Six finalists have been announced in the 2019 Balcones Bartender Challenge.

California, Florida and Texas bartenders battled it out to create the most original whiskey cocktail. They created a signature concoction using either Balcones Baby Blue, Texas Rye 100 or Pot Still Bourbon. A panel of judges selected two finalists in each of three states. The cocktails were judged according to the name of the cocktail (10 points), appearance/presentation (15 points), written inspiration (25 points), creativity (20 points), and balance of flavors, aroma and character (30 points).

The six finalists each win a trip to the Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas. At the distillery, they will present their cocktail to the panel of judges, and one of the six will be awarded a grand prize of $5,000. The other five will take home $500.

The top six finalists are as follows:

Rhubarbwire Blues winning cocktail with bottle and garnish

Rhubarbwire Blues

Rhubawire Blues

Recipe by Ravin Buzzell – Bar Director at CdM Restaurant

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Balcones Baby Blue
  • .5 oz. Zucca Rabarbaro (Rhubarb Amaro)
  • .5 oz. Luxardo Cherry Juice
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • .5 oz. Lime Juice
  • .25 oz. Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Fee Bros. Rhubarb Bitters
  • 1 Egg White
  • 3-4 Thin Rhubarb strips, knotted around a bamboo-picked luxardo cherry (to Garnish)

Preparation: Dry shake all ingredients in tin. Add ice, shake, double-strain and garnish.

Cocktail Inspiration:

Being summer and rhubarb season, I’ve been sort of obsessed with rhubarb recently. I love the sweet, sour, fresh flavor it adds to cocktails, making them perfect for summer sipping. It reminds me of spending every summer as a kid at my grandparents’ house and helping my Grammy make rhubarb jam. With this cocktail, I wanted to make sure you could taste the whiskey. I loved the taste of the Baby Blue corn whiskey because the flavor really stands up in cocktails, and the cherry juice and rhubarb balance out the citrus, which allows every ingredient to shine in every sip. The egg white gives it the silky texture I love in a good sour cocktail and makes for the perfect display backdrop for the dark, Luxardo cherry with the barbed wire knotted rhubarb strips. This idea originally came from using thicker strips of the “meat” of the rhubarb for another cocktail I serve but having that last thin strip of the skin left over. I hate wasting, so I started playing with garnishing ideas for the leftover pieces once I cut them into thin strips. So the garnish is actually what this cocktail was created around. Waste reducing and aesthetically pleasing, which is always almost as satisfying to me as enjoying the actual cocktail!


Balconesa cocktail with garnish and bottle

Balconesa

Balconesa

Recipe by Elias Aguila – Bartender at Prova California Table

Ingredients:

  • 5 oz. Mango Agua Fresca*
  • .5 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
  • .25 oz. Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Smoked Chili Bitters
  • .5 oz. Licor 43
  • .5 oz. Combier
  • 5 oz. Balcones 100 Rye
  • Mango Chunk (to Garnish)
  • Tajin (to Garnish)

Preparation: Build all liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake shortly, yet vigorously, and pour contents into cantarito. Garnish with a skewered piece of mango and sprinkle tajin over the top.

Cocktail Inspiration:

I wanted to craft a drink that took me back to hot summer days at my grandma’s house, and nothing does that quite like a hand made agua fresca and Vero mango lollipops. This light cocktail melds the refreshing, subtle sweetness of my grandma’s mango agua fresca with that unique spice you can only find in Balcones 100 rye. Combine that with the supporting flavors of Licor 43 and smoked chili bitters, and you have a small taste of my childhood.


Maizey Days cocktail with garnish, bottle

Maizey Days

Maizey Days

Recipe by Jon Stutte – Bartender at Crush XI

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Balcones Baby Blue
  • 1 oz. Mesquite Smoked Corn Cob Syrup*
  • .75 oz. AquaFaba
  • .75 oz. Lemon Juice
  • .25 oz. Lime Juice
  • 2 dashes Bitter End Barbecue Bitters
  • Blistered Corn Skewer (to Garnish)
  • Dusting of Paprika (to Garnish)

