(Published in the January 2011 issue)
On November 30, eight of our Finest City’s finest bartenders converged on one of San Diego’s most respected cocktail destinations, downtown’s El Dorado, to determine, once and for all, who is the pourest of the pour. Eight mixologists battled in a head-to-head, Iron Chef-style competition that was conducted in single-elimination rounds where only three types of liquor were allowed. Adding to the challenge, each round featured a surprise ingredient that had to be added to the mix.
The action got off to a shaky start...and ended that way. And when all the glasses were half-empty, it was Anthony Schmidt from the East Village hideaway, Noble Experiment (the speakeasy hidden inside Neighborhood), that won top honors and bragging rights with his Wry Grin, a minty sweet-and-sour tipple with a rye whiskey base.
“Serving five judges with various interests can be challenging, so I tried using a drink that appeals to as wide an audience as possible,” says Schmidt. “It’s an approachable drink for the novice palate, but the use of Fernet Branca [an Italian digestif made with herbs and spices] adds deep complexity and appeals to the more experienced drinker.”
Despite being a technician who’s studied the art of craftbartending at spirit-centric spots across the country, Schmidt admits to having been anxious about the competition, which was stacked with bartenders that are not only local titans, but also some of his best friends.
“I respect all the pros who had the guts to show up at the event at El Dorado,” he says. “It takes courage to put yourself out in the open like that. I know I was nervous as all get out.”
Victory is sweet, but it’s the satisfaction of a job well done that drives this intoxicating innovator.
“I love Noble Experiment because it gives me every possible tool I need to make sure every customer who sits on the other side of the bar is as happy as possible,” Schmidt says. “The rest is up to me. If I make the right decisions, if I study up on cocktails and ingredients, if I’m nice and engage the golden rule, I get instant gratification-happy new friends.”
Cheers to that.
Schmidt’s Wry Gin
1½ oz. Hudson Manhattan Rye
½ oz. Fernet Branca
¾ oz. simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, brought to a boil then cooled to room temperature)
3 lemon wedges
8 medium-sized mint leaves plus
1 large mint leaf for garnish
Place ingredients in cocktail shaker. Muddle and taste for sweet-and-sour balance. If mixture is too sweet, add more lemon. If too tart, add more simple syrup. Add ice to shaker, cover and shake aggressively, then strain into ice-filled double rocks glass. Garnish with large mint sprig. Serve. Repeat.
Top of the Glass
El Dorado ‘s bartender contenders
Cowboy StarEric Johnson
Craft and CommerceSeth Laufman
Jaynes GastropubAnthony Schmidt
Noble ExperimentMathew Stanton
El DoradoTim Stevens
ProhibitionThe Noble Experiment
777 G Street , East Village