For his next trick, Las Vegas tequila expert Kevin Vanegas will become the National Ambassador for Casa Herradura tequila. But not before throwing the largest Original Margarita Festival this city has seen. In its sixth year, a record 50 competitors necessitated the formation of two judging panels September 15 at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool. The original, genre-bending entries ranged from sweet to salty, modern to classic. Last year’s winners, Velveteen Rabbit, returned with a cantaloupe and Tajín-spiced refresher. Ultimately, the new victors would be selected for their prowess in an Iron Chef-style throwdown. But what got bartenders Edward Gunn of Taco y Taco and Trey Picou of BLVD Cocktail Company to the finalists’ stage was their Miss Blyden’s Margarita, starring El Jimador reposado, cactus-pear juice and a roasted tomatillo and cilantro gastrique, the finest and final sip of this summer.
Miss Blyden’s Margarita, by Edward Gunn (Taco y Taco) and Trey Picou (BLVD Cocktail Company)
In a cocktail shaker, combine 1½ ounces El Jimador reposado tequila, ¾ ounce cactus-pear juice, ½ ounce fresh lime juice, ½ ounce Rhum Clement Créole Shrubb, ½ ounce agave syrup, ½ ounce house-made roasted tomatillo and cilantro gastrique (recipe below), 1 barspoon Cynar and 1 dash Regan’s No. 6 orange bitters. Add ice, cover, shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass half rimmed with chili salt. Top with crema de mezcal foam (2½ ounces egg whites, ¾ ounce Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal, and 1 ounce of tomatillo and cilantro gastrique charged in an ISI desert whip canister). Garnish with fresh cilantro spring and freshly grated nutmeg.
Roasted Tomatillo and Cilantro Gastrique:
Roast 8-12 tomatillos, cut in halves, with 12 sprigs of cilantro and a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil in bags of foil at 400 degrees for 35 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Blend then strain to separate the juice from the pulp and solids. In a saucepan over low heat, reduce 5 parts roasted and blended tomatillo and cilantro juice to 2 parts agave nectar and 1 part apple cider vinegar for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before use.
Amerigo Vespucci, by Adam Rains (Carnevino, Gordon Ramsay Pub) and Jason Reyes (Carnevino)
In a mixing glass, combine 1½ ounces Corralejo blanco tequila, ½ ounce Aperol, ¾ ounce passion fruit puree, ¾ ounce blood orange juice, ½ ounce fresh lime juice, ½ ounce pomegranate simple syrup. Add ice, cover, shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with basil and Fresno chile foam (recipe below) and chile-lime salt.
Basil and Fresno Chile Foam (serves 6-8 cocktails):
Combine 4 egg whites, half of one Fresno chile (slightly muddled, no seeds), 12 basil leaves, 2 ounces pineapple juice, 1 ounce Hangar One chipotle vodka and 2 ounces simple syrup. Charged in an ISI desert whip canister.
Tahitian Thyme, by Gene Samuel (Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill) and Tom Kozlowski (Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill)
In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 ounces tropical tea (Teavana Pineapple Kona Pop) infused Hornitos reposado tequila, 1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur, 1 ounce house-made raspberry thyme gomme (simple) syrup and 1 ounce Sudachi yuzu lime and orange juice. Add ice, cover, shake and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass garnished with a smoked sea salt rim.