Throngs of vocal supporters gathered in North Creek last Saturday afternoon to cheer on their favorites, who had returned to the scene of last year’s event, now officially an annual one at Basil & Wicks. The event was organized by Pam and Kim Ladd, of Happy Hour in the High Peaks fame. Fourteen professionals from as far away as Potsdam had signed up for the event, some representing their hometown club, others defiantly independent.
Nick Vigliarolo, competing out of Brown’s Malt Room in Troy, showed up to defend his 2015 title. Last year’s silver medalist, Angie Mead of Brant Lake, had been in training all winter and was vowing revenge. Willy Parker was flying the colors of the Panther Mountain Inn – the P-House to the locals – and was a crowd favorite. Anna Bowers, VinoGirl to her fans from barVino, was fighting above her weight class as barVino actually doesn’t serve hard liquor, and her cocktailing experience, though substantial, is on the wrong side of the bar.
The judges were drawn from a select group of Adirondack (ex) barflies, whose remaining taste buds were put to the test. Adirondack Almanack’s John Warren was included in the prestigious group, as was local celebrity attorney Julie Garcia. Julie apparently worked her way through law school by tending the stick at eight different Adirondack taverns, valuable information that is conspicuously absent from her CV when she is running for office.
Kathy Waite, owner of Izzy’s in North Creek, is actually a culinary arts instructor at SUNY Adirondack. Zachary Blair of Whiteface Lodge, who for my money really is one of the best bartenders in the Adirondacks, rounded out the judges lineup and appeared to be in charge, or at least not as dazed as everybody else.
The MC for the event was Schroon Lake’s own Mark Piper, who was persuaded to put down his guitar long enough to introduce the participants. The format of the competition will be familiar to viewers of the TV Food Network’s “Chopped”. Flights of three or four contestants are given a cooler of ingredients, the contents of which must be used in some way in their cocktail preparation. The winners of each flight were brought back for a final round face-off where one winner was chosen.
As you might expect, the ingredients in each of the coolers contained some challenging assignments, but the contestants made the best of it, sometimes with fabulous results (and sometimes not). Each contestant had to make two identical drinks. One was sent over to the judges table; the second was left on the bar top for the rest of the crowd to sample with sipping straws. Lots of oohs and ahs, and a few WT*’s? (Note to VinoGirl: contestants did not have to use the *entire* Scotch Bonnet pepper in the drink.)
As the last flight of bartenders was eliminated one by one, the last two standing were Jamison Duffy, hailing from the family tavern, Duffy’s, in Lake George and billed as the “World’s OKest Bartender”, and last year’s runner-up, Angie Mead.
Angie hoped that her final concoction of Southern Comfort and rosemary and orange would sway the judges, beautifully presented in a champagne flute. Duffy presented his personal mix as a chilled shot. The judges were impressed. Jamison Duffy took home the trophy – a mounted cocktail mixer – a testament to his misspent youth, and his victory at this year’s Adirondack Bartender’s Challenge. Well done!