Episode 098 - Don't Sleep on Kings
What’s Shakin, cocktail fans?
Welcome back to another episode of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
In this episode, we hang out with bartender Zac Hoffman and focus in on cocktail competitions and the craft bartender experience. What does it take to become a real bartender, how do you deploy those skills to build a career, and what’s it like going head-to-head with other skilled mixologists to create a cocktail that rises above the rest?
In this enlightening conversation with Zac Hoffman of Roy Boys, based here in beautiful Washington, DC. Some of the things we discuss include:
How Zac steered his chef-driven career, kicked off at the Culinary Institute of America, to take a more liquid-focused route, going on to drive some of the best beverage programs in the Mid-Atlantic.
What it means to be a brand ambassador for a craft spirits venture, and how brand ambassadorship can enhance the career of an aspiring bartender.
The four different tiers of cocktail competitions, as defined by Zac, ranging from the God-tier, to more local or brand-driven experiences.
What it takes to develop a successful cocktail competition entry, drawing from Zac’s experience using Embitterment Aromatic Bitters in his recent creation: Don’t Sleep on Kings.
How to spend an intoxicated evening with Karl Marx,
And much, much more.
Featured Cocktail: The Water Lily
This week’s featured cocktail is the Water Lily cocktail, as featured in our lightning round with Zac. To make it, you’ll need:
3⁄4 oz. triple sec
3⁄4 oz. crème de violette
3⁄4 oz. fresh lemon juice
3⁄4 oz. gin
Remember, this is an equal parts cocktail, so you can always feel free to increase or decrease the ratios to suit your own personal thirst level.
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake until well chilled and integrated, strain into a stemmed cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange twist.
The Water Lily is a delightful little drink that dances somewhere between an Aviation, a Sidecar, and a Last Word, so please enjoy it responsibly, and please tag us @modernbarcart on facebook or instagram if you have the opportunity to recreate this beautiful sipper at your own home bar.
Zac Hoffman is a craft bartender based in Washington, DC who is responsible for opening a number of excellent venues and developing some really great beverage programs. Right now, he’s behind the stick at Roy Boys, a southern-inspired bar in the Shaw neighborhood serving soul food and innovative craft cocktails. He is also a brand ambassador for Gin Lane 1751, a London-based craft gin company.
Regarding Cocktail Competitions
The main topic of discussion for this episode is cocktail competitions. These have been around just about as long as the craft cocktail renaissance got popping in the early 2000s. Although there are a number of formats, prizes, and difficulty levels, the point of every cocktail competition is essentially the same: create an innovative custom cocktail that impresses the judges.
According to Zac, there are four different tiers of cocktail competitions:
The “God Tier” - These competitions are generally sponsored by massive spirits brands or conglomerates. These competitions are: Diageo World Class, Bacardi Legacy, Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginitive Bartender.
Big Brand Competitions - Usually sponsored by individual spirits brands. Whereas the God Tier competitions focus on the individual genius of the bartender, these competitions want to highlight the portfolio of the brand. There tend to be less rules here - and the products are the star.
Medium-Sized Competitions - These are usually run by medium-sized spirits brands, and they tend to have more structured rules. The Copper & Kings Mixtape Competition is a great example of this.
Local Competitions - These tend to be centered in a particular city or held at a distillery. The prizes are smaller, and bartenders tend to have less time to finesse their entries. However, they’re great for bragging rights and are still a useful way for bartenders to gain standing in the industry.
Flair (The Fifth Tier) - These competitions don’t really have as much to do with making great cocktails as they do with flashy execution. Bartenders are flinging bottles all over the place and lighting things on fire. It’s like the circus.
Featured Competition: Speed Rack
Speed Rack is a really important cocktail competition that does great charitable work for breast cancer research and gives women an exclusive platform to feature their bartending skills. This competition is judged based on a combination of speed, execution, and drink quality, and it has qualifying and semi-final rounds in a number of cities throughout North America.
Don’t Sleep on Kings
This is Zac’s entry for the Copper & Kings mixtap competition. The idea of the cocktail is to highlight under-utilized bar ingredients, and the song that inspired this creation is “Don’t Sleep” by Chromeo (feat. French Montana & Stefflon Don).
To make it, you’ll need:
1/4 oz Lime Juice
3/4 oz Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 1/2 oz Copper & Kings Single Barrel Pear Brandy (105 Proof)
3 Dashes Embitterment Aromatic Bitters
2 Dashes Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
Top with 1.5 oz of Q Grapefruit Soda
Garnish with a grapefruit twist and a brandied cherry
Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, strain into a highball glass over ice, and then top with grapefruit soda, and garnish with the twist, the cherry, and a sustainable straw.
The Water Lily
If You Were a Cocktail Ingredient, What Would You Be?
Cynar. I’m very shootable and pleasant in small doses, but would you drink a pint of me? No.
Cocktail With Anyone, Past of Present?
I would share a case of beers with Karl Marx.
Influential Cocktail Books
Liquid Intelligence - Dave Arnold
Regarding Cocktails - Sasha Petraske
The Alinea Cook Book - Grant Achatz
The Joy of Mixology - Gary “Gaz” Regan
Advice for People Who Want to Develop Custom Cocktails
For bartenders who want to compete, find a competition that fits what you do well. For home bartenders, build you bar and give yourself an abundance to ingredients you can use to riff on classics. You also need to have an end goal for the drink - what is it like? What are you trying to do with it?