Newport’s Cocktail Wars Have A New Champion

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The bartending competition’s final round was Leap Day night.

Newport’s Cocktail Wars competition just finished its third season and we’ve made the realization that it’s a actually a game very similar to poker. There’s a lot of skill involved, but also a fair bit of luck.

The bartenders enter each round without the knowledge of what liquor they’ll be mixing with and must plan accordingly. They can bring their own secret ingredients to the competition…and that’s where the bet (and gamble) is made.

There are certain ingredients which have a limited range of applications. We’re no expert at mixology, but we’re thinking tonic water isn’t something you’d mix with anything but gin or vodka, provided that you liked the person you were serving it to. (We’re sure some of our bartending friends can provide us with some exceptions to this rule, but we’re confident they’ll also prove it in the process.) But we digress. The point is that tonic isn’t a great ingredient to bring when there’s a fair chance that bourbon is going to show up.

So each bartender is making a gamble. They’re picking or making ingredients based on what they like, what they’re guessing will work with widest range of liquors and what’s more interesting than what the other competitors are going to bring.

So given this information, the participants take a risk, one they need to know how to manage. This is why poker players resent what they do being called gambling. Gambling is supposed to be a game of chance, with no skill involved. That’s typically how various government agencies determine what is illegal for you to play at home (but fits perfectly into their lottery operation).

So what does gambling and chance have to do with bartending? Well, in the case of Cocktail Wars, it’s taking people out of their comfort zones. A bartender may have a range of cocktails they have down pat, but you’re not going to know how good they really are until you stress them.

Interestingly, in the final round of the previous two Cocktail Wars seasons, the stress was increased rather dramatically. Rather than one surprise liquor, there were four different ones and they were selected for each bartender by pulling names out of a hat. That scenario really shifted the talent to luck ratio, because the quality difference in the different liquors is often greater than the skill of the people being assigned them, meaning most bartenders wouldn’t be able to recover from drawing Southern Comfort.

This time around, a shift was made. Everyone got the same ingredients to work with, but Monday night, those ingredients multiplied. Everyone had to use two: Fisher’s Island Lemonade…and Malibu Coconut Rum.

Fisher’s Island, for those of you who haven’t had it, is a lemonade, very much spiked with vodka and whisky and then pumped into a can. It’s part of this great new wave of pre-mixed cocktails which are wiping the floor with all the malt beverage wannabe cocktails, which typically taste like someone poured Zima into your lemonade/iced tea…or whatever Smirnoff Ice is supposed to be.

Meanwhile, Malibu tastes like coconut-flavored diabetes.

Will Cocktail Wars Become Battle Chefs?

So, that is not an easy combination to work with well, but that’s probably a new shift for how Cocktail Wars is going to go in the future. Rather than handing good bartenders the best ingredients, it will take a page from Battle Chefs (starting tonight, doors open at 8), give them bizarre combinations to work with and see what they can do when they’re far outside their comfort zone.

jason kindness is not impressedThat said, Viniq (seen in Week 2) was still a bizarre and cruel choice for a cocktail contest. Here you can see judge (and prior champion) Jason Kindness perplexed by what was described as “it looks like nail polish”.

Interestingly, the similarity to Battle Chefs isn’t the only connection to the kitchen. Finalist Quinn Earley isn’t a bartender. He works as a cook at Malt on Broadway.

The winner?

The Revolving Door returns to dominance as Jack Hunger takes the crown. Not bad for a kid who just took the Mixology 101 class and started bartending last year.

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast Cocktail Correspondent

Tristan's just this guy, ya know?