Last week, after 10 days of self-induced sobriety, I fell back off the wagon, and oh, what a good fall it was. I headed to the finals of the Benedictine "Alchemists of Our Age" cocktail competition held in partnership with Esquire magazine at the Hearst Tower. Walking into Hearst is like walking into a scene from "The Devil Wears Prada"--the cascading waterfall sculptures and escalators are as awe-inspiring as the leggy editors and models teetering about. For a journo type like me, it was an electrifying experience just to be at the publishing group. This feeling was magnified when I reached the Benedictine event on the 44th floor and saw the view of Midtown from the tower's triangular windows--how can you not love New York?!
The five finalists were stationed throughout the room, accompanied by barbacks and other staff dressed in brown robes in honor of Benedictine's monastic history. Created 500 years ago by Dom Bernardo Vincelli, a member of the mysterious Benedictine Order in France, the unique elixir combines 27 herbs and spices gathered from around the world. The competition asked bartenders to create cocktails that were creative, balanced, and highlighted the warm spice of Benedictine.
It turned out that the first drink I tried was the winning ticket--supporting the hometown contestant, I headed straight to where Louis 649's Damon Dyer was stationed to try his "Monte Cassino." A modern twist on the classic "Last Word" cocktail, Damon's drink included equal parts of Rittenhouse Rye, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and lemon juice. Simply garnished with a lemon peel, the drink was a harmonious burst of herbaceous spice, whiskey, and citrus--I was happy to have it as my first post-detox tipple.
Damon's drink was selected for first place by Benedictine Global Brand Ambassador, Ludovic Miazga, and famed cocktail historian and Esquire Drinks Correspondent David Wondrich, who was most impressed by “the way the Monte Cassino had of just sliding down the throat.” He added, “It was a tough field, though, and all the drinks were truly excellent.”
Excellent indeed, and the crowd favorite was the "Greyhound's Tooth" from San Francisco’s Brandon Clements (Benedictine, vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, house-made grapefruit bitters and sugar). Other finalists included Boston’s Jackson Cannon, New Orleans' Daniel Victory, and Chicago's Lynn House. Personally, I thought Jackson's drink was Damon's closest competition--a simple but delicious combination, the "Vincelli Fizz" (Benedictine, egg white, rose vermouth, and lemon juice).
In addition to bragging rights, Damon will receive a full-page advertorial feature in Esquire’s April 2010 issue--congrats!
"Monte Cassino" by Damon Dyer:
3/4 part Benedictine Liqueur
3/4 part Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 part fresh lemon juice
3/4 part Rittenhouse Rye
Shake, fine strain into a chilled coupe (or small cocktail glass). Lemon twist garnish.