Tell Tampa Bay's story in a cocktail; that's a lofty challenge even for the most seasoned of bartenders. But what a lot of people don't know is that most "mixologists" are history buffs at heart.
This past Tuesday, nine bartenders from local restaurants (including SideBern's, Anise Global Gastrobar, Mise en Place, Domani Bistro, Tryst Gastro Lounge, Bon Appetit, Crabby Bill's, and PCI Bar & Grill) attempted to tell Tampa Bay's tale through spirits at the Birchwood's Sip n' Sizzle Cocktail Competition.
"We were challenged with making a cocktail that represented Tampa's history and a cocktail that was a Florida cocktail," said Dean Hurst, director of spirits at SideBern's. "I like tiki things and the Hawaiian Village was a staple for Polynesian restaurants in the 1960s and 1970s, so I made a Falerum (sugar, rum, ginger, almonds, and lime zest) with orange and lemon juice and tiki bitters."
For his second cocktail, Hurst was inspired by Florida representing a "melting pot." His drink was based off the Manhattan. He combined Pisco Portòn with sherry, grenadine and a slice of orange, and called it the Bigelow — named after the Battery Bigelow at Fort De Soto, which Hurst said he often visited growing up.
Justin C. Gray, of Anise Global Gastrobar, dug deep into Tampa and Florida's history for his cocktail.
"A lot of people think about the 16th century, Ponce de Leon, when they think of Florida," Gray said sipping a Cigar City Tocobaga Red Ale. "But that ignores the entire Native American population that was here before anyone even came in. The tribe that was here was the Tocobaga Indians."
In his research, Gray found that Tocobaga Indians always had corn, so his recipe included corn whiskey to honor that part of the tribe's heritage.
"And since cigar heritage is really big in Tampa, I made a tobacco-infused syrup," Gray said. "I also grilled some oranges, got a nice char on those and extracted the juices. Then I added some lime juice to break up the sweetness, and topped it off with some Cigar City Tocobaga red ale."
Judges included Sean Daly (Tampa Bay Times
and ABC Action News), Jeff Houck (Tampa Tribune
), Brian Bailey (I Love the 'Burg), Stacie Schaible (WFLA News Channel 8), and Wayne Atherholt (Morean Arts Center).
After the bartenders did a significant amount of juicing, shaking, and sipping, the judges decided on their top three choices. Domani Bistro's Ryan Schriver came in first, Bon Appetit's Kenny Lang in second place, and Anise's Justic C. Gray in third.