Winner of Judge's Choice: Jay Meyers (Hudson Kitchen) and Winner of People's Choice: Michael Mooney (Geraldine)

What’s the best way to spend a chilly start of the week? Lots of cocktails! Local bartenders flexing their skills battled it out at The Liberty Grand, Exhibition Place in front of 700 people this past Monday night. Organized by Made with Love, the annual cocktail competition brought together 17 finalists, representing various Toronto restaurants, to showcase the expanding mixology talent this city has to offer. One of two titles could be claimed, People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice.

Prizes for the winners include Canadian National Finale in Montreal (all expenses 3 days trip in Montreal) in May to join 14 other Canadian bartenders from 7 different cities including Quebec City and Montreal.

"Judges Judging" with Nishantha Nepulongoda (Blowfish), Matt Jones (Whiskey Chef), Dave Mitton (Harbord Room)

“Judges Judging” with Nishantha Nepulongoda (Blowfish), Matt Jones (Whiskey Chef), Dave Mitton (Harbord Room)

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My Top Picks

“Red Sky at Night”
Ingredients: Campari, fresh grapefruit juice, basil, long pepper, Sailor Joe Syrup (smoked dates, galanga, orange tree leaf, cinnamon), guava foam, hint of the sea.
Mixologist: Joe Howell
Representing: The Spoke Club

The sailors from The Spoke Club including Joe Howell

The sailors from The Spoke Club including Joe Howell

Served by cheerful, campy sailors, this refreshing Campari drink was a delight. Tangy and bitter grape fruit juice with uplifting basil notes, a touch of sweetness with a hint of spice, this invigorating cocktail is both intricate in flavours and well-balanced in taste. Red Sky at Night is the perfect accompaniment to a yacht trip, or the perfect warm weather drink for us mere mortals to quench our thirst.

“The Lovely Lorraine”
Ingredients: Hendrick’s Gin, Zwack, strawberry cordial, cucumber and mint, lemon juice.
Mixologist: Aaron Beaudoin
Representing: Rock Lobster Food Co (Queen St.)

Named after the bartender’s grandmother, this humble cocktail blends the freshest of garden ingredients. A splash of gin, with homemade fresh strawberry cordial, cucumber, mint, and lemon juice, this was the underdog of the night. Every ingredient is distinct, and the lingering sweet strawberry taste conjures up hot summer days. Simplicity is all you need when you have the right ingredients.

“A Sea of Trees”
Ingredients: Hendrick’s Gin, shiitake mushroom/fennel/thyme shrub, lemon juice, Grand Genmaicha tea syrup, umami bitters, egg white.
Mixologist: Michael Mooney
Representing: Geraldine Restaurant

Saving the best for last, a Sea of Trees was an unexpected hit of the evening. I was blown away by the creativity and uniqueness of this drink. Made with Hedrick’s gin, a shiitake mushroom and fennel-thyme blend, lemon juice and frothy egg whites, this was truly the unforgettable drink of the evening. The wildly contrasting and distinctly flavoured ingredients came together remarkably well, in this Japanese fusion inspired drink. The tart lemon juice cuts through the rich foamy egg whites, balanced out by the nuttiness of the shiitake mushroom. Embracing such as a pungent mushroom in a cocktail was a genius move! Carefully garnished with cedar dust and dried cherry blossom, the originality of the presentation matched that of the taste. It’s no surprise that Michael Mooney of Geraldine Restaurant took home the People’s Choice title at the end of the night.

The People's Choice winner: Geraldine's"Sea of Trees" with shiitake mushroom fennel shrub

The People’s Choice winner: Geraldine’s”Sea of Trees” with shiitake mushroom fennel shrub

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Other notable mentions include Jay Meyers of Hudson Kitchen winning the Judge’s Choice for “What Would Monty Do?”, a rye-based cocktail with rye, vermouth, vanilla cognac, and ginger liquer. How can you go wrong when you top it with ice cream?

Jay Meyers of Hudson Kitchen winning the Judge's Choice

Jay Meyers of Hudson Kitchen winning the Judge’s Choice

Toronto’s bartending scene is undeniably changing. Monday night was an inspiring example to see the mixology bar being raised. Congratulations to all who participated in the competition!

Public’s Choice Winners
1. Michael Mooney – Geraldine
2. Aaron Beaudoin – Rock Lobster (Queen St.)
3. Adrian Stein – Boots & Bourbon

Judge’s Choice Winners
1. Jay Meyers – Hudson Kitchen
2. Adrian Stein – Boots & Bourbon
3. Michael Mooney – Geraldine

For more info about this annual mixology competition visit www.EnjoyMadeWithLove.com

Photos by Nick Lee

The dry ice by Boots n Bourbon used in their "Coffee and Donuts" cocktail (Adrien Stein)

The dry ice by Boots n Bourbon used in their “Coffee and Donuts” cocktail (Adrien Stein)

Handstand antics

Handstand antics

Here’s the video of the Made with Love qualifiers event at College Street Bar which we also attended where the top 17 bartenders were shortlisted based on a cocktail challenge. Video by Kevin Morrow

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