If necessity is the mother of all inventions, it is likely the upcoming Smirnoff's Premium Spirit Mix-Off will inspire some formidable sauce.
Organized by Black's Pub, the two qualifying events will pit eight bartenders against each other in front of a panel of judges on Thursday, Sept. 23 and Thursday, Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. The four winners from each event will move into the final round on Nov. 25, where they will mix for the grand prize - a trip for two to Las Vegas.
Drawing from the entire Sea-to-Sky corridor, organizer and pub manager David Branigan has invited top bartenders from Vancouver and Squamish, though the majority will come from Whistler establishments like Bearfoot Bistro, Rimrock Cafe, Araxi, Ric's Grill, Quattro, and the Four Seasons' Sidecut.
"We are expecting some very creative recipes," said Branigan. "I know that at one of the last competitions a gentleman used Crown Royal infused with bacon. Another guy was using fois gras foam to rim the martini glass. The competition is really where they push the envelope as to what the expectation of a cocktail is and it is part of the fun of doing it - to see what crazy, creative recipes they can come up with."
Invited bartenders will have the opportunity to present three drinks - one of their choosing, another from Black's Crafted Cocktail menu and one in the spirit of Iron Chef. The Iron Bartender round will allow two minutes to mix two previously undisclosed ingredients into a cocktail. Scores will be decided based on taste, presentation and showmanship, with the crowd weighing in heavily on the latter.
Specialty ingredient cocktails have experienced a rise in popularity over the past few years. By breaking with tradition and perfecting the art of mixology bartenders can achieve a degree of celebrity through signature beverages and unusual flavour combinations.
"I think it is really a two-tiered drink scenario. The average patron or the younger patron going out to the night clubs is probably happy to have a cocktail or a shot or a beer, but I think the trend in hospitality as a whole is that people are drinking less these days but when they drink they want to have a great experience," continued Branigan. "So the way we have built our operation is that we are spending more time making more premium craft cocktails with fresh fruits and fresh herbs. There is a higher price point to it but I think that is what people are looking for. They want to sit down and have a drink and go 'Wow, that was fantastic,' as opposed to just throwing back a rye and seven."
The three-part Premium Spirit Mix-Off will lead up to a joint 25 th Anniversary Party for Black's Pub and Sushi Village in December.