Last year's event, the inaugurating shake off, was held at Maine Craft Distillery on Fox Street. It was a sunny, airy, packed affair with food by Slab and other snacks. This year, there was a welcome punch included in the ticket price and bar snacks available for purchase. I imbibed in the welcome punch, sparkling grog and samples from eight tiki contest participants over the next two hours. The punch was their aptly named Banana Painkiller, made with white rum, house made banana syrup, pineapple and coconut. The result satisfied my sweet tooth and was incredibly smooth. The Sparkling Grog consisted of rum, prosecco, pomegranate and orange. It was a pleasing deep pink color but not as drinkable as the Painkiller.
The eight participants hailed form all over Portland's food scene including Central Provisions, Vena's, and Coastal Root Bitters. The event was sponsored by Maine Craft Distillery, Owl and Whale Bitters/Shrubs/Syrups and Rhum. All the cocktails had to use MCD spirits and most had more than one spirit in their concoction. All drinks were judged on six categories: originality, use of Maine Craft Distillery's product (Queequeg, Ration, Tashtego rums), taste, technique, presentation/appearance and garnish.
The first drink I sampled ended up being my favorite of the ten total liquids I tried (eight samples plus house Painkiller and Grog):
Matt Sherwood of Sur Lie mixed up Ration and Queequeg rums, tamarind and sherry syrup, passion fruit and lime juices, homemade key lime bitters and was topped with fresh graded cinnamon and cut up mint leaves. The result was slightly tart, rich and ever so nutty because of the sherry base. The mint leaves and cinnamon were perfect accouterments as they added texture and pizzazz to an already incredible mixture.
Nolan Steward from Coastal Root Bitters was up next on my rounds. His was interesting in that he scooped a small amount of mango pho sorbet, then topped it with a mixture of Tashtego rum, hibiscus, tamarind, coconut, Orgeat, orange, lime and Coastal Root Marsala bitters. I did overhear Nolan saying "How many exotic things can I throw in here?" The texture was strange but the color was bold due to the hibiscus.
Courtney "Coco" O'Neill, Central Provisions made a coconut milk punch with Queequeg, Ration and Tashtego rums, toasted coconut cream, and another ingredient or two. The result was a pale yellow, Shiner Bock color with a subtle taste.
Rob Roy, also of Central Provisions was the winner of last year's Shake Off. I still remember his drink, mixed with self-made coconut cream. I wanted to bathe in it...(See 3/31/2015 post for more) But this year, he made a similarly creamy and good drink with different flavors. Tashtego rum, kaffir lime infused coconut cream, homemade mint syrup (leaves puréed as to lend a pale green color to the drink) and Owl and Whale lemongrass bitters with cut up lemongrass on top. The taste was Thai-esque and delicious. I wanted more, if only because of the verdant hue.
Dan Klenske from Roustabout made his take on a Zombie, the apparently famous Tiki drink. Dan's included three MCD spirits and more ingredients that didn't catch my eye. This was the only sample I didn't finish as it was overly strong and tickled the back of my throat in a cough syrup way. However, I am looking forward to visiting Roustabout at some point to try their menu. If you're free Wednesday the 23rd, consider going to the Allagash/Roustabout dinner at 6pm hosted at Roustabout on Washington Ave. I would be there but for a documentary on solar power playing at MECA at the same time ($65+ menu vs free movie about something I'm passionate about...)
Sylvia Roy from Dimillo's wore a fantasticly airy shirt with fluorescent pink pineapples and created a healthy-tasting product I would gladly ingest under the misconception that I was doing my body good. Beet juice, papaya purée and pulpy pineapple juice were the main factors in this smoothie-esque sip but also in the drink were Ration and Tashtego rums and simple syrup.
John Meyers ended up winning the contest. His drink was good but I didn't get the full experience of it as my taste was molded after the fact and some ratios may have been off. The subtle roasted almond oil, Orgeat and coconut milk flavors were mixed with Queequeg rum, lime juice and sparkling water. The result produced a frothy top and a pale yellow color that made me curious to try the real thing someday. Unfortunately, John claimed to be "hibernating at present" and not mixing in any establishment. As a true ecologist, my immediate thought to this statement was that humans can't hibernate. At best, they can be dormant...
Steve Korman from Vena's Fizz House made another spicy, but not as spicy as last year's, drink. I was delicious and satisfying to my Texas roots. Queequeg rum, banana puree, pear nectar, pineapple juice, Tiki bitters, Owl and Whale lemongrass bitter and ghost pepper extract were used and blended to transcendence. I can't stop thinking about a couple cocktails I had at Vena's in January (see 1/7/2016 post) but it's possible the company that night has something to do with my lingering memory as well as the quality libations themselves.
All in all, I liked last year's event better, if only because you could cast your ballot for your preferred drink, whereas this year, votes were held to the very end and only those who were left after all the sample cups ran out were around to vote by verbal affirmation. Meaning, it's possible it turned into a popularity contest instead of who had the best concoction. Matt Sherwood, Steve Korman and Rob Roy were first, second and third in my book.