Who wants to win a cocktail competition? You do! Coming up with a winning cocktail for an amateur contest, especially the Bourbon Women’s annual Not Your Pink Drink contest, isn’t hard work. It just takes a little experimentation to get something you love. And the best part :you get to taste test your cocktail! Since I’m assisting judging this year and not competing, I wanted to put together a how-to list for you to design your own cocktail and win the contest.
Did I mention you get to drink all your test cocktails as part of the process? Seriously, the best part!
I’ve put together some tips to help you create your own winning cocktails for the contest and will be sharing a few each week until the submission deadline on July 27th. Here are the first two:
Play with Classic Cocktail Recipes
There’s a reason we love bourbon so much. Not only is it magnificent by itself, it’s stellar in cocktails. Throughout it’s history whiskey (specifically bourbon) has been used as a base for iconic cocktails in the US and internationally.
Think of the Manhattan, a classic cocktail of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. Or the old fashioned, a combination of whiskey, bitters and sugar. Or the mint julep, highball, sazerac, sour, smash, toddy, or brown derby. There are a LOT of classic whiskey cocktails out there.
This first tip is simple. Start with a classic cocktail recipe and tweak it. For example, the French Quarter Manhattan that won the contest in 2015 was built on a classic Manhattan structure. A Manhattan combines 2 ounces of whiskey with 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and some bitters. For the French Quarter Manhattan, you would swap out the vermouth for pecan liqueur and use chocolate bitters. That’s it. Voila, new cocktail.
Or you can take something like the old fashioned and riff off that classic. Generally, an old fashioned has a couple of ounces of whiskey, some bitters and quarter to half ounce of simple syrup. You can reduce the amount of whiskey and replace it with a different liqueur or spirit, add in flavored simple syrups instead of a white sugar or demerara syrup, or change out the bitters. I've made blackberry old fashioneds, chocolate old fashioneds, pecan pie old fashioneds, and s’mores old fashioneds. In putting together the cocktails, I just swapped out some of the ingredients in a basic old fashioned cocktail and designed a new one.
The possibilities are as endless as the spirits selection at an amazing liquor store.
Make Bourbon the Star
In building a winning cocktail for the Bourbon Women you must remember that Bourbon Women want to taste their bourbon. We enjoy cocktails, but we don’t want some frilly, pink, foo-foo drink. We want to taste the bourbon in our cocktails. We’re proud to be Bourbon Women who can nose and taste whiskies for days (especially at our Bourbon Women Siposium every August). So don’t hide the bourbon, and don’t overwhelm it with other flavors.
Make the bourbon stand out in your cocktail.
To that end, make sure you choose a proof of bourbon that keeps the bourbon detectable in the cocktail. If you keep a low proof bourbon as the base of the cocktail and use other strong flavors, you might lose the strength of the bourbon in the taste of the drink. Many mixologists prefer to use 100 proof or higher bourbon in their cocktails, to make sure the spirit stands forward in taste. The cocktail doesn’t have to be hot or high in proof, but you want to be able to savor the bourbon in the cocktail. You can choose ingredients that work with the bourbon, and bitters and garnishes that accentuate bourbon
I hope these first two tips have helped you start your mixology journey toward the Not Your Pink Drink contest. I’ll be sharing more in a bit to give you some more ideas for your cocktails. In the meantime, happy mixing!
Heather Wibbels is a cocktail enthusiast who spends her time thinking about cocktails, researching cocktails and making cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location.