House of Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge

By Alex Kirles, 2017 Angostura National Champion

I arrived in Chicago the day before the competition and took the train into the city. Checked into my hotel and was told there was a rooftop / terrace bar. Done. Headed up that way and had an Amaro to sip on. It was a beautiful space and something that I really needed to help calm the nerves that were starting to set in. I went back to my room and spent the next few hours before dinner finalizing my notes and talking points. I received a text from Stephen Meagher who works for GMR Marketing and handled all of our hotel / flight booking, BOH coordination, reservations, etc. to head back up to the rooftop for drinks before dinner. That’s where I met Dave Delaney, former US Winner of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, Stephen, and the other 2 finalists Catherine Hood, and Glendon Hartly.

We went out for dinner with the Angostura team and drew our slots. Glendon drew first, Catherine second, and I was slated last. I had mixed emotions about going last. There were only 3 of us so it wasn’t like most competitions where you wanna go in the middle / end. I knew that since I was going last I had to put on a show-stopper performance, and in the sage-advice I’ve received from so many other bartenders “don’t mess up”.

The day had finally come. I woke up, as I have with every competition, at 6am well before my scheduled wake-up call. I go immediately to my laptop and start pouring over my notes and begin rehearsing my presentation. First, I just sit and read it out loud over and over until the words start to sound more natural and comfortable. The passion for Angostura is there but I have to make sure I remember what I want to say. After an hour or so goes by, 7am, I start to walk around and recite the presentation by heart while injecting some enthusiasm into what I’m saying. This goes on for the next 4 and a half hours until I’m supposed to meet up with the other contestants and a few other Angostura reps including former Global Winner Dave Delaney for lunch.

As we all sit down to order I can tell that tensions are running high. We’re about 7 hours until the first competitor, Glendon, is scheduled to perform. We all make small talk and go over last minute advice from Dave. The one thing I remember from that lunch was this key piece of advice from Dave “Don’t forget the bitters”. He said it happens more often than you think, and it’s happened at the global finals a number of times. Great.

Now that Dave had scared the shit out of me, it was time to walk to the venue. The space was at Morgan on Fulton at the end of the block of where we were staying. The brand new Ace Hotel in the Fulton Market District. We walk through the space and are told that this is the time to make any specialty syrups we need. “Great, no problem. Where’s the scale?” There was no scale. It’s an event space, not a stocked kitchen, Alex. Cut to Glendon and I walking around Chicago going to Whole Foods, GNC, Rite Aid, etc. with no luck. I also asked a few restaurants if I could borrow a scale and was also turned away saying they were being used currently. Finally, a nearby restaurant to venue let me borrow the scale and I rushed back to make my syrup. I finish what little prep I had and began to go over my notes yet again. This time, I would recite it then double check to make sure I’m hitting all the points I want to. The runs are becoming more polished and I’m starting to feel the passion I have for Angostura come forth when I’m talking. I spent who knows how much time delving into the story of Angostura and what makes them who they are and found a story that inspired me and made me want to be apart of the company that is so essential to this industry.

We all sit down for our interviews with the production team that will air should we advance to the global finals. And I remember one question in particular “What’s on the line today?” “Angostura”. The chance to represent the brand that has been such an integral part of this industry.

A few hours go by and it’s finally the moment we’ve been waiting for. It’s time.

Staring us down on the judge’s chair was Paul McGee (Owner of Lost Lake, among other bars), Kevin Beary (Beverage Director at 3 Dots and a Dash), and Neal Ramdhan (Last years Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge Champion). Glendon goes first and in a flash it’s over. 7 minutes seems like an eternity but is over in the blink of an eye. Catherine went next and the same thing happened. Done in a flash and now it was my turn. I set up my bar and went over my last minute checkpoints. Daniyel Jones introduces me and brings up that Yani from the Sugar House has already won this competition so I have big shoes to fill. Thanks. My 7 minutes started and I begin. A full 1 and a half minutes go by and I haven’t even touched a bottle. But I felt confident, comfortable, and excited about what I was doing. There was never a moment of worry, concern, nervousness that came over me. I smiled, laughed, I was enjoying what I was doing. And just like that, my 7 minutes were up with some time to spare. My final remark was for everyone to raise a glass and Marvel at the House of Angostura and the scope of their success.

