By Denise DePaolo
Like wine and beer before them, craft spirits are emerging as the next big thing in American drinking. Distillers are focusing their efforts on quality over quantity and consumers are taking notice, demanding excellence for their money.
Jefferson’s is a small-batch bourbon producer, founded by father and son Chet and Trey Zoeller. The brand is known for experimental techniques, like aging bourbon at sea. It is also known for its smooth character and stand-alone drinkability. This general reluctance to use such a high quality bourbon in a cocktail is part of the impetus behind the Jefferson’s Barrel-Aged Cocktail Competition.
Bartenders were challenged to create their own cocktail using an aging barrel, Jefferson’s Bourbon and whatever else they could get their hands on. The contest forced the mixologists to really focus on their ingredients and how to enhance, rather than mask, the flavor of the bourbon. Each team had roughly a month to age and infuse their bourbon and perfect their concoction. Participating in our contest are Crawford’s Bar and Grill, Tre Lounge, Taphouse 41 and RED Steakhouse.
William Anderson, an on-premise specialist with Johnson Brothers Famous Brands. William deals with bourbons, whiskeys and high-end liquor brands.
Evie Clercx, a brand ambassador for Jefferson’s Bourbon and owner of Empire Beverage Group.
John Snyder, 605 Magazine’s director of sales and marketing. John is a marketing expert and enthusiast of all things whiskey.
Denise DePaolo, 605 Magazine’s managing editor. I’m an equal-opportunity lover of food and drink done well. I happen to have an extra soft spot for whiskey done well.
Stop One: Crawford’s Bar and Grill
Scrapy’s Fire Water Bitters
Cedar smoked coupe glass
Grilled orange wheel garnish
The first stop on our bourbon judging odyssey was Crawford’s Bar and Grill in downtown Sioux Falls. Bar Manager Glenn Stallings created this drink. He was called out of town, so bartender Dave Boe pinch hit for him.
The drink prep started with smoking the glasses and ended with a grilled orange wheel garnish.
“I really enjoyed this cocktail,” said William. “I enjoyed the spiciness as well as the depth that the Pimm’s and chartreuse provided. There are some great notes of cinnamon and pepper. A little nutmeg. But really, it’s a great cocktail for wintertime or for someone looking for something unique. You really can’t taste any of the heat from the alcohol. The heat that comes through in the drink is provided by the spice and other ingredients.”
“I thought the garnish helped open it up. While it might have been overpowering without the grilled orange, as long as it’s served with it, I think it works to complement it really well,” said John.
Stop Two: Tre Lounge
Midwest Mint Ginger
Jefferson’s Bourbon infused with vanilla extract and almond extract
Next, we headed to Tre Lounge in Central Sioux Falls. Tre’s approach to the contest was unique. Three teams of two created cocktails for the contest. The strongest one was chosen and entered. The Midwest Mint Ginger is a delicate, refreshing play on a mint julep created by bartenders Alex Currier and Skila Soesbe.
“I thought it was great,” said John. “Lighter, while still retaining a lot of flavor. Good for summer and very balanced. I appreciated the mint and vanilla together – how they played off of each other.”
William agreed, “I think there are two ways you can go when you’re infusing a liquor. You can amplify them or you can add to them. I think this cocktail amplifies those natural vanilla, nutty notes that exist within Jefferson’s and brings them to the forefront. It brings all the best things about a mint julep and makes it better.”
Stop Three: Taphouse 41
Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-aged Bitters
Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
We continued onward to Taphouse 41, which is located in Sioux Falls’ Western Mall. Our third cocktail comes courtesy of Bar Manager Dan Ogden.
“M7 is the name, because it’s a play on the Manhattan,” He said. “And I used Licor 43. Four plus three is seven, so there you go.”
One of the highlights of the deceptively complex drink is what’s inside the ice.
“I like the presentation,” said William. “I like that he froze the cherry in the ice.”
“I’m really most interested in making sure that the bourbon is showcased as a main cocktail component. He did that here,” said Evie.
Stop Four: RED Steakhouse
RED Breakfast Bourbon
3 bottles Jefferson’s Bourbon
16 oz Cinzano sweet vermouth
4 oz Campari
10 Luxardo Cherries
Peel of 1 orange (no pith)
2 tsp White Peppercorn
3 inches high quality Vanilla bean
4 egg whites
2 oz lemon juice
6 oz grade B maple syrup
6 oz water
3 oz cooked, dehydraded bacon
1 tsp chipotle powder
2 tsp kosher salt (course flake)
Maple syrup for rimming
Our journey of bourbon-laden delights wrapped up at Vermillion’s RED Steakhouse. Executive chef and general manager Kirk Phillips jumped behind the bar like a mad scientist.
“The whole thought process started with embracing the bourbon – flavors in classic bourbon,” said Kirk. “Then picking up the nuances in Jefferson’s. I really like the idea of the mulled spice. We’re coming into fall, so I like the idea of the orange, clove and cinnamon spices in there. And the maple syrup. So as you guys drink, it’s going to mutate from the first sip to the last sip. It will get sweeter and you’ll need more of the salt to counter that.”
“The bacon salt was a little last minute,” he continued. “I added it to cut the sweetness and add depth. We’re here in Vermillion. It’s a college town. D Days, we start at 6:30 in the morning, so bourbon for breakfast just seems like a good idea.”
“I really like this drink,” said John. “It’s got the salty and the sweet, which is just amazing. It’s got flavors of light citrus and it’s sweet, but not overpowering, when combined with the salt. The bacon salt is a good, good, good balance. Probably the best yet in the balance department.”
“I love the originality of it. Combining bacon with maple syrup. There’s so much going on here, but it all fuses together seamlessly in an amazing cocktail. I really think for a brand like Jefferson’s that prides itself on creativity, on playing around, on originality, I think this speaks true to the nature of the brand,” said William.
We ranked each drink on a scale of 1-5 in three categories: Presentation, Creativity and Taste.
It was close. Sooo close. All of the participating bartenders blew us away with their effort, imagination and vision.
So who is the winner? Find out in the October issue of 605 Magazine!
To learn more about the contest and participants, click here.
***Special thanks to 605 Magazine publisher Alana Snyder for taking photos and being a great designated driver!