Back in September, Pittsburgh saw its second annual Cocktail Week. Over a dozen cocktail spots in town threw in their support, hosting spirit-centered events and crafting drinks in the theme of this year’s competition.
First, the events. Last year, the focus was on educational seminars, which we loved (and somewhat missed). This year, the events were less about education and more about just enjoying some top-notch drinks.
We kicked things off at Franktuary, with an event focused on Boilermakers — you know, beer cocktails. Here’s Drew from Franktuary doing a little reading to give the night a sense of ceremony.
Verde (of our great Tequila Tour of 2013) hosted a Tequila-Mezcal Shootout, in which we got to taste four different shooter cocktails — two with a tequila base, two with a mezcal base. In the exact opposite of most Mexican standoffs, everyone was a winner.
We did have one killer education event — a trip through Tiki history, hosted by Pittsburgh Tiki scene fixture (anchor?), Lucky the Painproof Man! Living legend Brother Cleve was also in attendance as a speaker.
So those were some of the events, but the main attraction for us was the cocktail competition. This year, its theme was “Disco Cocktails.”
“Disco cocktails?” you might be wondering. “Wasn’t the disco era a dreadful cocktail nadir, a blemish on the arse of 20th century mixology?”
To which I say, “Thanks for coming along, random Brit!” And also, “Yes, that’s correct.”
Luckily for we craft cocktail aficionados, though, the goal of the cocktail competition was not to recreate, but to reinvent. Nay, to reclaim! To take the trashy marquee drinks of the disco era, and turn them into something you don’t need a Tony Montana-sized mountain of blow to enjoy.
Throughout Cocktail Week, we tried every single competition drink on offer; here are some of our favorite takes on old “classics.”
This was Hannah from Tender‘s spin on (take a guess) the Harvey Wallbanger. Made with pisco, green chartreuse, falernum, orange, and Tuaca, this version was a marked improvement. Where the Wallbanger reminds us of particularly cloying, over-anised pizzelle, the Ballwanger was more like a cookie with an orange creamsicle icing. It had a pleasing tartness and a much better blend of flavors than its inspiration. (There were several submissions inspired by the HWB, but this one was our favorite.)
NEVILLE STRONGBOTTOM ICED TEA
What to say about this little gem by Joe at Butterjoint? It was a locally-sourced take on the Long Island Iced Tea, made with spirits from the area and topped with heavenly ROOT BEER. (And a gummy shark!) Why haven’t we been drinking these every night??
Now, if the original Piña Colada were a person, I’d likely throw him off my boat and pretend it was an accident. But at 1947 Tavern (Side note: go there! The cocktail program is taking off!), Chris “BDC” Matrozza’s reinvention of the reviled beverage had us craving a second round. It managed to be creamy without actually having any cream-like components, like a milky butterscotch with tropical undertones. And that (heavily) boozed-up pineapple? Hell yes.
Made by Brett at Franktuary, Fox described this as a “girl drink gone right.” It featured ginever, Hum, grapefruit, lime, and ginger — it would have been perfect for late summer. The grapefruit added a terrific hint of sourness without overwhelming the other flavors.
SEX ON THE STREET
Sort of like a Sex on the Beach, but with less sand in your crevices. Crafted by Renee at The Elbow Room, this tasty beverage featured peach, bourbon, Cointreau, rosewater, and cranberry juice. It tamped down the in-your-face sweetness of the original, and the substitution of fresh peach for schnapps made a world of difference — not to mention the punch that the bourbon contributes!
THE LOVE CHILD
This offering by Jason & Caito at Verde was less inspired by an actual disco drink, and more by the era as a whole (during which many love children were surely had). Composed of Cazadores blanco, Aperol, ginger syrup, Rumchata, and lemon, the end result was frothy, desserty, and refreshing. And speaking of desserty…
Grasshopper, meet Master Po; this creamy cocktail from Adam at Independent Brewing Company was a jewel. Made with green chartreuse, branca menta, cream, simple, and bitters, it was a perfect nightcap sort of drink. A little on the heavy side, but oh so satisfying!
We purposely saved this one for last. A creation of Greta from Meat & Potatoes, this sublime cocktail featured yellow chartreuse, Vida mezcal, orange juice, and cassis. The taste reminded us of maritime air and smoky citrus. It was among our favorites, and incidentally, the well-deserving winner of the cocktail competition.
So that’s the (admittedly late) dispatch from 2014’s Pittsburgh Cocktail Week. Be sure to check out the 3rd installment in 2015!