Last night’s Cutthroat Cocktail Competition at The Noble Experiment in Pearland proved incredibly challenging for bartenders and entertaining for guests. Modeled after the Food Network show Cutthroat Kitchen, the competition was the brainchild of Hunky Dory bar manager Chris Morris. Morris, in jacket and bowtie, proved he’s just as diabolical as Alton Brown when it comes to inventing challenges.
Chelsy Magee of State of Grace, Cody Northcutt of host bar The Noble Experiment, Keith Taylor of Hunky Dory and Andreea Jula of Prohibition Supperclub & Bar were the competitors. Phaedra Cook of the Houston Press (that’s me), Nathan Reffell of Eight Row Flint and Peter Clifton of The Noble Experiment served as judges.
There were three rounds, and a bartender was eliminated in each. The competitors not only had to make the judges’ cocktails, but were required to fill a glass pitcher with their creation so the audience could try it, too.
Each was given $1,000 in cash to start, but that money was hard to hold onto. Each person bid on sabotages so he or she could thwart competitors instead of finding himself hobbled.
In Round 1, Taylor forced Jula to use spicy Ancho Reyes liqueur in her lavender-infused take on a bee’s knees. Northcutt found himself saddled with having to make the judges and emcee Morris a mint julep in addition to his own cocktail.
Worst of all, Magee had to make her cocktail with only one hand. That forced her to stir it instead of shaking it, and the concoction clearly suffered from the lack of water content that’s produced by a hard shake with ice. Northcutt ran out of time, managing only to pour shots of straight bourbon into his julep cups, and was eliminated.
In Round 2, Taylor nailed Magee and Jula with having to use either stevia or powdered sugar as a cocktail sweetener. How many packets of stevia equals a quarter ounce of simple syrup? Who knows? That would take some conversion that no one had time for, especially Magee, who was eliminated in that round for her cloying “skinny gimlet.”
As for Taylor, he struggled during the same round with having to fresh-squeeze a bunch of key limes. Little limes flew everywhere, but he still managed to make an incredibly balanced gimlet — even for the big batch he had to conjure for the crowd. It ended up being the best drink of the night.
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That left Taylor versus Jula, and Jula was nailed with all the challenges of that round: muddle sugar cubes for an old-fashioned, make her cocktails with a pocket knife utensil set as her only tools and finally produce that mint julep that the judges and Morris missed out on from Round 1.
Taylor’s and Jula’s old-fashioneds were comparable in that each was good but flawed. Jula’s leaned too far to the bitter side, and Taylor’s was too sweet. However, the fact that Jula’s was as good as Taylor’s, even though she had to muddle sugar cubes and use compromised bar tools, made her the clear winner. She even managed to produce a cold, balanced mint julep. She had spent $400 of her $1,000 on bids, which left her with $600 as her winnings.
The venue was a winner, too. The Noble Experiment is located in Grazia’s Italian Kitchen in Pearland. Anyone who has been to PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in New York will see there’s a marked similarity. Customers have to know the password to enter the bar through a phone booth. (Even the phone booth is hard to find the first time.) It’s a gorgeous, fun bar with cocktails both classic and inventive. In other words, it’s a true speakeasy reminiscent of the Prohibition era. Call 832-672-4931 for a reservation.