We all anxiously await to hear who the winner was, awkwards drinking either rum or soda and bitters. They finally call us back into the room and have us stand behind the bar. They announce the winner “Alex...Kirles”. I honestly didn’t believe it at first. I still kind of don’t. It was a great experience and I was so ecstatic I could bring home this win for Sugar House (again) and Detroit. Some interviews followed, followed by celebratory drinks, packing my luggage so I could be ready to go in the morning. And just like that it was all over. I flew home the next day and went back to work. Now I wait until February comes and I compete against 50 some bartenders from around the world in the Global Finals in Trinidad. Hopefully, I can bring home another win for Detroit.

Marvel:

2oz Angostura 1919

.375oz Pedro Ximinez Sherry

.375oz Blackstrap Molasses Syrup

5 Dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters

.75oz Cava

Thrown and garnished with a long orange peel

Coupe Glass

Top with the .75oz cava

 

The Branch:

2oz Amaro di Angostura

.5oz Ginger Syrup

.5oz Fresh Lemon Juice

5 Dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Shaken on crushed ice and frappe into a double rocks glass

Garnished with Angostura Aromatic Bitters Powder and torched...

 

The 10 Classic Cocktails You Should Be Drinking This Summer

The 10 Classic Cocktails You Should Be Drinking This Summer

Detroit is fortunate to be awash in great cocktails.  The passion for craft that has taken root among the bartenders in the city has produced some truly amazing drinking experiences.  Bars and restaurants that just a few years back would have been pumping juice out of guns, or crushing bottles of sour mix, are now proudly offering drinks made with quality ingredients.  Spirits knowledge is on the rise, and home bartenders everywhere are spreading the gospel to friends and neighbors that mixing proper drinks also happens to be FUN AF.  While we love to experiment with the latest trends and techniques in the cocktail kingdom, we thought it would be fun to take a step back and highlight some of the original classics, the drinks that underpin the whole modern craft cocktail movement.  They are called classics for a reason.

Detroit’s Hospitality Specialists Discover Why Lot No.40 is So Good

Detroit’s Hospitality Specialists Discover Why Lot No.40 is So Good

Detroit’s Hospitality Specialists Discover Why Lot No.40 is So Good

By Bill Scott

Last March, thanks to Lot No.40, the Daily Beast’s Food & Drink Senior Editor Noah Rothbaum was in town rounding up and educating Detroit’s finest hospitality specialists on the complexities of Canadian whisky. Among the group, Sugar House founder Dave Kwiatkowski was invited to indulge in some quality Canadian whisky at the Hiram Walker distillery, in Ontario. They spent the day with the extraordinary Master Blender at Hiram Walker,

Dr. Don Livermore with Noah Rothbaum (Photo: Lot 40 & Le JIT Productions)

Dr. Don Livermore with Noah Rothbaum (Photo: Lot 40 & Le JIT Productions)

Dr. Livermore is one of only two Master Blender’s in the world to hold a PH.D. in his field. He also holds a Bachelor’s in microbiology and a Master’s of Science degree in Brewing and Distilling. With such an expert spearheading their tour, Dave K. was blown away at the knowledge and proficiency that Dr. Livermore presented. In an interview we had with him, recounting what he had learned, Dave K exclaimed,

“The entire process of Canadian Whisky is incredibly different than American whiskey.

He’s absolutely correct. Canadian whisky is unlike anything else in the world. Its distinct characteristics can be mostly attributed to comparatively less regulations regarding the production of spirits. In the rest of the world, you see a pretty consistent requirement for at least a 51% mash bill of a particular grain—such as rye—to allow for it to be legally labeled a “rye whisky”. With Canadian whisky, there is no percentage requirement for that label.

Speaking on this, Dave K. said,

“They basically call everything a “rye”, because rye, as a crop, is extremely hardy and it grows in the north really well. So they pretty much put rye in everything.”

Now, before we get too technical, let’s establish some basic distilling information to help the rest of us understand what all of this means.

Before you begin the process of distilling ethyl alcohol from grains, you need to first have a mash bill. A mash bill is basically the recipe for a kind of beer that is created through a fermentation process. This beer is referred to as the “mash”.

