Inspiration led to incredible creations in the fifth annual Most Inspired Bartender competition sponsored by Bombay Sapphire and GQ. Twenty-seven Las Vegas bartenders entered recipes, 10 of whom advanced to the Vegas finals on Aug. 29 at Savile Row. There, three bartenders distinguished themselves, presenting their most creative Bombay Sapphire cocktails before brand ambassador Gary Hayward; Savile Row mixologist/bartender and a founding member of the U.S. Bartenders Guild’s Nevada chapter, Ray Srp; and yours truly.
In third place, Downtown Cocktail Room bartender Kevin Gorham presented the Prelude to the Fall, an elegant end-of-summer cocktail with spices that hint to the coming of autumn. “The cocktail starts off with a little citrus, tea flavors and cantaloupe,” Gorham says. “The flavor then flows softly into cinnamon, vanilla, orange and anise. They linger, leaving a lasting fall impression.”
In second place, Chris Hopkins of Vesper at the Cosmopolitan created his interpretation of the Last Word, a Prohibition-era cocktail of gin, lime juice, green Chartreuse and Maraschino liqueur. His addition of Falernum, mint and verbena amplifies the botanicals already present in Bombay Sapphire, while also adding a depth of flavor and complexity, resulting in “a classic pre-dinner cocktail reminiscent of a sour, with light citrus tones and a clean finish on the palate,” Hopkins says.
“There is so much creativity in our industry right now,” he adds. “I look for inspiration in every facet of my life: seasonal ingredients, flavors of lip balm, pastry chefs, shampoo and skin-care scent combinations, music … We are only as limited in our development of drinks as we choose to be.”
Taking first place for Vegas, and also from Downtown Cocktail Room, Rustyn Vaughn Lee offered his Plum Summer, a well-balanced cocktail that brought together citrus, spice, sweetness, bitterness and which highlighted the botanicals of Bombay Sapphire. “I appreciate a drink that will surprise you and bring flavor profiles not often seen in cocktail form,” Lee says. “Never judge a book by its cover—anything can work in a cocktail.”
Created by Rustyn Vaughn Lee of Downtown Cocktail Room
Muddle 3 slices of Chilean plums, ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice and ¾ ounce red pepper flake simple syrup (1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, boil, simmer 15 minutes, strain and cool). Add 1½ ounce Bombay Sapphire gin, ½ ounce Campari, 1 dash celery bitters, ½ ounce egg white ice and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and top with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.
The Velvet Rope
Created by Chris Hopkins of Vesper in the Cosmopolitan
In a mixing glass, combine 1½ ounces Bombay Sapphire gin, ½ ounce Velvet Falernum, ½ ounce yellow Chartreuse, 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice, ½ ounce lemon verbena simple syrup (1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, boil, Add ½ cup fresh lemon verbena leaves that have been gently bruised, simmer for 10 minutes, cool and strain), 4 mint leaves and a splash of egg white. Dry shake once (without ice), then add ice and shake again. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon verbena sprig.
Prelude to Fall
Created by Kevin Gorham of Downtown Cocktail Room
In a mixing glass, muddle four chunks of cantaloupe with 1 ounce Earl Grey tea simple syrup (1 cup Earl Grey tea, 1 cup sugar, boil, simmer 10 minutes, cool and strain). Then add 1½ ounces Bombay Sapphire gin, ½ ounce green Chartreuse, 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice, ⅛ ounce house-made vanilla-anise bitters and ice. Shake and strain into a stemless wineglass and garnish with cinnamon and star anise.
Vanilla-anise bitters: Fill a pint jar with Bacardi 151 rum, 2½ vanilla beans, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 star anise, 2 orange swaths and 10 rose pedals. Shake every day for 10-14 days then strain out all solids. Return liquid and vanilla beans to the jar and shake every day for 5-7 days. Strain again.
A new recipe for success: Bombay Sapphire East
From the House of Bombay, makers of Bombay London Dry Gin since 1761 and later Bombay Sapphire, one of the most versatile and mixology-friendly gins on the market, comes Bombay Sapphire East. And mixologists are already imagining the possibilities. Building on Sapphire’s base of 10 exotic botanicals, master herbalist Ivano Tonutti looked to the sights, scents and flavors of Asia, incorporating Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorn. Bombay Sapphire East launches officially in Las Vegas on Sept. 23 and will only be available here and in Manhattan for starters. BombaySapphire.com.