Something old, something new 

Bay area bartenders reinvent the Old Fashioned.

A handful of local bartenders revamped a venerable cocktail Wednesday night at Social’s Alibi Whiskey Old Fashioned Competition. A few of the evening’s notable ingredients: bacon, cigar smoke and a homemade cherry shrub.

Alibi Whiskey, a self-proclaimed “tonic of sin and an excuse for vulnerability,” sponsored the event at St. Pete’s newest craft spirit and beer bar, Social (5226 Fourth St. N, formerly the home of a World of Beer franchise).

Eight bartenders took the traditional recipe of spirits, bitters, water and sugar and added their own signature twists, competing for the honor of best new Old Fashioned and a trip to Miami Beach for two nights at the Fontainebleau Hotel.

Jeff Houck of the Tampa Tribune, Todd McNulty of St. Pete’s Wood Fired Pizza, and Ashley Terrell of Panache Beverage Inc. judged the competition based on overall taste, balance, originality and aroma. Bartenders were also scored on their overall performance and presentation.

Traditionally, the Old Fashioned includes only the four basic ingredients, but muddled fruit has found its way into the recipe since the 1950s.

“It is said that no fruit should ever touch the glass of the Old Fashioned,” said Kevin, bartender at The Palm in Tampa and the 2011 Best of the Bay winner for Best Bartender. “But with time, things change and grow, and this is what I’ve been making for a long time. It makes a damn good drink.”

Mise En Place’s Ryan Pinés, who placed third in the competition, took another route, by adding Spanish flavor to the classic cocktail with jalapeños. Pinés coined the spicy concoction the “Matador’s Old Fashioned.”

Pete Siewruk of The Castle in Ybor City showed up to the competition with an impressive mustache and a homemade shrub made from black cherries soaked in vinegar. Sticking with the traditional recipe, Siewruk replaced the fruit in his mixture with the shrub, giving the drink the sweet flavor from the cherries without sacrificing the tradition of a fruitless Old Fashioned.

In his “New Fangled,” Kamran Mir of Czar/Zoya in Ybor City replaced the sugar with Benedictine, which is essentially made of herbs, roots and sugar with a Cognac base. He also went “pretty heavy on the whiskey,” he admits, impressing the judges and earning him second place in the evening’s competition.

Ciro’s Speakeasy & Supper Club bartender Richard Thomsen called his creative approach to the Old Fashioned “Breakfast From The Bartender.” A crowd of curious on-lookers gathered around the bar to see Thomsen submerge a tennis ball-sized applewood-smoked ice cube in a glass with the classic ingredients. Then Thomsen topped it off with a piece of cooked bacon and an orange garnish.

Thomsen instructed the judges to first sip the cocktail, then chase it with the shot of cigar smoke lingering in small glasses in front of them. Literally, a shot of cigar smoke.

Todd McNulty nodded in approval after sipping the cocktail, then ate the piece of bacon.

But Tony Finotti of St. Petersburg’s Mandarin Hide struck gold with his use of backyard ingredients and flair for presentation.

“Using kumquat as my fruit keeps this cocktail local,” said Finotti. “And I replaced the water in my Old Fashioned with Aqua Vitae, which translates to ‘the water of life’.” Finotti’s “Scales of Justice” would turn out to have a prescient name; it justifiably claimed first place in the Old Fashioned showdown.

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