the part of the mad English punk metal rocker with a long and wild wig, then jumping onto the bar to the delight of the evening’s revelers.
The song Codman chose to inspire his drink was Def Leppard’s "Pour Some Sugar on Me," and the drink elected to use some natural sweetness by incorporating three strawberries along with simple syrup and Peychaud bitters.
"It has a great up beat feel that definitely makes me want to drink," added Codman. "But like the over-the-top ridiculousness of the ’80s, I wanted to channel the Rock ’n Roll feel in a cocktail.
"I translated the lines ’I am hot, sticky and sweet’ into a spiced tiki cocktail," Codman continued. "The spice of the chili works well with the strawberry and Yellow Chartreuse and pineapple play well together, like 2 rock chicks in a Corvette.
"There is a line ’red light, yellow light, green light, go,’ " Codman added. "For that I layered the drink with these 3 colors. And garnished it with flaming green chartreuse, every rock concert must have pyrotechnics!!!!!"
The name of the drink? "Flaming Hysteria," a libation that might be just as at home to the strain of "Pyromania."
But things got even wilder as Codman built his second creation before the crowd’s eyes -- a veritable water of life he dubbed "Benedicte Veritas," the inspiration of no other film than "Boondock Saints." What other cult-fave flick could have driven Codman to mix Guinness with rum, Benedictine, and Creme de Cacao?
And the Winner Is...
Sean Frederick! We kinda had a feeling from the start, because Frederick’s connection with the crowd was instant and red-hot. After all, half the pleasure of a well-wrought cocktail is in the presentation, and though Codman’s literally bar-hopping show and Clarkson’s reassuring presence were stellar, Frederick possessed a star quality that will serve him well come the Appleton Estate Reserve Remixology Finals, scheduled to take place in New York on September 19.
All three featured mixologists had created delicious looking drinks, but Drink’s staff served a variety of Appleton Reserve based cocktails that brought smiles to the crowd.
This EDGE correspondent tried three different creations, finding them all worthy of the complex, delectable rum they were made with. My personal favorite? A palliative called "The Privateer," made with allspice and maple syrup.