Imagination Nation

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This month, the sixth annual Bombay Sapphire Bartender Summit brought together more than 50 mixologists from the U.S. and Canada to battle it out for two days to produce the Most Imaginative Cocktail in one of the most imaginative cities in the world—ours!

And for the last three years, it’s been one of my favorite competitions of the year to help judge because of both the quality of the cocktail entries and the significance of the award at stake.

In conjunction with the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) and GQ, the competition narrows the field to one bartender, who will grace the cover of GQ’s December Men of the Year issue, become a brand ambassador and compete next spring in Tuscany for the title of World’s Most Imaginative Bartender.

Coming in first place in last month’s Nevada finals—and Top 3 in the national competition—was Las Vegas mixologist Rustyn Vaughn Lee (pictured at center) with his Hampshire Cress. This is not Lee’s first time in the nationals; he won first place in last year’s Nevada finals, as well. Coming in second for Nevada was Vesper mixologist Roger Gross (above, right) with his Enchanted Garden, and in third was the Snake Charmer by Jozef Letasi (above, left), head bartender and consultant for India Masala Bar & Grill.

Always the daring one, Lee didn’t shy away from employing watercress, a product not often seen on the cocktail circuit. “I’m not afraid to use flavors consumers aren’t familiar with,” Lee says, “as long the cocktail is balanced.” Sweet honeydew, complex Chartreuse and, of course, bold Bombay Sapphire came together to help Lee hit this one out of the park. Yet again.

Enchanted Garden

by Roger Gross

Muddle 2 cucumber wheels and 2 medium-size basil leaves in ¾ ounce Chinese 5 spice-infused simple syrup (see recipe below). Add 2 ounces Bombay Sapphire gin, ¾ Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot liqueur and 2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters. Add ice, cover, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled 7-ounce stemless crystal wine glass. Garnish with a cucumber wheel and a small basil leaf flag.

Five-Spice Syrup

Bring 4 ounces water, 1 ounce demerara suger and 2 tablespoons five-spice powder to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Cover, let cool and strain into a bottle for use.

The Hampshire Cress

by Rustyn Vaughn Lee

In a mixing glass, muddle 3 1-inch-square pieces of honeydew melon with ¾ ounce watercress simple syrup (see recipe below) and ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add 1½ ounces Bombay Sapphire gin, ½ ounce yellow Chartreuse, 3 dashes Bittermens Boston Bitters and ½ ounce egg white. Add ice, cover and shake vigorously. Strain into an 8-ounce cocktail coupe. Express the oils from one lemon swath over the top of the cocktail and discard. Garnish with an edible flower.

Watercress Syrup

Bring 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to a simmer, then add ½ cup fresh watercress leaves. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, strain out solids and seal till use.

Snake Charmer

by Jozef Letasi

In a mixing glass, combine 2 teaspoons fig puree (see recipe below), ¾ ounce fresh grapefruit juice, ¾ ounce tamarind chutney, and 2 ounces Bombay Sapphire gin. Add ice, cover, shake and double-strain into a trumpet-shaped champagne flute. Top with about 2 ounces Organic Raw Kombucha Hibiscus No. 7 (try Whole Foods) and gently stir. Drop a tamarind candy ball into the bottom of the glass, and garnish with a grapefruit peel and mint “snake.”

Fig Puree

Blend dried calimyrna figs in a food processor or blender with a little bit of water until the mixture is smooth and runny.

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