It was a hot afternoon on the playful Oakmont patio as myself and three judges made our way through 10 stations with different bartenders, who were all competing in Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. The bartenders competing were being judged on their cocktail's flavor and appearance, as well as bartender presentation, and, most importantly, imagination, all while using Bombay Sapphire gin.
Houston was selected as one of the eight cities hosting the regional round of the competition, with the two winners of the event heading to London to compete against the most creative bartenders in the world. Fort Worth, Austin, Dallas, New Orleans, Pensacola, and Houston were well-represented in the regional battle.
Austin Millspaugh, from The Standard Pour in Dallas, presented his cocktail dubbed Mi Chang, which had Bombay, coffee, a three-honey blend, garlic, and a cream topper and caramel drizzle. Two thoughts crossed my mind after I read the list of ingredients: how do coffee, garlic, and gin go into a cocktail; and is this the makings of a mad genius? Both questions were answered as soon as I took a sip and all the flavors hit me all at once. I was instantly enamored by what Millspaugh had created, and I had to go for seconds.
Pasha Morshedi, of Rosewater in Clear Lake, had his cocktail sitting in a punch bowl with a massive chunk of ice sitting in the middle. It was named Second Chance Romantics and was made with Bombay, white Bourdeaux, Texas honey, apricot peach iced tea, chai tea, and Second Chance Cordial. The cocktail had both the taste and nostalgia factor working in its favor.
The People’s Choice award, which allowed the crowd to vote on their favorite drink, went to Rich Bailey of Johnny’s Gold Brick; his cocktail consisted of Bombay, toasted coconut, pineapple syrup, Fino Sherry, plum wine shrub and grapefruit zest. It was light, refreshing, and finely balanced.
There were some serious contenders that night, each of which brought their best work, not only to their cocktail flavor but to the presentation and backstory of their drinks. It was an event where imagination was out in full force. With these capable hands like these behind the bar, the cocktail industry has the potential for bright, creative future.