The first time is always the hardest. You might tremble. You might drop something—especially if people are watching. No, cocktail competitions are definitely not for everyone. Vesper bartender Lillian Hargrove understands, especially now that she has her first competition under her belt, as well as her first win. “Even when I auditioned for the Cosmopolitan, I shook the second I stepped up to the well,” Hargrove says, “and all I had to make was a margarita and a Manhattan!” If she was nervous, it didn’t show when a confident Hargrove won over the judges at the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s Campari competition with her Bitter Prelude, Happy Ending cocktail (pictured, right), a spirit-forward aperitivo-style cocktail of Campari, Espolón reposado, Cynar and Lillet Rosé.
Also from Vesper, Rodger Gillespie is having a banner year: One day in March, he won both the Don Julio Tequila Challenge and the Las Vegas Cocktail Classic. And the day after Hargrove’s win, Gillespie took first in the Nevada finals of Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition with his Grain of Salt cocktail (far left). But … salt? “When people think your idea sounds weird,” he says, “you are probably on the right track.” It made the national top 10, where Gillespie was given 2¾ hours and $300 to come up with a brand-new cocktail for 400 people; the Apple of My Eye (Bombay Sapphire, spiced poached-apple vermouth, Aperol and lemon) clinched his People’s Choice win. Look for Gillespie in GQ’s December issue.
Bitter Prelude, Happy Ending
By Lillian Hargrove, Vesper mixologist, $15
In mixing glass, 1 ounce Campari, 1 ounce Espolón Reposado, ½ ounce Cynar and ½ ounce Lillet Rosé. Add ice and stir for 15 to 45 seconds. Strain into a chilled 7½-ounce cocktail coupe. Flame a lemon zest over the glass and discard. Garnish with a swath of dried grapefruit.
Grain of Salt
By Rodger Gillespie Vesper bartender/mixologist, $16
In a mixing glass, combine 1½ ounces Bombay Sapphire gin, 1 ounce Cynar, 1 ounce green tea, 1 ounce fresh lemon juice, 1 ounce house-made strawberry-red currant syrup and a pinch of Mediterranean sea salt. Add ice, cover and shake 20 times. Using a dessert whipper, cover the inside of a chilled 10½-ounce coupe glass with house-made Salty Dog foam. Double-drain the cocktail over the foam and top with more foam. Garnish with a basil blossom.
Salty Dog Foam: In a NO2 dessert whipper, combine 4 ounces grapefruit-perfumed egg whites, ¾ ounce grapefruit syrup, 6 ounces concentrated salt water (makes 8 cocktails). Charge, shake and dispense.
Strawberry-Red Currant Syrup: In a pot, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup bakers sugar. Simmer until sugar is dissolved, then turn off heat, add 1 ounce of loose Teavana Spring Morning tea and allow to steep 5-7 minutes. Cool, strain and store in a sealable container.