Bartending has progressed far beyond just creating popular drinks. It has evolved into a craft of mixing and reinventing old and new exotic cocktails. Today’s modern Mixologists push the overall limits of creativity of yesterday’s bartenders.
A few weeks ago we attended the First annual Sake competition presented by Umenoyado Brewery of Nara, Japan and Banzai Beverage Corporation at a private beachfront residence in beautiful Malibu, California. The USBG sanctioned event received over 300 submissions from some of the best mixiologists from Los Angeles. The Judges included Mr. Yoshida from the Umenoyado Brewery , Sake expert Eric Swanson, Eater LA editor Kat Odell and Black Lab‘s Joel Black.
The judging took place about 3 weeks prior to the event at a great sushi bar in Torrance called Yanagi Japanese Bistro. The atmosphere, in the back of the restaurant was quiet. The room was dimly lit and spartan. Once we got done with our sushi lunch then attention turned to the making of each one of the final 8 drinks.
All the ingredients were assembled on a central table the mixologist from the sake company carefully mixed each one of the 8 final recipes to determine which 4 were going to the competition. Each recipe was poured out and tasted by a panel of 4 judges, of course I got to partake of each of them and each one was better than the last. Some of them feature the sake more others masked the flavor of it but they were all very good. The question was which of them was going to go to make it to the final 4.
From the 8 finalists chosen, only 4 made the cut to compete for the $1000 prize up for grabs. The 4 finalists were Josh Curtis, Christopher Barragan, Michael Blum and “Food Network Star” Nikki Martin. Each competitor was judged based on the 5 criteria: presentation, aroma, taste, originality and best use of sake.
All of their ingredients were meticulously prepared prior to creating the drinks. Some ingredients included but were not limited to: gin, watermelon, St Germain, mint, basil, and cucumber.
Josh Curtis created a fairly simple drink with Evoluzione jumai daiginjo sake, muddled cucumbers, lime and simple syrup.
Michael‘s drink “The Prince & Popper” consisted of plum sake, Stoli elit vodka, lime, orange juice and kaffir lime syrup.
Nikki made use of the plum sake as well, along with Pisco Porton, egg whites, simple syrup and lemon.
Chris made his cocktail with Aragoshi yuzu sake, Hendrick’s gin, rose water garnished with a lemon twist and thyme. Utimately it was his attention to detail that earned him the wining title as Sake Master and the $1000.00 prize.
We tasted each of the cocktails and each competitor showcased their own styles with their mixology pairings. In our opinion, some made better use of the sake than others but everyone interpreted their ultimate Sake infused drink and we were fortunate to be along for the ride.