Lion’s Tail bartender Taylor Smith made the most of her first-ever cocktail competition when she was declared victor of the Boston Bartender Bout earlier this month.
The second installment of Wink & Nod’s quarterly bartender battle, this time featuring Heaven Hill brands, saw previous winner Joe Bork Dugan put his championship belt on the line against a trio of challengers culled from three previous rounds – Kate Belanger of Tiki Rock, Ashley Hudson of Southern Proper, and Taylor.
In Round 1 of the finals, the four bartenders each presented an original cocktail featuring Pama, a pomegranate liqueur. Participating Wink & Nod guests were charged with voting for their two favorite drinks, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the finals.
Taylor advanced on the strength of Letters from a Porcupine, made with Pama, Rittenhouse rye, pineapple rum, egg white, and burlesque bitters. Her opponent? None other than the reigning champion. Joe Bork Dugan’s Hazed & Con-Boozed, a blend of Pama, Rittenhouse, Green Chartreuse, lime, and hazelnut-hemp orgeat won over the crowd and gave him the chance to properly defend his title.
The Final Combatants
Once behind the Wink & Nod bar, Taylor and Joe had 10 minutes to concoct a drink using a secret ingredient, which turned out to be Hypnotiq – a bright blue, tropical liqueur made with vodka, cognac, and fruit juices. They would then have five minutes to properly compose their drinks and present the final versions to the event judges. (The judging panel consisted of OFFSITE owner Nick Korn, Heaven Hill’s Rich Fiorello, and me.)
The competitors took the featured ingredient in completely different directions. Joe made use of Hypnotiq’s striking blue hue, turning in an elegant cocktail topped with bitters.
Taylor opted for a Paloma variation, combining the Hypnotiq with mezcal, tequila, Aperol, ghost chili bitters, lime, and grapefruit, topped with soda.
The choice wasn’t easy – it never is, especially when the cocktails are so dissimilar. But the smoke and spice of Taylor’s drink wowed the judges, and we awarded her the belt.
Winner and New Champion
A native of London, Ontario, Taylor initially came to Boston as part of the opening team at Earls Assembly Row in Somerville. For the past year she’s been behind the bar at Lion’s Tail, which is where I caught up with her to chat about her winning cocktail.
Taylor had never had Hypnotiq before, but she wasn’t shocked when the surprise ingredient was revealed. “It was the craziest thing in [Heaven Hill’s] lineup,” she said. “I thought they would throw something difficult at us.”
Taylor spent her allotted 10 minutes trying the blue liqueur in a variety of drinks before settling on an agave drink. “Hypnotiq is sweet and sour, so I kind to played on that note with a riff on a Paloma,” she explained. “A little bit of spice always goes nice,” she said of the decision to complement the mezcal with ghost chili bitters.
The resulting cocktail is smoky, spicy, and sour, with citrus notes that make it refreshing and drinkable. The Hypnotiq doesn’t contribute much in terms of flavor but ties together the other ingredients.
Congratulations to Taylor and to Joe as well, who was gracious in defeat. Taylor’s victory is especially noteworthy on account of it being the first time she’s ever participated in a bartending competition. And it won’t be the last – she’ll defend her title at the next Boston Bartender Bout later this summer.
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