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Eat & Drink

Toronto's top bartenders throw down in cocktail battle

Posted by Jen Hunter / March 28, 2013

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionMonday night at the Distillery District's Fermenting Cellar, put the best of Toronto's bartenders against each other in the Toronto final for Made With Love, the annual cocktail competition.

With a directive to create signature cocktails inspired by Toronto and some of its most popular neighbourhoods (Cabbagetown, Chinatown, College Street, High Park, and Liberty Village), bartenders were up for awards for both Public's Choice (from a throng of around 600 people), and that of the panel of judges. This year's panel included Kevin Brauch, of Food Network fame; Matt Jones, Ambassador for Maker's Mark Bourbon; Dave Mitton of The Harbord Room; and Priya Shah of Campari America.

16 bartenders had made it through the qualifying heat to Monday's final, with drinks showing off a wide range of styles and techniques.

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionThe strangest drink of the night was a tough call between Adrian Stein's (Mistura/Sopra) bizarre pizza-in-a-glass concept, and Simon Hooper's (Nyood) dual sorbet drink in an ice-cream cone. Both were ambitious, but after being left with a burnt tongue from the nitrogen-dipped latter concoction, I felt better served by drinks that didn't resemble food.

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionSmoke featured heavily in the drinks, perhaps a nod to the nickname out-of-towners have christened the city with. Aaron Beaudoin's (Goods & Provisions) Pineapple Express, with tequila and smoked pineapple juice combining with vanilla hemp bitters, yuzu juice, and agave nectar, was heavy on the smoke, but otherwise a bright and fruity creation.

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionVeronica Saye (Harbord Room) also smoked juice. In her case, tequila was mixed with smoked lemon juice, Cherry Heering, and a cola/chili syrup (made by reducing cola down with chili flakes). Named the Heather Jean, it reminded me of a Cherry Coke, but with a well-balanced hint of smoke.

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionJaphet Bower (Soho House) surprised me with the Varanasi Sunrise. An unlikely grouping of bourbon, brown butter syrup, black pepper-infused lemon juice, carrot juice, and fresh sage came together as a beautiful, earthy, sour.

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionIn contrast to the pleasant surprises at some of the levels of invention, I was a little astonished to see a fairly pedestrian mix of Campari, grapefruit juice, and grenadine (Neil Ramrattan's Penelope Cruz) being served up alongside cocktails that involved some serious thinking. However, once the crowds built, and the pressure to sling out drinks in the hundreds mounted, it was clear that he'd guaranteed himself a fairly easy night, in contrast to some of the teams that had to work at frantic levels to keep up with the demands of their complicated creations.

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionA clear example of this was Atsushi Suzuki's (Kanji) Mr. Redbean: a dizzying array of Canadian Club, Azuki redbean paste, Amaro Meletti, Ximenez Sherry, Teapot Bitters, Kinako, and Sesame Powder. With every drink being made to order, Atsushi and his team were pushed to their limits. The rewards, however, were obvious. A balance of sweet and savoury with a hint of bitterness. I was really impressed with this one.

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionMy favourite of the evening, however, was Robin Kaufman's (Toronto Temperance Society) Apples to Ashes. With Appleton rum, cedar-infused rye, cedar-smoked apple syrup, Campari, and Unicum stirred and served on the rocks, Robin walked away with both Public and Judge's choices. The prize for each was a three-day, all expenses paid trip to Cancun to compete in the Made With Love Mexico Tour in August 2013. Given that he won both, I hope he gets a six-day stay instead...

Apples to Ashes

1.5oz Appleton rum
0.5oz cedar infused rye
0.5oz cedar smoked apple smoked apple syrup
0.25oz of Campari
0.250z Unicum
2 dashes of Angustura bitters
combine ingredients and stir, serve over ice
finish off with a Unicum spritz and a rosemary spring garnish

Additional Photos

Made With Love Cocktail CompetitionMade With Love Cocktail CompetitionMade With Love Cocktail CompetitionPhotos by Jesse Milns

Discussion

17 Comments

chicken little / March 28, 2013 at 11:32 am
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So your not even going to mention toronto's own food network celeb and thirsty judge of this event who was physically thrown out during the judging portion of the competition because of his accusations against other judges of brand loyalty?

Good to know that our cities upcoming food/bev writers aren't ever worried about pissing off some of the industry, oh wait.
BIG mike. / March 28, 2013 at 12:42 pm
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I heard about that too. They threw him out for questioning the wether the judging process was actually fair seeing as other judges were reps for alcohol brands. Brands that were at the show. What does integrity get you? Thrown out. Thats what. Take your rigged competition back to Montreal.
BIG mike. / March 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm
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They threw out Kevin Brauch by the way. From the TV show The Thirsty Traveler and Iron Chef America.
Flibberty Gibberty / March 28, 2013 at 01:16 pm
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Kevin Brauch was completely hammered, and was escorted outside for being an obnoxious prick. Not really newsworthy, especially as the Public Choice award kind of confirmed that the judging process was fair.
This isn't the Olympics, it's a cocktail competition in Toronto!
Hamish Grant / March 28, 2013 at 01:45 pm
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lol it wouldn't be an event with Kevin if there wasn't a bit of spice!
Get Dat Money / March 28, 2013 at 02:52 pm
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This competition isn't about "the love of cocktails", it's about money. the organiser, Pierre-Oliver Trempe, gets the bartenders to sell tickets and provide all ingredients at their own cost. the peoples choice award is a joke and monkey could win with a vodka soda if they sold enough tickets... and the judges choice was flawed by forceful removal the most high profile judge for challenging the integrity of the judges and the judging criteria. "Flibberty Gibberty" is obviously a member of the Made With Love PR team. just sayin'.
professor x / March 28, 2013 at 03:28 pm
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this event brings together many different cocktail and bar scenes in the city, and although there is a competitive edge to it, there is also the brotherhood an camaraderie that's developed between bartenders from various backgrounds. I've competed in made with love, and can say there are truths to most of the comments above, however the positivity from creating such events like this only draws on the inspiration that bartenders get at these events, the friendships born from these events, and the ability to showcase your skills and creativity regardless from which restaurant/bar/club you represent. It's sad that people only focus on the negative spin, when in reality, events like this actually bring more positives to the city. Our cocktail culture and reputation around the world has increased because events like these and bartenders continue to draw inspiration from one another and continue to grow our ever changing (for the good) scene. There will always be subtle politics in events such as this, but at the end of the day, its more about the people and relationships that come out of these events.