Typically, as with American whiskeys, the mash bill would consist of a combination of corn, wheat, barley and rye. These grains are combined and after they are fermented, we are left with a mash that we can then extract (or distill) alcohol from, through a process of heating and cooling. However, Canadian whisky is not your typical whiskey. This process is largely different than most parts of the world. Concerning this, Dave K. explained,

“The big difference is that they don’t combine grains in the fermenter. They just distill rye, they just distill corn, they just distill barley; some of those are malted, some of them are not. In the end, after they are distilled, they put them in a barrel and age them and they take those and mash them together. That’s how they create their flavor profiles.”

What this means is that they may have a much broader definition of what a ‘mash bill’ is. Moreover, this could be an advantage since they are able to use multiple batches in order to concentrate the exact flavor that they are trying for. Since they use aged spirits as flavoring to be compiled in the end, one might go as far as to consider the entire process (from fermentation to aging) to be considered a kind of ‘batch bill’.

Hiram Walker’s Lot No.40 is a special kind of Canadian whisky in that it is made from 100% rye. Lot No.40 is a double distilled spirit; it is first distilled in a column still, then again distilled in a pot still. As with all whiskeys, after all congeners are stripped, what you are left with is essentially a vodka. It’s an unaged, neutral grain spirit. What makes it a whiskey is the flavor that is added from the wood inside the barrels that it is aged in. Taken from an interview in 2015 with foodrepublic.com, Dr. Don Livermore spoke on the quality of Canadian casks,

“As I discovered in my Ph.D. studies, virgin oak barrels will give you 4-5 times the amount of vanilla, caramel and toffee notes than a once-used American bourbon barrel. In fact, in 60 days of aging in new wood will get more vanilla, caramel and toffee notes than 18 years of ageing in a used barrel. Quality of wood is more important than aging. Sometimes people do not like a wood-forward whisky but a grain-forward whisky, so in Canada we use our barrels over and over again. Barrels act like a sponge. What was in the barrel beforehand will come out into the next whisky. Likewise, port barrels will add a nice fruity texture. All these differences are very cool to play with, and the Canadian whisky category allows for creativity.”
 

Things have been going very well for Lot No.40 in recent years. In 2015, at the prestigious sixth annual Canadian Whisky Awards, they won the coveted “Canadian Whisky of the Year” award. Something Dr. Livermore referred to as, “like winning the Stanley Cup of whisky.”

Back at the distillery, Dr. Livermore demonstrated a controlled taste test for the group of Detroit hospitality specialists. With that, Dave K. assured us that the success of Lot 40 was validated right before his eyes; he said,

“It used to be 80/20 (rye, to malted rye), and malting helps the fermentation process, but once they started adding enzymes (which is a relatively new thing) they stopped having to malt it. We tasted all these years side-by-side of 100% rye, and 80/20 (rye to malted rye), and it was really phenomenal.”

For a better understanding of what these magical enzymes are and what they do, we turned to the book “Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert” by Davin de Kergommeaux. Inside, he explains that the grains used to make whiskey are actually seeds. Each seed contains a tiny embryonic plantlet (a micro-version of the plant). Within the seed, it also contains a starchy endosperm that actually produces food for the plant for when it sprouts. That starchy endosperm is what needs to be converted into sugars in order for it to be fermented. There are already natural enzymes within the seed that convert that starch into sugar, which is the food the plantlet needs when it starts to germinate. However, what Canadian distillers are now doing is using their own microbial enzymes to prematurely activate the starch and convert it into sugars themselves. These sugars are then fed to yeast cells, which is what eats sugar and expels ethanol; this is called fermentation. So, to put it plainly, alcohol is yeast poop.

Before they began this process of using their own enzymes to produce sugars, they had to use a malted grain. Malting is basically tricking the seeds into germinating by using warm water to get those natural enzymes to turn the starch into sugar. Once sugars are present, they dry the seed so it doesn’t actually sprout. Then the fermentation process can begin.

With a side-by-side comparison, contrasting the use of malted rye in Lot No.40 with the use of microbial enzymes, the entire group was in agreement that the new technique was king.

Lot No.40 is a beautiful bright copper color that offers a rich and savory flavor with a hint of spicy and sweet caramel. It has a trace of fruity notes with a touch of cinnamon along with unmistakable rye grain. It finishes off with a pleasingly lingering moderate heat.