The rules of Art of a Cocktail were pretty simple: create an artisan cocktail featuring New Holland Spirits and a local Michigan product. ArtPrize was the inspiration for the contest, as New Holland wanted to do something to showcase Michigan beverages during the event.
I had the pleasure of judging this contest on Monday, October 15, at Lousi Benton in downtown Grand Rapids, where the original 12 drinks had been narrowed down to the top five via public vote. Judges were asked to take a variety of things into consideration including presentation, aroma, taste and creativity. Each of those categories had options within them for different point values, making sure things like the “aroma” category didn’t outweigh the “taste” category. I’ve listed the drinks in order of my preference:
1.) Bee-Sting, Sundance Grill
As a Grand Rapids native, I’m VERY familiar with Sundance: it’s my hangover spot because of their fantastic breakfasts, and super spicy bloody marys. So as aware as I was that they served alcohol, I never would have thought of them for artisan cocktails! This drink featured New Holland Knickerbocker Gin, Michigan honey, 3 large lime wedges, soda water, and rose water. When the creator was explaining this drink, he made sure to mention that the rose water was on the top, and the honey on the bottom, so drinking from the straw, versus taking a sip out of the glass, would yield completely different experiences. The drink was by far my favorite because it wasn’t too sweet, but also wasn’t sour at all (with limes, you never know what you’re going to get), and the rosewater added a nice touch that I haven’t encountered often.
Sidenote: I don’t like gin unless it’s combined with another liquor, but I LOVED New Holland Knickerbocker Gin. If you’re typically not a gin person, go out and buy this. Right now.
2.) Shipwreck Rum Punch, Reserve
Reserve is an upscale wine bar in the heart of Grand Rapids and I was surprised when their drink arrived in front of me looking like Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid it was not. This drink featured New Holland White Rum, house infused cherry brandy, Evan Williams Bourbon, Lemon Oleo saccharum, and black tea, garnished with some super duper grapes. I’m not going to lie, my eyes glazed over when being told about all of the ingredients in this drink, and I eyed it skeptically after hearing “tea” (not a big tea person) and “saccharum” (I had no idea what this was). Nevertheless, this drink was amazing: you could taste everything in it, but yet it blended together perfectly. The other judges and I tried to articulate this drink, but we all failed. I’m not going to even try to explain to you – just go to Reserve and ask them to make it for you. You won’t be sorry.
3.) Limon Al Fresco, Tre Cugini
Tre Cugini is a restaurant specializing in authentic Italian cuisine, and their cocktail reflected that perfectly. While most might order wine at an Italian restaurant, I encourage you to order cocktails at Tre Cugini as they are always delicious. This particular drink featured New Holland Knickerbocker Gin, lemoncello, green peppercorns, and basil. The presentation of this drink was great, the aroma was fantastic, and it tasted pretty good too. I don’t know how often I would order this drink, because it was a bit on the bitter side, but I definitely finished this one! The one warning I would give with it is, be very careful not to accidently slurp up those peppercorns through your straw because it took a healthy amount of water for me to recover from that.
4.) Fall into the Mitten, Vitale’s of Ada
Vitale’s of Ada is the one restaurant on this list that I have yet to visit, so I had zero preconceived notions about this drink. That being said, I do have a website that celebrates all things awesome in Michigan, so I was instantly in love with the apple Michigan silhouette floating in the drink. “Fall into the Mitten” showcased New Holland’s Amber Rum, as well as Michigan apple cider. Other ingredients included fresh lime juice, cranberry juice, and simple syrup. While I was aware there were other components to this drink, it tasted like a very sweet apple cider to me. This would be the type of beverage I would order one of, but would definitely not be able to handle more than one. Maybe a bit more of the cranberry juice, or lime juice, would have brought the sweet factor down, and the tart factor up, creating a more balanced drink.
5.) Trillium 75, Trillium Haven
Trillium Haven is a new farm to table restaurant in East Town. When I say “farm to table”, I don’t mean they are buying their produce from local farmers; no, they actually have a farm (Trillium Haven Farm), where they cultivate products to feature in their restaurant. Walking into this restaurant, you immediately notice two things: an open kitchen where you can see all the food being prepared, and a beautiful bar, so I was expecting a lot from this cocktail. The Trillium 75 was a twist on the classic French 75, featuring New Holland’s Knickerbocker Gin, lavender simple syrup (made from lavender grown on the Trillium Haven Farm), and fresh lemon juice. To me, it just tasted like lemonade. Perhaps my palate isn’t cultivated enough to pick up on the subtleties of the lavender, or perhaps there was merely too much lemon juice. Either way, it was a great lemonade, and as one judge said: “a perfectly made French 75”.
After the judges deliberated, and the votes were tallied, the winner and runner up were announced. Congratulations to Reserve (Shipwrecked Rum Punch) on winning 2012’s Art of a Cocktail and Vitale’s of Ada (Fall into the Mitten) as being the first runner up!
Bonus: look what I got for judging! Thanks New Holland!