I don’t ever recall attending a cocktail competition but it doesn’t mean I haven’t. With the amount of booze and cocktails flowing at Sunday’s DC Craft Bartender Guild’s Fourth Annual Tiki Cocktail Competition, I could see my younger self overindulging on all the creative libations offered at the event. But being that much older and wiser (at least I would like to think that I am wiser) than my younger self, I was able to attend the event, sample each of the eight cocktails entered into the competition at least once (possibly more), and walk out in a straight line at the end of day and my dignity intact.
The friendly competition, held at a British-style pub on 9th and U Streets NW, the Brixton, serves in part to hone the skills and creativity of the Guild members who are among the city’s best bartenders among their friends and peers. The event also served as a fundraiser to benefit the hurricane victims in Houston, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I had the good fortune of being clued into this event and the Guild, thanks in part to the volunteer coordinator with the University of Maryland College Park’s Arboretum (where I volunteer on some weekends), Meg. Her significant other, Walter, is a bartender at Le Diplomate on 14th Street NW and the person who came up for the title for this post.
So what is a tiki cocktail?
I admit, prior to Sunday, I am not sure I gave much thought to what constitutes a tiki cocktail. Heck I think I’ve been misspelling the word— I am very familiar with tiki bars and tiki decor—all inspired by Polynesian culture. But what exactly comprises tiki drink? Walter explained it to me during a Facebook live interview he did with me at the event.
So rum serves as the base for the cocktail. Add fruit juices reminiscent of the tropics, flavored liquors, bitters and spices such as cinnamon in just the right configuration and voilà you have a tiki cocktail. As Walter stated on camera, “tiki cocktails are fun.”
All eight competitors put their own personal spin on the classic tiki cocktail drawing inspiration from foods they love, the liquor in the drink or even old school tiki elements. Walter’s tiki cocktail, the Flamin’ Stamen, called for setting the stamen, the pollen-producing part of a flower, on fire and featured three rums from the islands of Jamaica, Martinique and Guiana, orjun liquor and sherry. The element of fire, combined with the orchid stamen, harkens back to classic tiki roots of the lush Polynesian landscape on a volcanic island.
Lindsay Parsons, who tends bar at Radiator found within the Mason & Rook Hotel, dubbed her cocktail “Mama Said Choke You Out.” Though the title makes you think the drink is homage to LL Cool J (remember his hit, “Mama Said Knock You Out”). In realty the cocktail’s name is a reference to Cynar 70, an artichoke based liquor, which occupied the glass with an Avua Prata Cachaça and the Hamilton 151 Rum.
The winning cocktail, the Tom Kha, was entered by E. Jay Apaga, bartender at the Green Zone. E. Jay’s inspiration was the Tom Yum soup popular in Laos and Thailand and featured a blend of orange Curacao, Hamilton Navy Rum, Caffo Solara Grand, Rothman Peach Brandy and Avua Amburana Cachaça. He layered the alcohol base with ingredients used in the Southeastern Asian soup—coconut milk, lime, galangal, cilantro, chills, lemongrass and ginger.
As the winner was announced, the organizer noted that the judges made little use of the spit buckets stationed next to them, a testament to the quality of the drinks, though I did have to laugh—I did not recall seeing a single one stationed among the attendees. Good thing I paced myself and had plenty of the pig roast buffet. I saw the event as a marathon, not a sprint. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could say that about my two pals who came with me and left mid-afternoon before the tiki cocktails started to flow like lava.
More than just tiki
Brunch is huge in the D.C. area and seeing that the Tiki Cocktail Competition started at 1 p.m. on a Sunday—smack in the middle of brunch time—organizers decided to kick the event off with a Bloody Mary competition. Look for that write up later this week.
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