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​The Results Are In!: HPR Announces Winners in Annual Cocktail Showdown

Cocktail Showdown | January 20th, 2017

The moment of truth has arrived. After seven weeks of sampling and judging some of the finest libations in the area the results for this year’s Cocktail Showdown have arrived. Christopher Larson, Raul Gomez and Sabrina Hornung were presented the opportunity to try some of the finest cocktails in town crafted by some of the finest mixologists in the area. Participants were judged on a one to five scale on creativity, presentation, and flavor.

Best Overall: Elijah Larson of Proof Artisan Distillers

High Plains Reader: Can you tell us about your bartending experience?

Elijah Larson: I just celebrated 14 years tending bar.

HPR: Can you tell us your favorite part about the bar industry and what keeps you in the industry?

EL: I really enjoy having the opportunity to teach and connect with new industry talent, and there is a growing number of thirsty people out there that want quality, consistency, and creativity in their beverages. What I do allows me to have an artistic release and create interesting flavor compounds that make people smile.

HPR: What inspired your creations for the showdown this year?

EL: The Jelly Shooter or Jello Shots as we call them today have been around longer than most realize. The first Jello shot recipe is over 100 years old. I wanted to create a fun shot that had compound flavors vs. the usual booze and flavored jello route. I went with a breakfast cocktail profile of grapefruit , honey, a sparkling wine and Minions Gin. The grapefruit rind as the "shot glass" helped connect the shot itself to the ingredients and it was a fun way to present the shot vs. the old standard plastic Dixie cup.

With the cocktail I utilized the classic formula of spirit, sugar, bitters, and water. Working in a distillery provides me with the unique opportunity to take part in developing new and interesting spirits and liqueurs. The Minions Old Tom Gin used in my cocktail was rested in used whisky barrels for 6 months. I resourced local honey which was compound with vanilla and orange oils for 12 months. The bitters I prepared with a 14 month maceration of nectarine and peach stones in un-aged overproof Old Tom Gin. The ingredients are stirred over ice, strained, served up with a Flying Orange Twist.

HPR: What is your favorite mixology trend?

EL: Trends? Meh. Taste everything, squeeze fresh, shake clean, classics never die, and smile.

HPR: What is your favorite mixer?

EL: I grew up in the middle of an apple orchard in central Washington state. I can mix anything with an apple.

First runners up: A tie between Jared Winmill of Rustica Tavern and Brooke Hein of Mezzaluna

Second Runner up: Josh Goedtke of The Boiler Room

Third Runner up: Adam Nehk of Barbacoa

Best Flavor: Adam Nehk of Barbacoa

HPR: Can you tell us about your bartending experience?

Adam Nehk: My bartending experience has gradually gotten more and more in depth as I've worked at many places around town. It started just by pouring beers and mixing margaritas at Mexican Village when I first began in the service industry nine years ago. I gained a little more knowledge of mixology and using different products when I helped open the Fargo Rhombus Guys, and became one of their original bartenders. I learned how to deal with high volume customers with my time at the Bulldog tap. And currently, with my time at Barbacoa, I have really been given the freedom to experiment and try new ideas whenever one pops in my head. I love working there because it can be a great balance of high volume money-making nights, as well as a restaurant/bar to showcase original ideas when it comes to our ever changing cocktail menu.

HPR: Can you tell us your favorite part about the bar industry and what keeps you in the industry?

AN: My favorite part about the industry is the relaxed feel of it all. Over the years it's become second nature for me to just naturally interact with the customers and give them an experience they will remember. I love seeing regulars come in who are happy to see that I'm working that night. It gives me a great feeling to know that they appreciate my service and my creativity, as far as mixology goes. It's always fun to meet new people and strike a chord in them that gets them coming back. In recent years the industry in Fargo has grown exponentially! It's a great area to learn the industry and grow in it. I feel like my experiences and knowledge I've gained can help me to go anywhere with it, and even eventually be successful with my own business.

HPR: What inspired your creations for the showdown this year?

AN: My inspirations for this years cocktails were simply the style of our restaurant and the product we have available. At Barbacoa we like to offer a familiar experience and menu selection, but with our own unique twist. What I've enjoyed doing is utilizing ingredients we have in the kitchen, and almost mimicking, or at least complimenting the food on our menu. By taking from our great tequila/mezcal selection and joining them with fresh fruits, herbs, chiles, purees, syrups, etc. The combinations can be endless. We've even made margaritas using our wing sauces before. Although an extensive liquor selection (like many cocktail bars have) can sure produce some tasty drinks... It's fun to create new ideas with ingredients you might not think could go in a drink.

HPR: What is your favorite mixology trend?

AN: My favorite mixology trend happening right now would have to be Infusions. Whether it be the spirit itself, a simple syrup, bitters, tinctures etc. There are so many different ways to infuse a new flavor into something completely different. I've seen bleu cheese infused gin, duck fat washed bourbon, simple syrups made with a half dozen different herbs and spices, tinctures made with peach and cherry pits that marinade for a year. Just a few years ago when I started bartending, I never imagined there could be so many creative ways to make a cocktail taste so unique and good!

HPR: What is your favorite mixer?

AN: My favorite mixer to work with right now (being at Barbacoa) is actually fresh herbs from our kitchen. Sage and berries, oregano with pineapple, basil with cucumber, and basically adding hot peppers to spice up any drink. I think our cocktail program has that unique characteristic, and I'm glad I've had the chance to help make it that way.

