New York, NY —
On Monday, September 10th, I attended the Bärenjäger 3rd Annual National Bartender Competition. The event was held at The Tippler located on West 15th Street in New York City. Had I not asked a man standing on the corner, I would have walked right past the bar as there was no identifying sign other than a sign that spelled open in bright, white, lightbulbs. After waiting in line and giving my name at the door (as this was an invite-only event), I walked down the stairs into quite possibly one of the most unique bars I have been to in New York. Located beneath Chelsea Market, the deep red brick walls and dark wood columns provide an artistic and comfortable atmosphere.
There were six stations set up with a different bartender crafting their own brilliant cocktail at each one. I started at the far end and worked my way down the line, talking to each bartender as I went. The cocktails being judged were required to include at least 1/2 ounce of Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur or Bärenjäger Honey & Bourbon. The bartenders were judged by the audience as well as a panel of five industry tastemakers including Geoffrey Zakarian, winner of The Next Iron Chef. The bartenders were competing for the grand prize: a trip for two to Oktoberfest 2012 in Munich, Germany and $1,000. The bartender who created the audience’s favorite cocktail was also awarded a check for $1,000.
I began my judging experience with Aaron Butler’s beverage called Beat to Quarters. It was a bright pink, sweet, smooth, and citrusy. Immediately, I knew it would be a hard drink to top. I moved on to Ryan James Gannon’s Brassneck which didn’t have as many flavors as the first drink. It tasted much stronger than I would have liked. It was a good drink to sip, but wouldn’t be my go-to beverage of choice. I then tried John Henderson’s drink called the BäreEnrager. I was excited to try this drink because I had heard from quite a few of my fellow tasters that this drink was an awesome blend of spices that worked really well. Much different from the rest of the recipes, Henderson used Tequila and Mezcal which created a unique flavor profile when combined with Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur. This drink was a bit too spicy for my taste buds, but I welcomed the challenge Henderson took upon himself in going for a smokey, spicy beverage as opposed to the sweeter drinks that the other bartenders had been partial to.
Before continuing on my journey from station to station, I took a break to take a picture with the Bärenjäger Bear and cleanse my palate with some warm bread that was circulating. I read over the recipes that I held in my hand and anticipated the next three beverages. Christian Sanders’ drink, Bear’s Milk, caught my eye so I made my way over to his bar next. Made with Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur and Earl Grey/Bergamot Steeped Milk, I dubbed it a wonderful nightcap, but not something I would order out at a bar. A lot of flavor was delivered through the grated nutmeg that was sprinkled on top of each drink before serving. Next, I tried Carlos E. Cuarta’s Call Me “Honey,” which was full of citrus and bitter flavors. This drink was tasty, but it wasn’t enough to keep me craving more. As soon as I sipped Katie M. Loeb’s BärenBerry Mule, I knew I had saved the best for last. It was sweet but not too sweet, bitter but not too bitter, and had a wonderful blend of berries that made it an incredibly enjoyable cocktail. Every drink was garnished with a juicy blackberry wrapped in a lemon twist, which was a refreshing way to introduce the flavor profile of the drink to my mouth.
The entire crowd stayed around to hear the final decision made by the judges. While we waited, The Tippler buzzed with people talking, meeting one another, and enjoying these incredibly unique drinks. I was personally amazed at how each drink was created and presented exactly the same each time. I watched as the bartenders placed the exact same amount of ice cubes in each glass and stirred the ingredients exactly the same amount of times. It was incredible. Once the winners were announced, I was pleased to hear that my favorite drinks were also the favorites of the majority of attendees. Ryan Gannon with the Brassneck won audience favorite and Katie M. Loeb’s BärenBerry Mule won grand prize. Congratulations to you two, and a big thanks to all of you for putting on a spectacular evening! Cheers!