When Nick Keane went to Bend for the Northwest Spirits Show Bartenders Brawl cocktail competition, he had two drinks to make. His recipes had so impressed the judges two of his cocktails had made it to the final round.
Bartenders learn early in their careers to deal with surprises, and sure enough a surprise laid in wait for Nick: a key ingredient—the key ingredient—of his first cocktail had not arrived as scheduled. By the time Nick was informed of this he was forced to quickly devise an alternative or he would have to scratch the round.
Nick hurriedly retired behind the bar and started experimenting with ideas. A simple substitution wasn’t enough: he had to create a brand new drink worthy of competing with the other entries, and he had only a few minutes to do it.
His first impromptu attempt showed promise, but didn’t live up to his expectations, so he started again. The clock was ticking.
Impromptu #2 was finished. A quick taste and a quick decision, and it was time for Nick’s first competition cocktail round. Nick stepped up on stage looking calm and confident, and deftly assembled his new creation,
Tinted a cheery, summery-looking bright orange from the Aperol, a lively and lightly bittered aperitif from Italy, the cocktail packed some heft and complexity from the Dry Fly gin, Pimm’s Cup #1, also gin-based, a tart, fruity strawberry-rhubarb shrubb, and Peychaud’s creole-style bitters. The finishing touch was a half-rim garnished with crunchy salt for contrast.
Since each ingredient had such profuse and definitive flavors, the entire cocktail overflowed with bouquets of floral, herbal and spice notes, but the Aperol managed to dominate the mix; this would make for a lovely sidewalk-bistro in the sun, perhaps beachside, cocktail, to be languidly sipped while watching the people promenade past.
Nick took his bows and stepped down from the stage to accommodate Brian Johnson, just in time for the downpour. Brian was followed by Jabriel Donohue. By the time Nick stepped back on stage for his final cocktail, the rain had passed on.
It was immediately apparent that Nick’s second cocktail entry was a powerhouse of a drink. Based around a bold and hearty high-alcohol Old Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof (one of the finest of rye whiskers there is—when you can find it), fruity and rich Laird’s Applejack, the complex and bitter herbal audacity of Chartreuse, the added seduction and mystery of Benedictine, and the surprise of Lillet Blanc, a fruity wine-laced vermouth-like aperitif from Bordeaux, the aromas and flavors were complex and dazzling.
A cocktail with this much depth and alcoholic strength cries out for company to balance it…perhaps some spicy Spanish tapas, meaty Italian salumi antipasti, or exotic Asian small savories so force could balance force and meet in the delicious middle.
The day wasn’t over for Nick though. Far from it; he stepped over to the nearest of the several bars scattered around the show area and continued to whip up some tantalizing cocktails on request from the throngs of his new admirers.
You can expect to see more of Nick in future, so keep an eye out for him in the more creative craft bartender competitions that are scheduled. He has some interesting concepts in the works already.