"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
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.
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
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"Diablita Salada" Blanca Moreno, La Loma Plata tequila Mango Lime Orange juice Spanish paprika Pickled fruit sauce New Mexico chile pepper Salt