The last week of judging is almost over. Last Monday night, the judges imbibed the finalists one last time before getting all gussied up for the Friday night Martini Mix-Off Gala at the Boise Art Museum. At the gala, the winners of the classic and specialty martini competitions will be announced (and served up to gala guests). Also happening at the gala is the modern martini competition, in which competitors have just moments to shake, stir and serve the judges their best concoction. With music, food and martinis on a beautiful May evening what could be better?
The finalists in competition for the grand prize in the classic martini category include The MilkyWay, The Melting Pot and Red Feather Lounge. In the specialty category, The Milkyway, Pair and Reef will compete for the top prize. But getting there was half the ... er, "work." We judges must remind ourselves of the seriousness of our mission.
Last Thursday's final round had the judges once again being escorted from bar to bar in a limo. Our first stop was Bardenay, where bartender Sean Earley shook up the Bardenay Bond, a concoction of Bardenay Vodka, Bardenay Gin, Lillet Blanc and a bleu cheese olive (although he did give us a choice of olive, I went with his decision.) His specialty drink was a surprise, the Chai-tini. Made with Oregon Chai Tea, Bardenay Chai-infused vodka, Yazi Ginger Vodka, Absolut Peppar, Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, whipped cream, cinnamon and caramelized ginger root, this one wins the award for the most ingredients.
Next we traveled to The Melting Pot, and we took bets as to whether they were going to serve us fondu. No one took that sucker bet. Bartender Joe Orchard served up the Frozen Goose, a Grey Goose and Noilly Pratt vermouth classic followed by the "Oh, Joy!", a Malibu Coconut Rum, Amaretto, Creme de Cacao, chocolate-rimmed glass, candy bar creation.
Jen Koble was next on our list at Pair, which was completely decked out in a Breakfast at Tiffany's theme. Jen prepared The Tiffany, made with Madagascar vanilla bean-infused Absolut Vodka flavored with nutmeg and a slice of pear. Ryan Caufield then served up The Sally Tomato, a classic made with Plymouth Gin and a roma-stuffed olive.
Last on our list of competitors was the Piper Pub & Grill, where Scott Nefgzer shook up The Classic Q, a Quintessential Gin martini with bleu cheese stuffed olives. Then, to issue in summer, he prepared the Summer Breeze Martini, an Absolut Level Vodka infused with honeydew melon and cucumbers.
Now that the main bit of competition is over, I can voice a few observations that I held my tongue about (mostly) during judging. While we saw more gin used in the classic martini recipes this year, a lot of bars tried to modernize the classic. While some judges might appreciate this, I'm old school when it comes to my martini. I'm so old school, I believe a martini should be wet enough to need a towel. Also, Plymouth Gin was the gin of choice this year by so many, and I'm not certain why. Coincidence? Gossip? We know competition is tough. Were they all looking to see what the other bars (including last year's winner) was doing? And one word of advice to any aspiring bartender: Don't give your customers a choice in garnish. Be confident in your own creation. You are the professional and your patrons will appreciate that.
See you at the gala. Look for the devilishly handsome guy in the tuxedo.
Martini Mix-Off tickets are available at all participating bars for $60, which includes one martini at all 12 participating bars and the Martini Gala on Friday, May 26, at the Boise Art Museum. All proceeds benefit the Boise Art Museum. Martini coupons as part of the ticket can be used during the month of May and June.