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'Tini V.3.0 

Kicking off a month of martini madness

The May Martini Mix-Off is rapidly becoming a spring tradition. This is the third year a martini competition has been held in downtown Boise, and this year things are shaking up to be the best yet. Martini mavens of past celebrations will see some similarities but also some distinct differences. Once again, 12 downtown Boise bars and restaurants will compete in three different categories for the honor of being the best. Competition is fierce and the bar has been set high by winners of the past. While the judges have their work cut out for them-this author has been invited back for the third year to test his tastebuds and for the endurance trial on his liver-predictions are high that the general public will enjoy this year the most.

Word is that downtown competitors have really come together to establish this year's competition as the signature martini contest in Idaho. Oliver Russel has signed on to produce the marketing. Absolute Vodka has come on board as the "spirit sponsor." The Boise Art Museum will not only be hosting the gala event, but will be the recipient of proceeds raised during the competition. This year's participating bars and restaurants include Mosaic Gallery and Wine Bar, The Melting Pot, The Piper Pub and Grill, Bardenay, Lock, Stock & Barrel, Ha'Penny, Happy Fish, The Bar at the Grove Hotel, The Milky Way, The Gamekeeper Lounge, Pair and Mai Thai.

Here's how it works for the public: This year's tickets are priced lower than last year at only $60 and are available at any of the participating restaurants. That may seem like a chunk of change, but when you look at the number of martinis you may sip at your pleasure for the entire month, it's a screaming deal at $4.61 per drink. Ticket holders will get to taste 12 different martinis during the month of May at all 12 downtown bars and restaurants plus one more at the gala event on June 4. You must know that these aren't run-of-the-mill cocktails, either. These martinis are the special concoctions that the mixologists behind the bar have created for the competition using top shelf spirits.

Whereas all martinis are created for the competition, many end up being best-selling drinks for the bars-you still can find some past winners on most past competitor's drink menus. Denton Musser, director of food and beverage for the Grove Hotel, told us that their second-place Smirnoff entry from last year's competition (the Grapefruit Martini with Smirnoff Cranberry, the juice from half a grapefruit and Grand Marnier, garnished with a slice of grapefruit) has become their best selling martini at the Bar in the Grove Hotel. "It is now our signature drink," he said.

Like last year, judges will cruise downtown bars every Thursday during May. They will be treated to not only each bar's entry in the Classic, Modern and Absolute martini categories, but if history has anything to do with it, entertainment may also be provided by the bar's staff as well. For martini crawlers who have followed the judges around on a Thursday night, there's no doubt it's an experience-if only just to watch several people attempt to drink nine martinis.

In past years, the judges met at the Gala event to judge the martinis in front of the crowd. This year, the final judging will be held prior to the event, and the public will be able to drink actual winning martinis from the bars. Other notable changes this year include elimination of the bar food competition.

"I'm excited about doing this for the Boise Art Museum. It's going to be great," Musser said.

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