Denver bartenders, are you feeling inspired? If so, shake up your creative juices, because Bombay Sapphire's Most Imaginative Bartender Competition is coming to town on Monday, August 4 -- and the deadline to enter the contest is July 14. The yearly competition asks bartenders to craft their most compelling cocktails, with the chance to advance to the national finals. Sponsored by Bombay Sapphire and GQ magazine, the Colorado competition will be poolside at the Four Seasons Hotel. Back in 2011 Bryan Dayton of Oak at Fourteenth took first and went on to win the national competition, earning the title Most Imaginative Bartender in America. Will the Mile High City triumph again?
Allison Widdecombe, Denver's Most Imaginative Bartender, 2013. Widdecombe, who tends bar at Williams & Graham, is competing again this year.
But if you want to enter, you have to start shaking. All Colorado cocktail recipes for the Most Imaginative Bartender 2015 contest must be received by July 14 at MostImaginativeBartender.com. There is no limit to how how many recipes you can enter -- but they all must be original, must contain Bombay Sapphire gin, and be submitted by bartenders who are at least 25 years old. Cocktail recipes will be grouped into five categories: pre-dinner, after-dinner, classic, seasonal and avant-garde.
According to competition guidelines, "imagination" will be determined by the use of modern techniques, ingredients, flavors and expressions in a cocktail that complements some, or all, of the ten botanicals in Bombay Sapphire gin. Those ten botanicals are juniper, lemon peel, grains of paradise, coriander, cubeb berries, orris root, almonds, cassia bark, licorice and angelica.
The contest is open to any Colorado bartender. The ten finalists will be announced on July 19, and invited to compete on August 4.
"This competition has been a great thing for the Denver community," says Tyler Levy, Bacardi portfolio manager for Colorado, who has organized the Denver competition for the past six years. "It was one of the first competitions that gave bartenders an outlet to explore their art, which is the art of making cocktails. So over the years it's really evolved and became a pillar of the Denver community. We built it up over the years to the point where it is one of the top competitions here in town. It's definitely the see-and-be-seen competition."
Chris Clewell, competing in 2013. Clewell currently tends bar in Denver at Session Kitchen.
There are a few promising changes to the structure of the event this year. In years past, judges jockeyed with guests for space at the bars. This made judging difficult, and was stressful for bartenders -- and guests.
"The competition will be a lot different than last year," Levy explains. "The judging will be held prior to the event, so that the top ten people will be in a completely separate room before the public shows up.
"Last year bartenders were presenting to the judges as they had five people deep lining up at their bar," he continues. "It was definitely a test of their nerves, as well. But this is going to be different. It's going to be a more comfortable environment."
After the private competition is complete, the event will be open to the public. Bartenders will have pre-made batches of their cocktails. While guests are sampling the ten cocktails, the judges will convene and select Denver's Most Imaginative Bartender.
Past Denver winners include Allison Widdecombe, Michael Cerretani, Bryan Dayton, Anika Zappe, and Ky Belk. "Bryan Dayton ended up winning the entire national competition, which is pretty spectacular," Levy says. And he's hoping Denver wins again.
"Over the past few years, the whole thing has evolved and helped raise the bar for people in Colorado," he adds. "Colorado is such an amazing place to live and there's no reason we shouldn't have amazing cocktails. We've got a great creative culture here -- everybody is open-minded, and we have tons of great local products.
"Being a national event, the Most Imaginative Bartender Competition has helped put our state on the map," he concludes.
The August 4 event is open to the public; find more details on the Most Imaginative Bartender website.
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