Local bartenders mixed it up at a recent competition, producing some top-drawer tipples, according to two judges from O.Henry

By Billy Ingram and Annie Vorys

Dram & Draught has revved up the Greensboro bar scene, quickly becoming the latest hub for downtown drinks and hijinks. This hip little joint, formerly a service station on the corner of Eugene and Gate City Boulevard, has been transformed into a super-comfy upscale hangout that’s hosted movie nights, live music and — if you literally want to take the edge off — hatchet-throwing. But the watering hole is best known for its highbrow seasonal cocktail menus. Wrestling with upholding their newfound rep for pretty pours, they recently called three Triad bartenders to the mat against the home team for the ultimate Sidecar Competition.

When asked to judge the contest on a panel that could well have been described as an awkward dating scene (our compatriots were an administrative assistant, vegan-food vendor and a distiller), Annie’s response was: “Be still, oh beating liver! You’ve spent a lifetime training for this!”

Our bible (one of many), the 1998 volume Atomic Cocktails, likens a sidecar to a daiquiri, but with brandy instead of rum, Cointreau in place of sugar syrup, and the addition of fresh lemon or lime juice (unless you’re the “hardcore” type). The guide goes on to say that the libation was a favorite of no less than Ernest Hemingway’s during his Moveable Feast expat years in Paris. Good enough for Papa, good enough for us!

One by one, the competitors stepped up, describing their version of the classic. Hosted by Hennessy, there was only one rule: Use Hennessy VSOP. Billy was particularly impressed with “the verve the barroom mixmasters exhibited and the preparation involved in their concoctions so everything could be served up quickly.” Lao’s Robert Rhodes charred his orange peel and soaked blackberries in liqueur. Max Barwick of 1618 Midtown educated us on absinthe as he mixed his version. Country girl and Dram & Draught’s own Jordan Harwood brought in her homemade peach-mint tea in a potion she calls Porch Swing. “That personal touch, and her signature orange peel rosette, sold us judges,” declares Annie. Billy concurs, giving props to all the “refreshing” elixirs, particularly Harwood’s. “Makes me want to go down there right now and order one (which I promptly did after writing this!).” As for Annie: “Beat you to it, Buster! Where do you think I found my muse for this piece?”

Life don’t mean a thing till you’ve tried the Porch Swing. For something stiff, go for the Skiff, Max Barwick’s island-y take on the traditional sidecar placing second in this competition. Another one to try? Robert Rhodes’ Blackberry Pie. Mix ’em yourself using the following recipes — and be careful these sidecars don’t knock you sideways.

Jordan Harwood’s Porch Wing

1 oz peach-mint tea simple syrup (see recipe)

2 oz Hennessy VS

3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

1/4 oz Copper & King’s Destillarè Orange Curaçao

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

2 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters

Shake all ingredients over ice; strain and serve up in a coupe.

Peach-mint tea simple syrup: In a medium saucepan, combine 3 cups chopped fresh peach, 1 cup brewed black tea and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add about 40 mint leaves to infuse while cooling. Finely strain when cool.

Max Barwick’s The Skiff

2 oz Hennessey VS

3/4 oz coconut-infused Cointreau

3/4 oz pineapple juice

5 dashes absinthe

Shake all ingredients over ice; strain and serve up in a coupe.

Robert Rhodes’ Blackberry Pie

2 oz Hennessey VS

3/4 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur

3/4 oz blackberry pie syrup (see recipe)

Blackberries and orange peel to garnish

Shake all ingredients over ice; strain and serve up in a coupe.

Blackberry pie syrup: Soak 25–30 blackberries in 16 oz Hennessey VS for 4 hours. In a saucepan, combine blackberries and cognac with 8 oz water, 1 cup sugar, 1 1/2 sticks cinnamon, strip of orange peel and 3 drops of vanilla extract. Bring to a boil; lower heat to simmer and simmer 30 minutes to one hour. Cool and strain.  OH

Billy Ingram and Annie Vorys are happy to continue in their roles as cocktail judges — with or without a competition.

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