First Runner up: Josh Goedtke of The Boiler Room

Second Runner up: Brooke Hein of Mezzaluna

Third Runners up: A tie between Andrew Hardy of Sidestreet and Jared Winmill of Rustica Tavern

Best Presentation: Brooke Hein of Mezzaluna

HPR: Can you tell us about your bartending experience?

Brooke Hein: Although I have been in the service industry for about five years now, I only began bartending when I started at Mezzaluna in 2014. At Mezzaluna, I have been lucky enough to learn and collaborate with several other mixologists and chefs with many more years of experience than myself, which in turn has increased my knowledge and understanding for mixology.

HPR: Can you tell us your favorite part about the bar industry and what keeps you in the industry?

BH: The people. I absolutely love meeting people, building connections and making memories with them no matter if it is just a night out for drinks or a celebration of a life milestone. I also adore the sense of family that we have not only as a restaurant but as an industry. It seems that no matter where I go, I run into someone from our service industry family here in Fargo-Moorhead, and I love it.

HPR: What inspired your creations for the showdown this year?

BH: “Smokey Hollow” was inspired by a drink that I previously made that I felt still needed to be perfected. I wanted to create a drink that would allow drinkers to appreciate mezcal for it's smoky character without taking away from the simplicity of the spirit is itself. So, I came up with the idea of making a mezcal and tequila sazerac and adding in bits and pieces to enhance the flavor profile of both spirits.

HPR: What is your favorite mixology trend?

BH: Currently, my favorite mixology trend is to use agave nectar rather than simple syrup or granulated sugar. Personally, I think it gives spirit forward cocktails a richer, warmer flavor profile.

HPR: What is your favorite mixer?

BH: I truly enjoy topping off cocktails with champagne to make them sparkling cocktails. Generally, prosecco and cava can be used as well.

First runner up: Jared Winmill at Rustica Tavern

Second runner up: Kyle Berglund Rustica Eatery

Third runner up: Tessa Bride at Hodo Lounge

Most Creative: Jared Winmill of Rustica Tavern

HPR: Can you tell us about your bartending experience?

Jared Winmill: I started bartending at Rustica a couple months after it opened in the fall of 2014. This was all jumpstarted by well-rounded industry experience, most importantly the time I spent in kitchens.

HPR: Can you tell us your favorite part about the bar industry and what keeps you in the industry?

JW: The 'regulars' and our supportive bar industry are a couple of my favorite parts that have also kept me in this industry.

HPR: What inspired your creations for the showdown this year?

JW: I started working at Junkyard Brewing Co. this last year, and started to play with the idea that whiskey and other spirits are essentially distilled beer. I wanted to marry the idea and have some fun combining the two into a cocktail.

HPR: What is your favorite mixology trend?

JW: Housemade everything i.e. bitters, tinctures, infusions etc.

HPR: What is your favorite mixer?

JW: Citrus.

First runner up: Adam Nehk of Barbacoa

Second Runner up: A tie between Andrew Hardy of Sidestreet and Josh Goedtke of The Boiler Room

Third Runner up: Brooke Hein of Mezzaluna

Best Shot: Langston Johnson

HPR: Can you tell us about your bartending experience?

Langston Johnson: My experience as bartender has been built around learning as you go, and understanding that asking the right questions is better than questioning whether your right.

HPR: Can you tell us your favorite part about the bar industry and what keeps you in the industry?

LJ: My favorite part of the industry is the FAMILY. We'll take your tired, broken, and downtrodden and make them our own. There's no warmer welcome than that of a fellow bartender.

HPR: What inspired your creations for the showdown this year?

LJ: My creation in the showdown this year was inspired by Jerry Thomas's blue blazer, and the camaraderie surrounding bartenders. Fernet Branca, commonly referred to as the Bartender’s handshake, is what I would offer a fellow barman (barwoman) who graced my rail. So I sought to mingle the two ideas into a drink I could enjoy amongst friends.

HPR: What is your favorite mixology trend?

LJ: My favorite trend in mixology is ingredients with a backstory. Ingredients that are not only sustainable and clean, but also socially responsible as well. Farm-to-bar ingredients.

HPR: What is your favorite mixer?

LJ: My favorite mixer is two drops of water, in a glass of neat single malt scotch.

First runner up: Kyle Berglund at Rustica Eatery

Second runner up: Tessa Bride at Hodo Lounge

Third Runner up: Andrew Hardy at Sidestreet

Best standard bar: Dylan Stasch

HPR: Can you tell us about your bartending experience?

Dylan Stasch: Honestly, I've only been bartending for maybe 3 years? But barbacked for awhile before that and had some pretty cool coworkers and friends to show me some neat things.

HPR: Can you tell us your favorite part about the bar industry and what keeps you in the industry?

DS: I would have to say my best friends that I work with, our regulars, and those moments when it's so busy you have that sense of panic--that's when work is fun, it's the "rush" or something I guess.

HPR: What inspired your creations for the showdown this year?

DS: I kind of went with that winter feel/tastes and whiskey you can never go wrong with having whiskey for some inspiration.

HPR: What is your favorite mixology trend?

DS: I know this probably isn't a current trend or anything, but I would say the bloody, there's so many cool things you can do with them and they never let you down.

HPR: What is your drink of choice? 

DS: Jameson neat or a classic old fashion.

HPR: What is your favorite mixer? 

DS: Jameson.

First runner up: Andrew Hardy at Sidestreet

Second runner up: Kayla Erickson at Lucky’s 13 Pub

Third runner up: Heather Hans at Empire




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