The Ranchero Room at Harry’s Plaza Café made for the perfect battleground on Saturday, May 22, as a handful of pro and amateur bartenders worked their mixology magic in the cocktail finals of The Independent’s Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest. More than one dozen recipes were submitted for this portion of the contest — which was sponsored by Chopin Vodka and 10 Cane Rum — and five finalists were chosen from those submissions.
Pitting their drinks against each other and in front of a crowd of 30 or so onlookers were Kate Schwab and her basil-strawberry-vodka S.B. Kate-ini; Sonny Chehl and his cucumber-cilantro-gin Cool Hand Cuc; Guy Cumberbatch and his loquat-a-licuous vodka-fueled Hot to Quat; Mandy Huffaker and her mango-chili-rum 10 Cane Caliente Cooler; and Branden Bidwell, whose friend Joe Stoltz poured his strabery-and-tequila Senorita Susie.
On hand to diligently judge all five of these drinks were Harry’s general manager Kevin Hebert and, from The Indy team, food editor George Yatchisin, restaurant writer Joanie Hudson (also with Santa Barbara Winery), news reporter Ethan Stewart, and senior editor Matt Kettmann. Tying it all together with a hilarious bow was emcee Travis Manach, who managed to work the room with aplomb as the bartenders mixed their various offerings.
The drinks all proved amazing in their own ways: Schwab’s strawberry sweetness faded to pleasant basil on the back end; Chehl’s herbal coolness would soothe any throat on a hot day; Cumberbatch’s methodology — which included sledgehammering the loquats into a usable juice that morning — left all impressed; Huffaker’s ode to that classically Mexican chili-mango combo was set off with a splash of Squirt soda; and Bidwell/Stoltz’s rich margarita went to another level courtesy of the hazelnut-salt rim.
But when the votes were tallied, Huffaker’s 10 Cane Caliente Cooler emerged victorious, with Chehl’s Cool Hand Cuc a close second. As such, Huffaker won a 2-liter bottle of Chopin Vodka and will be featured in the June 3 issue of The Independent, our first ever Sizzling Summer BBQ edition.
For more on the BBQ Contest, see independent.com/bbq.