Some bartenders throw together alcohol and a bunch of flavorings and call it a drink.
But some, like Naomi Roquet of Reeds American Table, first studies the base liquor, determines its underlying notes and then uses those to determine what other liquors she will mix with it.
Roqet won the regional semifinals of the Lux Row Distillery Bourbon Battle Tuesday night, besting nine other competitors. For her victory, she receives an all-expenses paid trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September. There, she will compete against the winners of five other regional semifinals.
The grand-prize winner will receive 60 bottles of a hand-selected bourbon crafted by the event's sponsor, Lux Row Distillery. With a distillery in Bardstown, Ky., Lux Row is owned by St. Louis-based Luxco.
Roquet's winning entry was called Millions of Peaches. Each bartender had to use Rebel Yell bourbon as their base spirit, and Roquet said when she studied Rebel Yell she was struck by its notes of plum and honey. So she decided to make a drink she compared to a "fancy fruit salad."
"Peaches and plums are best friends," she said, so she added a peach brandy called Giffard Peche. To bring out the flavor of honey, she mixed in some Benedictine. And for a hint of bitterness to cut through the sweetness of the other ingredients, she mixed in a small amount of Fernet Branca.
She stirred it all together with ice she cracked by hand with a wooden mallet, added a small handful of mint (to reinforce the flavor of bourbon, she said) and added a whimsical paper umbrella.
Second place went to the Yell'o Jungle, a fruity drink redeemed by Campari concocted by Bob Fleet of Atomic Cowboy, with third place going to Blackberry Lives Matter, a lively variation on a Manhattan, with added creme de menthe and lime juice and smoothed out with an egg white, created by Lucas Turner of Turner Bartending.
The People's Choice Award went to Carey Price of Gamlin Whiskey House for her White Wedding, a refreshing drink of vermouth and eiderflower liqueur, mixed with white cranberry juice and sparkling wine, with the bourbon in the background.
The event took place at Brennan's in the Central West End. The judges were Ted Kilgore, the beverage director and proprietor of Planter's House; Allyson Mace, the founder and publisher of Sauce Magazine; Mark Soifer, the chapter leader of the St. Louis chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild; and this correspondent.
Millions of Peaches
1¾ ounces Rebel Yell Straight Bourbon
½ ounce Benedictine
½ ounce Giffard Peche (peach brandy)
¼ ounce Fernet Branca
Combine all ingredients and stir. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice and garnish with several sprigs of mint and a paper umbrella.
Recipe by Naomi Roquet of Reeds American Table