Cocktail competitions have become something of a routine occurrence in Boston. Not that “routine” should be construed as “boring.” These good-natured contests are typically fun and lively affairs that give talented bartenders an opportunity to showcase their skills. More than that, they are symbolic of the city’s rich, ever-evolving cocktail culture.
As these boozy battle royales are increasingly becoming de rigueur in the Boston area, Movers & Shakers has grown into something of an institution. Now in its sixth year, the Boston Center for the Arts’ Movers & Shakers competition features representatives of 16 local bars and restaurants, each with an original cocktail employing a spirit made by one of five sponsoring liquor producers. Many of the participants brought along food, too, which is good – even cocktails sized for sampling can catch up with you in a hurry.
Taking place at the South End’s Cyclorama, teams from OAK Long Bar + Kitchen, Wink & Nod, Emerald, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, and a dozen others competed for the favor of three judges. (The crowd got to vote as well, though I don’t know how those votes were weighted against the judges’ opinions.) I didn’t get to try every cocktail, but each entry was sufficiently distinct; and taken together, the offerings served as a testament to the creativity and innovative spirit that has made the Boston area such a wonderful place in which to enjoy cocktails.
The evening’s emcee was Josh Childs, overseer of Silvertone, Audubon, Trina’s Starlite Lounge, and Parlor Sports. As the proceedings drew to a close, Josh revealed the winners. Taking home the award for Best Presentation was Kendall Square’s Catalyst, with a pairing called “Peas and Carrots.” Their vibrant, funky-hued cocktail featured Privateer Silver rum, muddled pea tendrils, yellow chartreuse, blanc vermouth, orange bitters, and lemonade.
Served alongside the “Peas” was this beautiful dish of roasted carrots, carrot pesto, and pressure-cooked yogurt.
Ward 8 snagged Best Food and Cocktail Pairing. Their Dreamcatcher cocktail, a recent addition to their menu, is made with El Dorado 8-year rum, Privateer Amber rum, spiced Earl Grey tea, orgeat, and lime.
The Dreamcatcher was paired with bacon cashew caramel popcorn, a staple of the Ward 8 menu. This almost wasn’t fair; as good as the cocktail was, you could pair sour milk with this decadent popcorn and still get a few votes.
And the prestigious honor of Best Overall Cocktail was awarded to Pastoral, a Fort Point kitchen and bar known for Italian cuisine and artisan pizza. Their Lucid Inspiration, a mix of Berkshire Greylock gin, absinthe, and pea consumé, was herbal and vegetal with a touch of sweetness.
Not everyone can win an award, of course, but I do think some honorable mention is in order. In my humble opinion, the unofficial award for best overall display goes to the Ritz-Carlton’s Avery Bar.
The colorful fruit and orchids adorning their table announced the tropical flair of their food and drink pairing. The Herbaceous Privateer combined Privateer rum, Clemént Créole shrubb, velvet falernum, and angostura bitters. Boosting the rum quotient was a tropical fruit rum cake made with mango, papaya, pineapple, and Privateer rum. The cake was delicious and made for a sinful complement to the tiki-style drink.
And if there were an award for most audacious cocktail presentation, The Living Room would win it going away. Showing up to a craft cocktail competition with test tube shots is an expression of either supreme confidence or stunning naiveté. I’ve had bottled craft cocktails, cocktails served in fancy shot glasses…but a test tube? This was a first for me.
Chances are, you’ve been in a bar where there’s a waitress walking around with a tray of test tube shots. For a dollar or two, you get a test tube filled with bottom-shelf liquor and an overly sugary mixing agent. Given how affordable they are, you might even get talked into a second one. The night quickly devolves from there, and you wake up the next morning and wonder, in horror, what act of stupidity you committed that warranted 57 “likes” on Twitter.
Thus it was with low expectations that I surrendered a ticket for The Living Room’s “Cherries Fo’ Real” – and if I was already skeptical about the drink, the name did little to instill confidence in me. The woman behind the table removed a test tube from what appeared to be a block of ice and shook it up, at which point the liquid inside turned into an opaque shade of red (a phenomenon I failed to capture with my camera). “Down the hatch!” she cheerily said, erasing any doubt that this was a shot and not something to be sipped.
And you know what? It was really good! Made with Greylock gin, Bolton Farms apple cider, fresh ginger, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, and Bing cherries, it was complex, sweet, and spicy. Why they chose to serve it in glassware that in any context other than a laboratory is a harbinger of poor decisions, I don’t know. But hey, whatever works.
Congratulations to Pastoral, Catalyst, and Ward 8 on their richly deserved honors, and cheers to everyone who participated.
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