Bartender Competition: These Bartenders Elevated Their Craft to Impressive Heights at Waypoint Spirits Bloody Mary Garnishing Competition!

February 13, 2019

I was invited by John Taylor, the driving force behind craft distiller Waypoint Spirits (@waypointspirits, @Drinkwaypoint), to be one of three judges for a bartender competition Waypoint Spirits was hosting at its distillery in Bloomfield (CT) this past Sunday.

It turned out to be quite an afternoon as four area bartenders -– Dustin from The Cook and the Bear (@thecookandthebear) in West Hartford, Khalid from Max Amore (@maxamore, @MaxAmoreCT) in Glastonbury, Stephanie from Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen (@zoharamediterraneankitchen, @zoharakitchen) in West Hartford, and Tony from Arch Street Tavern (@archst, @ArchStTavern) in Hartford – dazzled us with their creativity and skill in both parts of the competition!

The Four Competing Bartenders … from L to R
Dustin … Khalid … Stephanie … Tony

The Presentation:

The sky was the limit … seriously!

As with most occupations, there are different levels of artistry and skill in bartending. At the basic level, a good bartender can make the both typical and house specialty drinks efficiently and engage guests to make them feel welcome. The truly excellent bartenders are also mixologists and artists who truly appreciate that they are competing in the entertainment arena. It is a world where style meets substance. And it’s where the best creations appeal to as many of the senses as possible, starting with the visual presentation.

Each Bartender’s Garnishing Entry … Clockwise from top left …
Khalid … Dustin … Stephanie … Tony

Since our first impression of a drink is what we see in front us, the artistry of the color, glass style and, particularly the garnishes, plays a huge role in our expectations. In this case, these bartenders were challenged with taking a Bloody Mary* to new heights of attraction with their imaginative garnishes. As you can see from the photos, they got very creative using the Waypoint supplied garnishes, but Stephanie thought outside the box, so to speak, and brought in a host of intriguing additions for her garnishes, including pita pockets, pomegranate stuffed olives and even duck legs! While all the garnish treatments were impressive, Stephanie’s outrageous works of art towered over the others. The other judges (@cheyney_b and Emily from @yelphartford) and I unanimously declared her the winner of the garnishing competition.

The Winner
The Judges & The Winner … from L to R …
Miss Bri, The Dark Diva (Judge) … Stephanie (Winner) … @cheyney_b (Judge) … Emily from @yelpHartford (Judge)

* (The Bloody Marys were all made with Waypoint Spirits Spicy XIII Vodka, which is made for with 13 herbs and spices – everything you’d put in a Bloody Mary but the juice, which in this case was V-8.)

The Mixology:

What they whipped up
went down sooo good!

Inventiveness in progress as the bartenders work their magic in the Mixology Competition with Jeff taking over for Tony (lower right)

Next, the bartenders went up against each other to create drinks using Waypoint Spirits craft-distilled liquors and a variety of liqueurs and essential mixing ingredients, but with a devious twist. After the bartenders selected their ingredients, some of the choices were exchanged randomly with those of their competitors to truly challenge their ingenuity under fire. And the results were amazing. There wasn’t a single one I didn’t enjoy, which showed in how close they were in the judging with Khalid just edging out Stephanie for first place. In the end, with her close second place in this competition and her victory margin in the garnishing round, Stephanie won the overall competition.

The finished results from (Clockwise from top left) …
Stephanie … Jeff … Dustin … Khalid

We also had a couple of guest bartenders, Jeff (who works for a distributor) and Amelia (an actress and bartender from New York who recently moved to CT), mixed up some tasty drinks for us as well. Needless to say, the rest of my Sunday was kind of a wasted day, but so relaxing.

Amelia (left) made this drink she calls “Lady Lavender’s Last Word”

The Verdict:

I do love my job!

Arriving early for the competition, I was greeted by Khalid who fixed me a drink he hadn’t’t named yet, which I dubbed “Sweet Firewater Sunshine”

As I like to tell people, I drink professionally because it’s my job as a mixologist and a reviewer! So, I truly appreciate and respect the incredible talent and commitment of those involved in crafting the highest quality spirits and those who create and serve the appealing drinks that make life just that more enjoyable.

