Dizzy Recap: Benedictine Smackdown

Last week, after 10 days of self-induced sobriety, I fell back off the wagon, and oh, what a good fall it was. I headed to the finals of the Benedictine “Alchemists of Our Age” cocktail competition held in partnership with Esquire magazine at the Hearst Tower. Walking into Hearst is like walking into a scene from “The Devil Wears Prada”–the cascading waterfall sculptures and escalators are as awe-inspiring as the leggy editors and models teetering about. For a journo type like me, it was an electrifying experience just to be at the publishing group. This feeling was magnified when I reached the Benedictine event on the 44th floor and saw the view of Midtown from the tower’s triangular windows–how can you not love New York?!

The five finalists were stationed throughout the room, accompanied by barbacks and other staff dressed in brown robes in honor of Benedictine’s monastic history. Created 500 years ago by Dom Bernardo Vincelli, a member of the mysterious Benedictine Order in France, the unique elixir combines 27 herbs and spices gathered from around the world. The competition asked bartenders to create cocktails that were creative, balanced, and highlighted the warm spice of Benedictine.

It turned out that the first drink I tried was the winning ticket–supporting the hometown contestant, I headed straight to where Louis 649‘s Damon Dyer was stationed to try his “Monte Cassino.” A modern twist on the classic “Last Word” cocktail, Damon’s drink included equal parts of Rittenhouse Rye, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and lemon juice. Simply garnished with a lemon peel, the drink was a harmonious burst of herbaceous spice, whiskey, and citrus–I was happy to have it as my first post-detox tipple.

Damon’s drink was selected for first place by Benedictine Global Brand Ambassador, Ludovic Miazga, and famed cocktail historian and Esquire Drinks Correspondent David Wondrich, who was most impressed by “the way the Monte Cassino had of just sliding down the throat.” He added, “It was a tough field, though, and all the drinks were truly excellent.”

Excellent indeed, and the crowd favorite was the “Greyhound’s Tooth” from San Francisco’s Brandon Clements (Benedictine, vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, house-made grapefruit bitters and sugar). Other finalists included Boston’s Jackson Cannon, New Orleans’ Daniel Victory, and Chicago’s Lynn House. Personally, I thought Jackson’s drink was Damon’s closest competition–a simple but delicious combination, the “Vincelli Fizz” (Benedictine, egg white, rose vermouth, and lemon juice).

In addition to bragging rights, Damon will receive a full-page advertorial feature in Esquire’s April 2010 issue–congrats!

“Monte Cassino” by Damon Dyer:

3/4 part Benedictine Liqueur
3/4 part Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 part fresh lemon juice
3/4 part Rittenhouse Rye

Shake, fine strain into a chilled coupe (or small cocktail glass). Lemon twist garnish.

Dizzy Recap: Amarula Cream at Esquire SoHo Penthouse

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Touring the PokerStars.Net room at SoHo Mews.

Bachelors and cream liqueur might not seem a likely match, but earlier this week, Amarula Cream, Esquire Magazine, and mixologist Alex Ott proved otherwise. Amarula Cream, a South African liqueur made with the fruit of the Marula tree, held a cocktail bash to celebrate its sponsorship of the recently unveiled 2009 Esquire “Ultimate Bachelor Pad” at the SoHo Mews. “Pad” is truly an understatement–this sprawling, block-sized penthouse styled by a dozen top designers is filled with impossibly cool, impossibly pricey decor. I could go on and on about the chic interior (digitally-enhanced billiards table, a $40,000 leather “chopper chair” in the Diesel-sponsored music studio, a luxurious Hugo Boss-sponsored master bedroom with views of the Empire State Building), but I’ll leave that to the design bloggers.

To kick off the evening, Alex demonstrated how he created fresh-ingredient cocktails that would bring out Amarula’s refreshing fruit flavors. The marula fruit has a guava-like tropical essence, giving Amarula an exotic aftertaste. Alex’s most impressive drink was a revelation of masculine flavors–the “Tobacco Vanilla” involved tobacco-infused liquified honey, sandalwood syrup (sandalwood powder-infused simple syrup), Amarula, light rum, and lime juice.

Alex’s instructions for making the tobacco-infused liquified honey: dissolve two parts of Manuka honey or acacia honey in one part of hot water, stir until dissolved, and let cool. Store honey in a refrigerator. Burn organic tobacco and guide it through a punctured straw through the honey solution for about one minute.

Other cocktails served included the “Amarula & Eve” (Amarula, citrus vodka, lychee juice, and ruby red grapefruit juice), “Green Tea Wonder” (Amarula, mango nectar, gunpowder green tea, and lemon juice), and the “Pink Elephant” (Amarula, chocolate liqueur, merlot, raspberry puree, heavy cream, sugar, and a garnish of hickory smoke). Alex showed us how to make a quick whipped cream by simply shaking heavy cream and sugar in a cocktail shaker. To make the hickory smoke garnish, Alex lit a piece of wood under an inverted funnel, while his assistant siphoned the smoke into a plastic squueze bottle, thus capturing the smoke. When squeezed over the drink, the whipped cream absorbed the smoke flavor, delivering a campfire effect.

Between the penthouse views, pool table antics, and indulgent cocktails, this was one party that was difficult to leave. Fortunately, I will be back at the Mews for a Woodfords Reserve event next week!