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McLain Hedges wins Viva Sangrita Cocktail Competition, heads to New Orleans for finals

McLain Hedges, pouring "Petalo y Espina" (Petal and Thorn).
McLain Hedges, pouring "Petalo y Espina" (Petal and Thorn).
Kevin Galaba

"The idea was to make a sangrita that was traditional, and yet complemented the tequila -- which was the most important thing," says McLain Hedges, winner of the Viva Sangrita Cocktail Competition, held June 17 at Linger. Six bartenders competed in the event, which drew 200 people to Linger's rooftop patio to taste samples of the tequila-based cocktails. In all, nine cities participated, with Denver the last stop before the finals competition in New Orleans on July 17.

See also: Allison Widecombe, bartender at Williams & Graham, wins Viva Sangrita Battle at Linger, 2013

"Petalo y Espina" (left) with radish juice, grenadine, hibiscus, brown sugar, honey, grape juice, Tasmanian peppers, vanilla, cardamom; reposado tequila on the right.
"Petalo y Espina" (left) with radish juice, grenadine, hibiscus, brown sugar, honey, grape juice, Tasmanian peppers, vanilla, cardamom; reposado tequila on the right.
Kevin Galaba

Sangrita, which in Spanish means "little blood," is quite a different drink than sangria. Typically, sangrita is a non-alcoholic beverage that accompanies -- and complements the flavors of -- a shot of tequila. Spirits producer Tequila Ocho sponsored the competition, encouraging bartenders to use any of the company's three main tequilas: plata, reposado or anejo.

Hedges, the owner of The Proper Pour, a liquor store located within The Source, built his cocktail on the flavor profile of Tequila Ocho's anejo tequila, which is aged one year in used American bourbon barrels. "I wanted to follow the guidelines of the tequila," he explains, "which was floral, earthy, spicy and fruity." He named his sangrita cocktail "Petalo y Espina" (Petal and Thorn), "because it was a garden-based thing," he says. "I wanted it to be super-floral."

Working at home, Hedges blended radish juice with a grenadine syrup he made from pomegranate juice, molasses, Colorado wildflower honey and brown sugar. To that he added white grape juice, Tasmanian peppers, Serrano peppers, vanilla, hibiscus, cardamom, lime juice and salt.

And tequila, of course.

"In the end, it was based off of tequila," he notes. "When you drink it, the flavor starts with the radish, which is really vegetal. Then you move into the floral notes, which are the hibiscus and rose petal, and even the Tasmanian peppers that I used, which were super citrusy.

"The vanilla notes tied into the age of the anejo," he adds. "The sangria itself was a little bit earthy, a little funky, a little grassy, peppery and fruity."

Judges Max MacKissock, Andra Zeppelin, Mike Henderson and Josh Harris selected Hedges' cocktail as the winner. He won $1,000 and a spot in the finals, to be held at d.b.a., a live music venue in New Orleans. The winner of the final competition will receive a trip to La Altena, a town in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico, to tour the distillery where Tequila Ocho is produced.

All six competing bartenders took home a bottle of Tequila Ocho's 2009 extranejo tequila.

Keep reading to see all the competing cocktails.

The Viva Sangrita Cocktail Competition on the rooftop patio at Linger.
The Viva Sangrita Cocktail Competition on the rooftop patio at Linger.
Kevin Galaba

Other cocktails in the Viva Sangrita Cocktail Competition:

"Rocky Mountain Sangria"

Stuart Jensen, The Mercantile

Plata tequila

Wild gooseberries

Muscat grapes

Yuzu juice

Dill

Chives

Serrano peppers

Honey

Salt

"As Daylight Dies"

Ryan Buchanan, Casselman's Bar & Venue

Anejo tequila

Mango

Garlic

Jalepeno pepper

Habanero pepper

Tomato

Orange juice

Lime juice

Chile

Salt

Black pepper

"Cold Dashi"

Brian Smith, The Squeaky Bean

Reposado tequila

Dashi broth

Chicken broth

Togarashi

Sansyo

"Zen Mexican"

Les Baker V, Sessions Kitchen

Reposado tequila

Femented Fresno peppers

Kombucha

Galangal root

Kumquat

Golden beet

Kaffir lime leaves

"Tequila Beetdown"

Adam Douglas, The Arvada Tavern

Reposado tequila

Beet juice

Orange juice

Lime juice

Pineapple juice

Jicama

Cilantro

Fresh horseradish

Chipotle peppers

Chili powder

Black peppercorn

Kosher salt

"Diablita Salada"

Blanca Moreno, La Loma

Plata tequila

Mango

Lime

Orange juice

Spanish paprika

Pickled fruit sauce

New Mexico chile pepper

Salt