That said, I have to compliment and congratulate all of the bartenders as well as John and his Waypoint Spirits staff, including Erin, who coordinates events plus Khalid, and Tony, who also work with Waypoint in addition to their regular bartending gigs. It was a fabulous afternoon of sampling drinks while getting to chat with the bartenders and those who came to observe the competition. It would be well worth going to visit Stephanie, Khalid, Dustin and Tony at their bars to enjoy their skills first hand for yourself. (In Stephanie’s case, I had previously seen her on the job when I reviewed the Friday Happy Hour at Zohara back in October. They both got a top rating.) Just tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Clockwise from Top Left … Khalid & Erin making the Bloody Marys … John Taylor graciously posing with The Dark Diva … Tony … and Khalid making the awards presentation

I was also quite impressed with Waypoint’s Spicy XIII Vodka, which I had sampled before, but never to the extent that I did on Sunday. If you like a spicy Bloody Mary or Bloody Caesar that’s simple to make, I highly recommend trying the Spicy XIII, because, with its 13 ingredients, it and the juice V-8/ tomato or Clamato) are all you need. Additionally, Waypoint also offers a Coffee Liqueur that is both smoother and lighter than many I’ve tried, which makes it an ideal choice for any bar.

Waypoint Spirits Spicy XIII Vodka

Thanks for checking out my blog! As always, I welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. 

And now I think I’ll go have what’s left of Bloody Mary batch that … er … followed me home Sunday! Haha

Share The Holiday Spirit(s) With Create-Your-Own Spirits of Connecticut Gift Sets

November 27, 2018

As the Christmas countdown starts to accelerate (technically time passes at the same rate, but it sure feels like it speeds up when it comes to getting ready for the holidays), finding the perfect gifts can always be a challenge. Hopefully, you got some ideas from our last post (The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 3: Gifts For Drink Lovers Made Easy, Fun & Unique). And in this post, we’re going to expand on that theme with suggestions on how to create your own unique “Spirits of Connecticut” gift sets that will surprise and delight any drink lover on your list.

Creativity Counts, But There Are A Few Rules

Okay, I get what you’re thinking – how can you be creative when there are rules? Like them or not, there are always some rules you have to consider. These shouldn’t really impair your inventiveness, but they are important.

1) I shouldn’t even have to post this rule, but just to make sure there is no misunderstanding. RECIPIENTS OF THESE GIFT SETS MUST BE AT LEAST 21 YEARS OF AGE! That’s the law, and it’s just plain good sense.

2) There are some special rules governing shipping alcohol, so check with your carrier before attempting to ship one of these gift sets to someone. (Also pack the contents carefully even if delivering it yourself or you could ruin more than the surprise.)

And that’s pretty much it. So, really not that much to worry about. Now let’s get to the fun stuff!

Use Your Imagination And Have Some Fun
(But Save Some of The Spirits to
Actually Put In The Gift Set!)

Caught ya! Miss Bri knows all the tricks (not that I’ve ever done any of them of course … er … ummm … well … never mind)! While I’ve suggested the specific spirits and a few other contents, feel free to add other things like a CT-themed shot glass, mixers or anything else that comes to mind. That extends to how you package it as well, whether it’s a crate, a basket, a box or whatever. (Also, I’ve specified products from craft-distillers I’ve reviewed so far. If you are familiar with one I haven’t visited, feel free to use their products though it may make a difference in how some of my suggested cocktails taste due to potentially different flavor profiles.)

The Spirits of Connecticut:
Cool As A Connecticut Cuke Gift Set

For anyone who enjoys a refreshing Gin & Tonic, this gift set promises a definite twist of cool taste and attitude.

Suggested Contents:

• WAYPOINT SPIRITS CRAFT-DISTILLED WINTONBERRY GIN (750 ML)
(Lighter and more refreshing than typical gins, with an infusion of locally sourced botanical and floral elements, Wintonberry is made from locally-sourced ingredients.)
• WILD MOON® CUCUMBER LIQUEUR (375 ML)
• WILD MOON® LIME LIQUEUR (375 ML)
(Crafted locally by Hartford Flavor Company, these authentic-tasting, delicious liqueurs are all-natural and gluten-free.)
• ROCKS GLASS WITH A CT THEME
(I used my own recently acquired Waypoint Spirits Rocks Glass ($6) as a suggested inclusion. A Wild Moon® glass would also make an excellent addition to the set.)

RECIPE

The Dark Diva’s “Cool As A Cuke Sin & Tonic”
AKA The Twisted Chiller

I found that Wintonberry Gin, Wild Moon® Cucumber & Wild Moon® Lime mix well with a wild hair for fun refreshment in the sun. Why “Sin & Tonic” you ask? (Seriously, if you have to ask, check your pulse because you may be dead.)

