Tuesday night was the Chivas Regal Masters Grand Final at Manhattan's NoMad Hotel, where 13 of the world's best bartenders competed against each other in the battle of Chivas Regal whisky. I tasted all the cocktails (some twice), and beyond being wowed by some of the unlikely flavor combinations, I received a thorough education on mixology. These professionals might make it look easy, but I can only dream of pouring out those drinks.
The first twist of the evening: every cocktail had to be carbonated by the competitors — no bottled soda water allowed. The effervescence made them lighter, almost like champagne cocktails, but because they featured whisky and not champagne I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Alistair Reynolds from The Hawksmoor in London served a "Scotch & Yoda," which was what I imagine a lot of bartenders strive for in making balanced cocktails. I could have sipped these Chartruse-infused odes to everyone's favorite green Star Wars character all night, but was glad the next morning I didn't.
Mitsuhiro Nakamura of Tokyo's Peninsula Hotel Bar made a cocktail with plum wine which was absolutely delicious, a perfect introduction to fine whisky for the non-whisky drinker should you take it upon yourself to convert one.
Chabi Cadiz of the Gran Hyatt Hotel in Santiago, Chile made a cocktail infused with peach and coffee, two flavor notes you can find in a good whisky but wouldn't necessarily get along so well together. To my great surprise, the end product was spot-on and one of my favorites of the night.
Finally (thankfully), as a fan of Manhattans, I enjoyed the offering from Marian Krause of The Spirits Bar in Cologne, Germany. A fresh take on a classic, this was something I would fly to Germany to sip again. The carbonation added an appealing texture and lightened up the strong flavors, but the drink overall stayed true to its classic roots.
The evening's winning drink was crafted by Masahiro Urushido of NYC's Saxon + Parole, earning him the title of first-ever Chivas Master. This crowd favorite featured a floating apple chunk shaped like a sugar cube, and while there was no actual apple in the cocktail, the garnish lent a fresh, fruity aroma that coaxed out the whisky's subtle apple flavors.
“I am well-aware of the long heritage of Chivas, so immersing myself into the history of cocktails to create a drink that can stand the test of time has been very inspirational," he said, accepting the award, "and I'm excited to introduce ‘The New Pal’ cocktail to my customers in New York. I hope that it encourages other bartenders around the world to create new Chivas cocktails inspired by the great classics.”
It's times like those, after witnessing these expert mixologists' bottomless bags of tricks, I know I need to think twice before pouring the good brown stuff over a couple of ice cubes and calling it a drink.
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