On Tuesday, May 28, nine bartenders from around the region brought their best cocktail game to the Levee at the River House in Louisville to compete in the United States Bartenders’ Guild Lux Row Bourbon Battle–and I was one of the four lucky judges.
Each bartender had seven minutes to prepare his or her cocktail, using Lux Row’s Rebel Yell bourbon as the base spirit. We judged the drinks on appearance, aroma, taste, creativity and overall impression (using the most impressive score sheets I’ve ever seen in a cocktail competition, by the way). Each cocktail is pictured above.
Creativity was certainly present in abundance. Ingredients included pear liqueur, tamarind soda, chocolate bitters, plum bitters, cherry bitters, sweet tea, Garam Masala and Queen City CBD Lemon Lavender seltzer (not all in one drink). Thankfully there was no cucumber; I detest the flavor of cucumber, and so I’m never sure how to fairly judge a cocktail that includes it because my first impression is always BLEAH.
The mixologists also prepared small samples of their drinks ahead of time so the audience could try all of them and vote on their favorites.
It was a tough competition, but in the end, the winner was Jake Smith of Wild Flower in St. Louis, Mo., with the Kentiki Masala (recipe here). Second place went to Jacob Cantu of Rye Bar in Indianapolis for his Cherry Blossom, and Michael Railey of Louisville’s Hell or High Water took both third place and the Crowd Favorite with his Kentucky Pickins.
Jake Smith will join five other semifinalists from across the country at the 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, Ky., for the final competition on Sept. 19. The overall winner will have the opportunity to select a barrel at Lux Row Distillery that will be bottled with a custom-made label, and will receive 60 bottles of that private selection.