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June 03, 2014
Mezcal Cocktail Competition

In the photo: Contestants await the judging results. (Kevin Brownlee, the first place winner, is in center, wearing black hat.)

One of the highlights of the annual Vancouver International Tequila Expo is the Cocktail Competition component. And this year, 12 of our city's best bartenders completed the final heat in front of the judging panel and a boisterous, tequila-fueled crowd in the Hyatt Regency ballroom.

Armed with sponsor Pelotón de la Muerte's Mezcal, plus their own choice of other ingredients, the competitors brought their impressive technical skills, creative flair and no small amount of personal sartorial style to the stage. At any given time, we saw Irish newsboys, beach shack Tom Cruises, dapper young geezers and modernist chemists - all vigourously shaking, pounding and pouring their creations with intense concentration.   And while there were no Frida Kahlo or Pancho Villa types in the lot (thank goodness), that didn't denote any lack of reference to Mexico. In their search for inspiration, our bar guys and gals revealed a respectful and impressive depth of knowledge about the country's history, literature, music, crafts and agriculture.

Take for example, 1st place winner Kevin Brownlee of West Restarant & Bar, whose "La Malinche" cocktail was named after a Mayan-era feminist, and garnished with a hot jalepeño pepper stuffed with a chuck of white chocolate.  As with the cocktail's namesake, a bold and fiery exterior harboured a sweet and melting heart that brought the drink's aggressive components into harmony. (La Malinche was famous for her love connection with Hernán Cortés, as well as her role as a peacemaking intermediary between the two cultures.)

For his 2nd place winning "Paloma Picasso", Jason Laidlow (Vancouver Rowing Club/Liberty Distillery) went all the way back to Mexico's Spanish origins with ingredients such as 30-year-old Sherry and a citrus garnish brushed with edible silver foil. As we know, Spain originally colonized Mexico for its silver mines and Pablo Picasso's daughter, Paloma, is a renowned designer of silver jewelry.

Meanwhile, 3rd place winner Amber Bruce (Cuchillo) evoked the land by incorporating indigenous Mexican spices, ancho chilies, mole bitters, plus her own label of cold-brewed, Oaxacan coffee into her delicious "La Sobremesa". (Sobremesa being the Spanish term for the custom of sitting around the table and chatting after a meal.) Be sure to check out Amber's striking new blog where she discusses el Pelotón and her participation in the competition.

It's a cliché of course to say that all entries were so extraordinary that judging was difficult, but in this case that statement happened to be true. It was a shame that more of these deserving young drink artists could not receive the top prize of a trip to Oaxaca, the homeland of Mezcal, just to experience the place where up till now, only their imaginations had transported them.

Come the revolución, perhaps someone will commandeer an iron horse (charter plane?) to take them all the way.

Here are the ingredients that went into each of the top three cocktails:

LA MALINCHE (pictured top left)
by Kevin Brownlee

1 1/2 oz. Pelotón de La Muerte Joven Mezcal
1/2 oz. jalepeño and cacao-infused reposado Tequila
3/4 oz. strawberry black pepper liqueur
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

PALOMA PICASSO (pictured top right)
by Jason Laidlow

1 oz. Pelotón de la Muerte Joven Mezcal
3/4 oz. Apostoles 30-year-old Sherry
1 1/2 oz. red grapefruit
1/3 oz. agave syrup
3 dashes Peychaud's Aromatic Bitters

LA SOBREMESA (not shown)
by Amber Bruce

1 1/2 oz. Pelotón de la Muerte Joven Mezcal
1 oz. Cafe De Olla cold brew
1/4 oz. Ancho Chili Liqueur
2 dashes Xocolatl Mole Bitters
1 dash Black Walnut Bitters
3 oz. horchata foam

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