Chris Dooley of Ella Dining Room & Bar (pictured above) emerged from Midtown Cocktail Week’s cocktail competition $1,000 richer on Tuesday night at Harlow’s. His drink, an elaborately presented “Bloomsbury Bramble” which was surrounded by orchids and looked like a scene from “Fantasy Island,” topped all contendors.
The eight bartenders duking it out cocktail style were actually the finalists from a pool of 24 hopefuls who competed in a preliminary round on Aug. 11. All hopefuls were required to use Tanqueray No. TEN gin in their drink. I helped determine the winner Tuesday night in a judging panel that included Jayson Wilde, a Shady Lady alum and current general manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco, Rick Dobbs (owner of The Last Word in Livermore) and Tanqueray national brand ambassador (and former Sacramentan) Rachel Ford.
Dooley scored big with his spin on a bramble, a classic and fairly sweet gin-based drink that’s synonymous with England and traditionally garnished with blackberries. Dooley enhanced the pronounced citrus notes of the Tanqueray with a bit of Japanese yuzu juice, used a sous vide technique to extract the maximum flavor from the blackberries used in his mix, and added a layer of coconut foam as a topper.
Alycia Rubio of Grange, who tied for third place with Shady Lady’s Travis Kavanaugh, also showed some crafty techniques in her cocktail. Her creation, the “Rusty Pearl,” was like something from The Aviary in Chicago. The cocktail was paired with an amuse bouche (amuse booze?) that incorporated Mission figs cooked sous vide style in averna liqueur, and then formed into a burst-in-your-mouth globule via a reverse spherification technique. The cocktail itself utilized the gin, honey liqueur, fresh cracked pepper and lemon zest. Yes, that’s quite a mouthful of a description, but the important part is the cocktail was done well and deserved to be in the winners’ circle.
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As for Dooley, his big win on Tuesday night also counts as his swan song from cocktail competitions.
“I love being a part of Sacramento’s cocktail culture and I’m a competitive person,” said Dooley. “But I’m ready to settle into a different role.”
Once again, here are the top finishers from the 2014 Midtown Cocktail Week cocktail competition.
1st: Chris Dooley of Ella Dining Room & Bar
2nd: Baron Stelling of Hock Farm
3rd (tie): Alycia Rubio of Grange and Travis Kavanaugh of Shady Lady