-from a bartender and competitor, not a MWL employee, not a troller..
.... replying to a comment from Get Dat Money / March 29, 2013 at 04:24 am
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Actually if you knew anything, you would know that a good monetary percentage of the tickets sold by the competitors are for them to keep to assist in paying for whatever they so choose...it's a form of promotion or marketing. Any supplies they require on top of everything else they get for free for participating already (ie the venue, the setup, all the booze they need for their cocktails, ice, glassware, basic mix, some fruits, water and food) Maybe you're unaware of what goes into putting an event together, but it's not cheap. Yes, they may have to put up some of their own cash in depending on what cocktails they decide on (it's just an independent company, bud... not a lot of petty cash there, you know?), but the event itself isn't a cash grab. And the prize is an all expense paid trip for their efforts, so it's not too shabby.

Oh and by the way, no, I don't work for Made with Love, but I do know them and I'm insulted by your ridiculous accusations so I can only imagine how they feel, and if you really believe all that bullshit, I can't help but think you're someone who maybe didn't make the cut and you're a little bitter... am I right? Awww well that's too bad, maybe next year.. or maybe not.
I Wasn't Drunk! / March 31, 2013 at 04:07 pm
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Escorted out? How about 4 Bouncers man-handling him it the only part of his body to touch the ground were his toes dragging on the floor. He was in a head lock and he was kicking and fighting on his way out.
me replying to a comment from I Wasn't Drunk! / April 1, 2013 at 12:57 am
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BWAHAHAHAHAAA!!!! That's too funny!
Japhet Bower / April 3, 2013 at 05:03 pm
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I competed and dont feel it was fixed. The drinks that scored highly were damned good and the top five in both choices were close.

I do think the author's comments about Neil were in poor taste.

He's not a bartender but a very enthuiastic supporter of the scene. His qualifier cocktail was pretty good which is what got him into the finale.

He knew he wasnt going to win but he showed up by himself and did his best. He had no team and he was competing against some of the best. That takes balls.

And his drink wasn't that bad either. Nothing extraordinary but very drinkable.
Japhet Bower / April 3, 2013 at 05:03 pm
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I competed and dont feel it was fixed. The drinks that scored highly were damned good and the top five in both choices were close.

I do think the author's comments about Neil were in poor taste.

He's not a bartender but a very enthuiastic supporter of the scene. His qualifier cocktail was pretty good which is what got him into the finale.

He knew he wasnt going to win but he showed up by himself and did his best. He had no team and he was competing against some of the best. That takes balls.

And his drink wasn't that bad either. Nothing extraordinary but very drinkable.
Get Dat Money replying to a comment from .... / April 3, 2013 at 11:31 pm
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Flibberty Gibberty, I used to work with made with love. It's a cash grab. You're just naive and I'm pretty sure i know who you are.
.... replying to a comment from Get Dat Money / April 4, 2013 at 02:25 pm
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An EVENT being a 'cash grab'? So basically you'd like to come to a nice venue with a DJ, and drink and eat for free? Should they maybe send a limo to pick you up too? Would that make it not 'a cash grab'? Made with Love isn't a charity, it's a BUSINESS. There are costs associated with it on both ends. Do you expect MWL to pay for everything? The purpose of giving money to the competitors for their ticket sales is so they can use that money for any additional supplies they need on top of everything else that MWL has already provided including the alcohol, and to give them an extra push for promotion so that the BUSINESS can profit too. Once again, it's a business, get it?

I highly doubt you "used to work with Made with Love" and that it's more a case of(as I said before) you're a bitter bartender who didn't make the cut. At any rate, if you don't like, don't go. No one wants you there anyway.
simonDANGR / April 4, 2013 at 04:28 pm
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ICE ICE BABY!!
Flibberty Gibberty replying to a comment from Get Dat Money / April 7, 2013 at 03:47 pm
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I can absolutely guarantee that you have no idea who I am. Thanks for playing though.
Actual Bartender replying to a comment from Flibberty Gibberty / April 10, 2013 at 03:31 pm
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Amen. Brauch is a joke. While his points were actually relatively valid (preferential judging is a consistent issue--hi, real world) he might be taken more seriously if he weren't such a drunken buffoon.
Brand loyalty or not, the best bartender won this night---although not with his personal best.

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