Once upon a last Sunday, there was an awesome guy named Bill who tended bar at FINO and got us on the guest list to see him mix cocktails with 42 Below vodka from New Zealand! How freaking cool is THAT!
Not just mix cocktails, actually. Compete with other bartenders from Austin (and Dallas and New Orleans) to win a trip to recreate their libations on top of a mountain in New Zealand, perhaps while bungee-jumping. The video at the 42 Below website is a mite unclear.
We had to see the mixologist competitive talons unsheathed, so we presented ourselves in the middle of a blob of clubbers at Laguna Gloria on Sunday at 7:30. Most of them seemed disoriented by the bright lights of early evening, so we were able to knock them all out of our way and get to the front quickly, where three ladies perhaps hired for their flowing locks and... uh... well... not their crowd control abilities were competely failing to sign anyone in.
Once we got that all figured out and entered the museum grounds, we were greeted by ladies in some form of traditional dress (Maori, I'd guess?), who kindly and confusingly welcomed us to New Zealand. Isn't it winter there? Also, why is my spellcheck refusing to recognize the name of the country? Well, Firefox?
After blissfully discovering that the open bar was FREE, we made our way to the VIP section (yeah, that's how we roll... occasionally) and checked out our schwag. Gotta love free shirts and hats. It is good to know that random apostrophization isn't just the bane of the States.
Before the main bartending event, the barely attentive crowd was treated to a performance by Mr. Mystic (not Mr. Mystique, or Mr. Mr., both of which I've accidentally called him in the last 48 hours) and his slow flipping and contortions. I'd like to see him do that while holding a vodka martini.
We also got to meet our DJ, the filipino fist, I think. Or something. Our host for the evening from the vodka company sounded so much like Murray from Flight of the Conchords that it was really difficult for me to actually follow the content of his words. Gawd, I love New Zealand accents.
I'm pretty sure this sounded better in person, but it's still pretty cute.
And then, well, on with the mixing! The competition started off with something with a TON of Charbay Green Tea vodka in it. "Didja not understand the rules?" asked our emcee Deb from 101X's morning show.
Speaking of the emcees, the morning show team of Jason and Deb had a hard slog on their hands. This was a tough crowd. The duo started with inside jokes from their morning show, tried to ask the bartenders questions about their methodology, got drunk, and pretty much finished out the evening by staring openmouthed at the last three or four bartenders without speaking.
The crowd was a bit bemused at first. I can only assume it was because they weren't hitting the open bar hard enough.
Speaking of the open bar, there were drinks available with all three versions of 42 Below's vodka. While I was not a big fan of the kiwi (which was sort of chemically and a bit floral for me) I did like the original plain version and got a real kick out of the honey kind. I'm planning on getting a bottle of it to make hot toddies with this winter. (Mission accomplished, 42 Below people... I like your vodka and am doing a freaking giant post about it and MAY even ask for it at my local watering hole.)
From what I could see, it seemed like most of the Austin Regional bartenders chose to go with either the kiwi or the honey vodkas. The folks that went with the kiwi were all pretty blah... lots of tropical drinks and bananas and strawberries and three-inch sugared rims and one chick who actually plopped a giant glob of meringue down in the middle of her martini glass.
I couldn't really tell how the judges felt about all this.
Yes. Yes we did.
And then back to the mixing! The section we were in actually got tiny samples of each of the drinks, which ranged from terrible through to truly awful. I'm going to give these guys the benefit of the doubt and say that this is probably because the bartenders were having to mix up huge batches of drinks with lots and lots of ingredients in front of an increasingly drunk crowd, and under those conditions, my special concoction might taste like cough syrup or organic cleaning products, too.
We tried blended drinks and suggestively named drinks (Big Banana, Twig and Berries) and drinks with a bacon garnish (the Bubba). Most of the bartenders were pretty straightforward - arrive, mix, smile, leave - but the last couple of guys before Bill finally went on decided to get creative.
Henry Acosta from the Yellow Rose, one of our town's quaint gentlemen's clubs, brought a stripper, a sheet, some buff dude, and a lamp. This was supposed to come together for a silhouette play in the French tradition, but the lamp kept going out. Imagine our disappointment.
Cassandra DeBakey from the Lucky Lounge brought a bunch of chicks in bikinis to promote her drink, the Sorority Bubble Bath. One of them was so hammered that she fell down and almost took the table out with her, which would have been fun. Again, imagine our disappointment.
When Bill came on, all snazzed up and ring-a-ding-ding in his suit and tie, it was a breath of fresh air. By then, a fairly large crowd of FINO folks and friends had gathered, and we all went crazy for the guy. I think he appreciated it.
Not that he didn't bring the showmanship as well... what with the setting on fire of a few select garnishes in an understated, classy kind of way.
Bill was the last to go after a very long night, so it was really great to watch the judges break out in goofy smiles after tasting his drink. Another benefit of being last was that we didn't have to wait long for results, and...
I'm building suspense, here, though I'm sure I already ruined it with the title of the damn post...
Third was the sleeveless dude from Cuba Libre...
Second was Big Banana guy from Oilcan Harry's, and his giant cheering contingent (including Mom) was thrilled...
AND FIRST WAS OMG BILL!
Where's my bugle sound effect?
No, I won't tell you what's in his drink, the Bee Sting. Don't wanna give any advantages to his competition in New Zealand in September! Yeah, he wins a free trip. Jerk. (He's ever so kindly posted the recipe int he comments, however - looks like e needs to create a new one for the finals!)
So, here are the three bartenders in the Austin region who make the best 42 Below drinks.
We even got a pose with the guy, in the hopes that some of his winnerdom might sluff off onto us. I tried to wrest away his trophy, but, well, dude's pretty scrappy.
Lots of well-deserved congratulations to Bill, and we'll be watching the Cocktail World Cup website in September when he takes on all sorts of international bartending types in Queenstown! Bastard.
The night was a little bittersweet, though, since it will be the last time in a while we'll get to see these guys.
Somehow, we never got to spend a lot of time with vinylwino and electric blues, but we always had a wonderful time when we did. Much good luck in Pittsburgh to the two of them, and I hope our paths cross sooner rather than later.
Happier note, and I'm sorry to be ending a hellalong post with this, but check out our new banner! Yes, the Mr. took some time out of his busy schedule of scouting and patching asphalt and planning bachelor parties to take a great picture and make it greater.Woo for photoshop skillz!