*Mesquite Smoked Corn Cob Syrup

  1. Smoke fresh corn cobs, which have been shaved of kernels, over mesquite wood chips for 15-20 min until cobs have started to brown over. Once smoked, set aside and leave to cool.
  2. Weigh out 16 oz of the cobs (3-4 cobs depending on size) and “milk” them by running a spoon or knife down the ear, forcing whatever remaining liquid from the cob into a container to use later.
  3. Rough chop the 16 oz of spent cob and place it in a pot.
  4. Using the “corn milk” set aside earlier, add water for a total of 32 oz of liquid by volume.
  5. Add this liquid into pot with the chopped smoked corn cobs and bring to a rapid boil over high heat.
  6. Once boiling, add 1 tbsp. achiote paste, reduce heat and let simmer for 10 min.
  7. When finished simmering, strain out all solids and measure the total volume of remaining liquid.
  8. Add that total volume of white sugar to the liquid while still hot, and stir to dissolve the sugar.
  9. This will ensure that the Mesquite Smoked Corn Cob syrup will be at a 50% sugar content.

Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, and vigorously shake until it starts to thicken, 20-30 seconds. Add ice and continue to shake until cold, another 20-30 seconds. Double strain through a mesh strainer and serve up in coupe glass. Garnish.

Cocktail Inspiration:

I remember a road trip I took with my family when I was a young teenager, traveling through Texas, and I think back to what really stood out to me. After hours on the highway, staring out the window and fighting with my brother in the back seat, what I looked forward to the most were the short, surprising stops along the way. A small, rustic BBQ shack, hidden away in a town my father discovered after getting lost; it seemed like we could smell the brisket from miles away. A Tex-Mex place that I had been seeing billboards about for miles. The oppressive heat that permeated the air. Reflecting on this time, my goal for this cocktail was to create a refreshing, fun drink that can be enjoyed at a summer barbeque with friends and family while waiting for dinner, watching the Texas scenery in the background. Just like I did once on a road trip a long time ago.


Peachy Texas Tiki, cocktail with garnish

Peachy Texas Tiki

Peachy Texas Tiki

Recipe by Brandon Miller – Bartender at Big Catch at Salt Creek

Ingredients:

  • .75 oz. Balcones Texas Rye
  • .75 oz. Balcones Pot Still Bourbon
  • .5 oz. Dry Sherry
  • .75 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • .5 oz. Rothman Winters Peach Liqueur
  • .5 oz. Pecan Orgeat*
  • .25 oz. Peach Puree**
  • Angostura Bitters (to Garnish)
  • Fan of Peach Slices (to Garnish)
  • Mint Sprig (to Garnish)
  • Bluebonnet Flower (to Garnish, Optional)

Preparation: In shaker tin, add all liquid ingredients and dry shake until combined. Serve over crushed ice. Top with Angostura bitters, a mint sprig and peach fan.

*Pecan Orgeat

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups water with 2 cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Allow to steep for 3-5 minutes until cinnamon is aromatic. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. of vanilla extract. Allow cinnamon-vanilla water to cool, then combine in a blender with 1 cup of freshly chopped pecans that were pan-toasted whole with a little butter. Blend for 2 minutes and allow pecan milk to sit overnight for 12 hours. Strain liquid with a cheese cloth, then add equal parts sugar and dissolve.

**Peach Puree

Peel and pit 4-5 fresh peaches. Lightly caramelized peaches in a pan. Mix peaches together with a half cup of sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. nutmeg and allow to macerate. Put peaches in a blender and puree to a smooth consistency, adding water as needed. Taste. If it needs more sweetness, blend with simple syrup to taste. You want the peaches to shine without being cloyingly sweet.

Cocktail Inspiration:

Growing up, I had a lot of memories tied to gathering around the dinner table with family. No one in my family had clout in the kitchen like Aunt Bets, and no one really KNEW her recipes except that there was a lot of butter. One year, our family had Thanksgiving at my grandfather’s home in Texas, and this is the first time I tried her famous Peach Cobbler. Needless to say it was amazing, and it inspired me to make this cocktail. Combining the flavors of that experience with my love for tiki cocktails, I came up with this delightful concoction. It is sure to help you beat that Texas heat.


