Denver drink slingers Rob Corbari and Alex Kady won first place last night at Knob Creek’s Repeal Day cocktail competition at Star Bar. The contest is an annual event that coincides with the date Prohibition was repealed in 1933. At the competition, twelve teams of two bartenders each offered up variations on the Old Fashioned, a pre-Prohibition cocktail made with bourbon (or rye), Angostura bitters, sugar and a few dashes of water.
Corbari, bar manager at the Populist, didn’t intend to participate in the competition at all. But while sitting at the bar one night at Star bar, some friends of his were talking about entering. Bartender Brandon Meyer talked him into submitting a recipe. “I hadn’t competed in a while,” Corbari says. “But I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do this.’”
Since the rules of the competition called for a pair of bartenders to serve samples of their chosen cocktail recipe during the event, Corbari enlisted the help of fellow bartender Stuart Jensen. The duo settled on a recipe that embraced Colorado’s alpine environment by incorporating pine as a flavor. The final recipe included Knob Creek rye whiskey, a brandy made with pine needles, a pine-needle-infused simple syrup, and lavender and orange bitters.
For a garnish, Corbari froze evergreen tips — trimmed from a Christmas tree on display at a friend’s birthday party — in clear ice, topping each ice cube with a thin sliver of orange peel. “I think the frozen conifer tip was subtle but pretty,” he said.
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A panel of four judges rated each cocktail in the categories of taste, appearance, creativity and aroma. After tasting a dozen entries, they awarded Corbari’s team the winner. Jensen could not attend the event, so Corbari recruited bartender Alex Kady to join him at the competition.
The victory prize includes a trip to visit whiskey distilleries in Kentucky. “I’m more than happy to go to Kentucky and see the masters of bourbon at work,” Corbari said.