How could you turn down something described as "a really fancy, good Old Fashioned—with pork"? That's the pithy explainer for the smoked pork belly wrapped in bacon / Old Fashioned pairing dreamed up by Hanis Cavin from Carnitas' Snack Shack and Seven Grand's Brett Winfield. It was the winner at CityBeat's Chefs & Shakers Mash-Up, held June 19 at Hotel Palomar. The challenge to the 10 teams of chefs and bartenders: Come up with a food-and-drink pairing using smoke as the inspiration.
I could fill this space describing the food—Table No. 10's perfect bite of scallop and how The Heart and Trotter got me to eat blood sausage—but this column's about cocktails, right? So, back to Winfield's drink. Dubbed the Wilbur Old Fashioned, it combined Glen Garioch 1994 Single Malt Scotch, peat-smoked apple syrup and Rx smoked bitters for a smooth, smoky sipper.
But it was Cusp's Chris Burkett's pleasantly sweet Fear & Loathing that I was most smitten with. Burkett let cassia-bark smoke fill each tasting glass before adding the combo of Batasiolo Barolo Chinato fortified wine, Dry Sack 15 Year Sweet Old Oloroso sherry, hickory-smoked cola syrup (made from Mexican Coke) and Fee Brothers bitters.
If there'd been a category for best presentation, it would have gone to Sycamore Den. Eric Johnson served his Shake & Break—Cruzan dark rum, Del Maguey mezcal, fresh lemon and pineapple juices, orgeat (almond) syrup and mole bitters—over dry ice. Who doesn't love anything involving dry ice?
High-five to JSix's Nate Howell for making a savory cocktail—a spicy, deconstructed Bloody Mary made from clarified tomato juice and seasoned vodka. The world needs more savory cocktails.
Some other highlights:
· The folks from Saltbox turned the pairing concept into a cocktail amuse-bouche, with smoked pork belly sitting in a cradle of Laphroaig, yellow chartreuse, lemon, grilled peaches, dandelion-infused honey and peach bitters. I'm craving one as I write this. (Head bartender Jordan Slocum says Saltbox will roll out a new menu on July 1 featuring spirits from Los Angeles' Green Bar Distillery.)
· Encore is known as a champagne bar, but bar manager Scott McClain came up with a mighty-fine cocktail with his Maximilian Affair (a reference to France's 1860s attempt to take over Mexico): Cognac, mezcal, Laphroaig, maple syrup, lemon, coffee bitters and fire-roasted Fresno chili, garnished with a smoked applewood chip.
In last week's Drink Issue, we had bartenders come up with recipes inspired by the seven VIPs with whom our writers boozed. A moment of confusion resulted in two recipes for jazz trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos (lucky guy). We ran Leigh Lecap's (Ironside) white rum / Campari / orange cordial creation with the plan to include Alex Maynard's (Jaynes Gastropub) equally appealing take on an Old Fashioned here:
Gilbert the Great
1 dash orange bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 ounce mezcal
1 ounce aÒejo tequila
Stir and serve on the rocks, garnished with an orange peel.