The inaugural Battle of the Bartenders showcased Loudoun’s sophisticated bar scene while pushing foodie boundaries. Hosted at Catoctin Creek Distillery, the throw-down pitted five of the top bartenders in Loudoun against each other through three rounds of competition. Each new round featured a secret ingredient from a local producer. Bartenders were given 15 minutes to mix, pour and garnish their creation and deliver it to the judges’ table.
The three judges considered taste, appearance, uniqueness and use of the secret ingredient, awarding one point to their top drink in each round. Those watching the Battle were given 2-sip samples of each drink so they could experience the flavors and vote in the People’s Choice.
Here’s how the rounds broke down: Round #1 Paw Paw Vinegar, Round #2 Snake Oil Hot Sauce, and Round #3 Worm and Hopper Salt.
On display: The personality of each bartender and some serious skill and creativity. From branded ice to smoking herbs to orange peel roses, the competition let each bartender strut their stuff to the cheers of an appreciative crowd.
Representing Sense of Thai, Andrew Jennens, mixed up a variation on a tropical Jungle Bird for his first round, a spicy, lemony Gin Daisy, and a variation of an Old Fashioned with worm-and-hopper-salted chocolate syrup. Andrew’s signature cocktail shake, a whole body move, was a crowd favorite.
Standing up for AHSO, Phil Duong, turned out an Appalachian take on a French 75, a smoky concoction of Catoctin Creek’s 90 proof with the essence of fresh orange to tamp down the burn, and an infused gin drink highlighted by mint, lemon and the salt.
Jeff Berry, of The Wine Kitchen, impressed with his cream-topped Jungle Bird featuring carrot and pineapple juice, a Whiskey Sour garnished with smoked sea salt and a sage leaf, and an interpretation of tequila with the worm which featured Chinar, an Italian artichoke aperitif.
Rounding the bar, Sam Scarlett, recently of the now closed WK Hearth, and now at Kinship in DC, displayed his retro style with a Sidecar that featured peach brandy and rose syrup in addition to the paw paw vinegar, a gin sipper that balanced the hot-sauce heat with orange honey and Lillet Blanc, and a savory Mezcal-inspired drink with Aztec chocolate.
Representing The Conche, Samet Yuksekgonul started off with a Brandy Crusta-inspired drink served up a gorgeous glass lacquered with honey and turbine sugar and tied with a strip of lemon peel, a spicy Bijou featuring chartreuse and a smoke infusion, and a mix of rye and citrus juices rimmed with the protein-enriched salt.
Inside Loudoun’s top picks were all over the place for Round 1, definitively in favor of Jeff’s whiskey sour in Round 2, and in awe of Phil’s final gin drink and his deft handling a tricky secret ingredient.
Phil Duong proved victorious for the evening, netting him a gift card to Cocktail Kingdom and serious bragging rights. The Battle was held as a fundraiser for CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees) which provides support to children of food and beverage service navigating life-altering circumstances, like an injury or death. Future Battles are already being planned with new challengers taking on the first winner. There was even talk of a traveling trophy.
To experience the fun of Battle of the Bartenders yourself, simply visit any of the competitors and ask for Dealer’s Choice, a cocktail of their own creation. If you’re lucky, they might serve up a battle-tested cocktail.