In a glass with ice, combine the following:

1 oz. Waypoint Spirits Wintonberry Gin
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cucumber Liqueur
4 oz. Diet Tonic Water
(Diet? Yes, if you’re going to sin, go for sex, booze, rock ‘n’ roll, chocolate, fun stuff — not useless sugar in tonic water)
A Splash of Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur

 Mix well and garnish with either a slice of cucumber or a lime wheel if desired. Cheers!

The Spirits of Connecticut:
A Berry Cheery Holiday Gift Set

All the classic ingredients plus a few additions for a fresh holiday twist on a classic cocktail!

Suggested Contents:

• WAYPOINT SPIRITS CRAFT-DISTILLED LABRADOR NOON VODKA (750 ML)
(Very smooth with virtually no harsh alcohol burn, Labrador Noon is exceptionally mixable or fine as shot.)
• WILD MOON® CRANBERRY LIQUEUR (375 ML)
(Crafted locally by Hartford Flavor Company, this authentic-tasting, delicious liqueur is all-natural and gluten-free.)
• SMIRNOFF® RASPBERRY VODKA (750 ML)
(While not a craft spirit, Smirnoff is distilled in CT.)
• ROCKS OR MARTINI GLASS (WITH A CT THEME)
STANLEY® SCREWDRIVER SET (OPTIONAL) 
(Stanley® Tools are made in CT.)

RECIPE:

Santa’s Berry Twisted Stanley Screwdriver

Another holiday concoction from The Dark Diva’s “La-Bar-Atory” with all CT alcohols, this is a great treat for Santa’s helpers when dealing with “some assembly required” surprises late on Christmas Eve nights!!! (I recommend finishing the assembly before finishing too many of these concoctions!)

Fill rocks glass OR shaker with ice, then mix:

1 oz. Waypoint Spirits Labrador Noon Vodka
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur
0.5 oz. Smirnoff® Raspberry Vodka
3 oz. Orange Juice

Stir in rocks glass and serve OR shake and strain into a chilled martini glass!
Ho! Ho! Cheers! 

The Spirits of Connecticut:
Every Day’s A Twisted Holiday Gift Set

This versatile gift set is the basis for two of my special recipes, but I’m sure the recipients won’t stop there. One of my recipes is also great for warm weather so they can literally make any day a holiday.

• WAYPOINT SPIRITS CRAFT-DISTILLED
MAN OVERBOARD SPICED RUM
(750 ML)
(A bit lighter and smoother than other spiced rums I’ve tried, this the first one I enjoyed enough to actually buy and use.)
• WILD MOON® CRANBERRY LIQUEUR (375 ML)
• WILD MOON® LIME LIQUEUR (375 ML)
(Crafted locally by Hartford Flavor Company, these authentic-tasting, delicious liqueurs are all-natural and gluten-free.)
• ROCKS GLASS (WITH A CT THEME)

RECIPES:

Twisted Mystic Rumberry Cocktail

Naming this cocktail was almost too easy! The image of sailors coming ashore in Mystic to quench their thirst with rum combined with traditional cranberries for the holidays led to this cheery year-round refresher.

In rocks glass filled with ice, mix;

1.0 oz. Waypoint Spirits Man Overboard Spiced Rum
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
2.0 oz. Diet Cranberry Juice

Stir and serve! Just try not to go overboard! Cheers!

Twisted Windsor Nutmegger Eggnog

Honoring CT’s first town and featuring all CT spirits, this smooth hen’s moo concoction is a perfectly potent and nicely spiced way to celebrate the holidays with friends.

In rocks glass filled with ice, mix;

1.5 oz. Waypoint Spirits Man Overboard Spiced Rum
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur
3.0 oz. Eggnog
A Sprinkle of Nutmeg

Stir, serve and toast the season! Cheers!

***Gift Guide Update***

Since last week’s blog post, there have been a few updates in our Gifting Guide.

NEW! Waypoint Spirits Sampler Set

Waypoint Spirits Sampler Gift Set

Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield has just introduced a Sampler Set featuring six 100 ml bottles of their signature craft-distilled liquors, including Labrador Noon Vodka, Wintonberry Gin, Man Overboard Spiced Rum and Spicy XIII Vodka. Priced at $40, the set comes in a wood-slat crate with rope carrying handle. Contact them at drinkwaypoint.com for more details.

REMINDER! Hartford Flavor Company Hours

Just a reminder that you can stop by Hartford Flavor Company Monday – Thursday during the holiday season from 9-5 to purchase Wild Moon® Liqueurs and merchandise only. (Tours and tastings are Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and Sunday afternoons only.) Contact them at hartfordflavor.com for more details.

Let us know if you have questions or anything to share!