I hope everyone had a festive and restful holiday season! I’m still getting my bearings and working on a few stories for the new year, but I wanted to kick things off by congratulating a talented bartender and an excellent bar. Last fall, I had the esteemed pleasure of serving as a judge in the second annual Libations for Preservation event, a cocktail competition presented by the Young Advisers of the Boston Preservation Alliance. Held at GrandTen Distilling, the fundraiser pitted bartenders from bars in six Boston neighborhoods against one another in a good-natured beverage battle.
Each participant brought an original cocktail recipe, which the 100+ attendees voted on. The two top vote-getters moved on to the final round, where they were charged with creating a cocktail on the spot using a surprise ingredient. A panel of three judges – Adam Lantheaume, founder of the Boston Shaker, and Spencer McMinn, head distiller of GrandTen, and yours truly – would choose the winner.
This was my second year judging, and also the second year that Ward 8 was one of the competitors. In the inaugural event, Ward 8 bar manager Mike Wyatt made it to the finals, but Jamaica Plain’s Canary Square took home the prize.
This year, Ward 8 was back, and Mike contributed another cocktail. But Mike couldn’t be there in person, so he sent another Ward 8 bartender in his stead – Amber Wirth. Under Amber’s deft command, Ward 8’s riff on a Mai Tai sailed right to the finals, where Amber squared off against a bartender from Wink & Nod. Their challenge was to make a drink with GrandTen’s recently unveiled North County apple brandy.
While it was a difficult decision for my fellow judges and me, we chose Amber’s cocktail over Wink & Nod’s tiki-style concoction.
I wish I could offer you some more pictures and a full write-up from the event, but I was way too busy judging (it’s hard work, you know; you have to drink, chat with the other judges, and…well I guess that’s about it). But earlier this week, the Young Advisers congregated at Ward 8 and presented Amber with her award – a beautiful plaque commemorating her victory, adorned with an antique wooden beer tap used in the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair.
The Ward 8 crowd lustily called for a speech, but Amber let her winning cocktail do the talking. A flip made with GrandTen’s apple brandy, sherry, egg whites, black walnut bitters, cinnamon, and other spices, it’s a smooth, creamy drink that captures the flavors of the season. The spices accentuate the apple flavor, and the sherry contributes a warm, nutty character.
The cocktail may not be on Ward 8’s menu, but you can catch its creator behind the bar a couple of nights each week. And while I am not personally affiliated with the Boston Preservation Alliance, I encourage you to check them out. They’re a nonprofit organization devoted to maintaining the unique architectural character of Boston as the city grows and evolves. The Young Advisers group, which organizes the Libations for Preservation event, aims to get a younger generation of Bostonians involved in the Alliance’s work. Again, I’m not a member, but having hung out with them on a few occasions, I can tell you they’re nice folks who love the city and appreciate a good cocktail.
Congratulations again to Amber and Ward 8 for their stirring victory (sorry, couldn’t resist), and also to the Boston Preservation Alliance for orchestrating such a fun event last fall. Here’s hoping the tradition continues in 2016.
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