Aside from the occasional Sazerac, Negroni and Paloma, I'm not much of a cocktail guy, but went to the showdown thinking one of the competitors might have created a wine-based cocktail. None did. All they shared in common was Wild Turkey 81 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a sponsor of the event. Beyond that, the ingredient list was wide open, and included honeysuckle bitters, rose petals, blueberries and honey, not all in the same blend.
By and large, the bartenders were big on using local products and on creating a beverage appropriate for the segue from summer to fall. Lots of apple cider was involved.
Everyone was a judge. Guests were to sample all seven, then vote for their favorite. My favorite was Gail Oversteg's "Mela Melange," a rich, solid and spicy mix of sweet vermouth, Boulard Calvados and Barsotti cider from Apple Hill in El Dorado County. I think she may have had some cinnamon and cloves in there, too, giving the drink distinctive autumnal snap while respecting the mellow warmth of the bourbon. Oversteg, shown here, is the sommelier and bartender at the restaurant Manzanita of The Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe, so she had something of a home-field advantage.
Two other bartenders, however, finished in a tie for first place - Kelly Luchs of West Shore Cafe & Inn with a deft use of rose water, honey, sugar and rose petals as well as the bourbon, and Nicole Barker of Cin Cin at the Eldorado Hotel Casino in Reno, who finished her balanced bourbon-and-cider blend with a wedge of homegrown pear.
Today, it's back to wine with a tasting of releases from Paso Robles.
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Location:North Lake Tahoe