Upstairs Neighbor cocktail with garnish

Upstairs Neighbor

Upstairs Neighbor

Recipe by Marcelo Barredo – Bartender at Julep Bar

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz. Balcones Pot Still Bourbon
  • .5 oz. Honey Pecan Syrup with Fig and Spices*
  • .5 oz. Licor 43 Infused with Brie Cheese**
  • .75 oz. Aperol
  • 5 drops Champagne Acid
  • Tapa Garnish
  • 1 Homemade Bagel***
  • slice of Brie Cheese Infused with Balcones Rye (14 hours)
  • scoop of Fig Jam
  • 1 Pecan
  • squirt of Honey
  • sprig of Rosemary

Preparation:

  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, add ice and stir until properly chilled.
  2. Strain cocktail over a large ice cube.
  3. Express a lemon peel over the cocktail and place the swab on the side.
  4. Garnish with a Tapa made from homemade bagel, slice of brie cheese infused with Balcones Rye, scoop of fig jam, a pecan, and small sprig of rosemary.

*Honey Pecan Syrup With Fig and Spices

  1. In a freezer bag add 9 oz. of honey syrup (1 part honey, 2 parts water) with 25 crushed pecans, 4 oz. of Brie Cheese, 9 dried figs, 2 big pinches of powdered cinnamon and 1 big pinch of nutmeg.
  2. Place the bag in a Sous Vide and infuse the syrup for 5 hours at 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Strain the syrup through a coffee filter and place in bottle.

**Brie infused Licor 43

  1. Add 9 oz. of Licor 43 to a Mason jar and 6 oz. of Brie cheese.
  2. Close Mason Jar and let the mix sit for 18 hours.
  3. Strain liquid through coffee filter.

***Homemade Bagel Chips

  1. With a round cookie cutter, cut circles out of an everything bagel.
  2. Flatten and dehydrate the bagel.

Garnish: Homemade Tapa with Balcones Rye infused Brie Cheese

Glassware: Round Rocks Glass

Cocktail Inspiration:

This drink is an ode to my present and my future; the city where I currently reside, Austin, and the country I plan on moving to soon, Spain. Austin has such a competitive bar scene and we take pride in being different. Keeping this in mind, I created a drink that was as unique as my city. I started with Brie cheese and honey syrup with nuts and fruit to replicate the classic Brie dessert. Licor 43 is a popular Spanish liqueur and the citrus/vanilla flavor pairs well with the Bourbon and syrup. I infused this Licor 43 with Brie cheese to add complexity and mouthfeel. Since, I was using a great Bourbon from the city above mine and cheese from the country above Spain (France), the drink is named Upstairs Neighbor. The next ingredient is a classic amaro, Aperol, and this adds a nice bitterness to balance out the sweetness. It also adds fruity notes that pair well with the syrup and the Licor 43.

The last ingredient is Champagne acid and this adds a little tartness and bridges the other flavors together to create something truly special. Champagne also comes from France so it is a fitting ingredient. This cocktail was centered around Balcones Pot Still Bourbon and I took great care to not hide its unique flavor. The character that distinguishes Balcones Bourbon still shines through in this cocktail. The garnish is another nod at Spain who is famous for their tapas. I used homemade bagel chips, Brie cheese soaked in Balcones Rye Whiskey, fig jam and pecans for this tapa. This garnish isn’t just for looks, it’s meant to be enjoyed alongside the drink like a classically authentic Spanish cocktail.


Bitter Betty cocktail with garnish

Bitter Betty

Bitter Betty

Recipe by Rachel Fisher – Bartender at Julep Bar

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. Balcones Texas Rye 100 Whisky
  • .5 oz. Aperol Aperitivo Liqueur
  • .5 oz. Mathilde Peche Liqueur
  • .5 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
  • 2 oz. Austin East Cider – Ruby Red Grapefruit

Preparation: Combine all ingredients in glass, add crushed Ice, swizzle for dilution about 26 times, top with more ice, garnish.

Garnish: Fresh, trimmed Lime Zest & Fresh Grapefruit Wedge on a pick

Glassware: Bottled Pilsner

Cocktail Inspiration:

This Drink represents my Dear friend, they are one in the same. A Little bit Sour, Little bit Sweet, Little Bit Bitter…. The Definition of a Modern Day, Urban, Southern Belle (Cocktail). She always Radiates Sunshine, welcomes you in; who shows no ill will to anyone. But also has a temper, Bold, holds nothing Back! In the most Lady-Like way of Course, and always looking fabulous. Filled with spunk and flare, and always the life of the party. Your fondest memory of her is on the patio somewhere in Houston on a hot summer day. She is My Best Friend, she is my dear Bitter Betty.