Among the things on Alicia Evon’s shopping list Monday were rhubarb, cabbage, blackberries, cherries, golden beets, dill, eggs, ginger, snow peas, fennel, lemongrass, bitters and a variety of spirts and liqueurs.
The supplies were for the Omaha preliminary round of Bombay Sapphire’s Most Inspired Bartender Competition. The overall winner receives mention in GQ magazine and a trip to the world competition, which last year was in Morocco, among other spoils, said Evon, a brands specialist for spirits distributor RNDC.
Fourteen bartenders from Lincoln and Omaha took spots behind makeshift bars in the courtyard of the Magnolia Hotel Monday night. They brought with them simple syrups they had infused with ingredients like pepper, hibiscus, jalapeńo and lavender. Some brought homemade ice or, in the case of one bartender, preserves and whipped cream, or their own glassware and garnish. Bombay supplied requested ingredients and bottles of Bombay Sapphire, a dry gin and the only required component of each drink.
Each bartender presented the panel of three judges — a veteran bartender, a restaurant manager and the winner of last year’s national competition — with a carefully crafted and often complicated drink they had developed themselves.
Most aimed to find a sweet spot between tradition and innovation.
Diana Gutsche, a bartender at Jake’s in Lincoln, made her own apricot preserves and whipped cream for her cocktail.
Alex Diimig, manager of Jake’s sister bar in Benson, took the competition less seriously, using cabbage as one of the ingredients in his drink (which was purple and tasted like sugar but smelled like cabbage).
“Anytime you can get someone to drink a bunch of cabbage, it’s funny,” he said.
That such a competition exists at all points to a larger trend in cocktails and bartending, said Evon. Bartenders are increasingly more like chemists, infusing their own spirits and syrups, developing their own recipes and pairing unexpected ingredients (rosemary and jalapeńo in the case of one contestant). Cocktail drinkers have responded by becoming more adventurous, thinking nothing of trying new takes on classic drinks with ingredients like raw egg.
Observing a bartender who is a master of the craft is becoming part of the experience of having a drink, Evon said.
“You can learn something while you’re out.”
The winner of the night was Jill Cockson whose drink contained Bombay Sapphire, fresh lemon juice, hibiscus and cubeb pepper, simple syrup and crčme de violette poured into a green, cubeb pepper-sparked vessel and garnished with an edible hibiscus flower. She’ll next compete in Las Vegas Sept. 9 through 12. And if you would like to try one of her concoctions, she tends bar at Wilderness Ridge restaurant in Lincoln.
House of Loom celebrates its first birthday on Saturday, and the club, which sprung out of a monthly dance party at Espańa in Benson, is celebrating with — what else? — a dance party.
Philadelphia-based DJ Rich Medina, who Loom events curator Brent Crampton said has been on his DJ wish list for five years, will play a mix of hip-hop, house, Afrobeat, funk and soul.
“His DJ sets embody the multicultural and cross generational ideals of what Loom is all about,” Crampton said.
The party will be from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at House of Loom, 1012 S. 10th St. Cover is $5 and entry is 21 and over.
While House of Loom started as a dance party — the monthly events at Espana took place for five years before House of Loom opened — it’s evolved into sort of an avant garde cultural center. In the past year, House of Loom has hosted figure drawing nights, poetry readings, live jazz, theme parties, panel discussions on feminism, burlesque troupes, cultural programming and art openings, in addition to more standard club fare like karaoke nights and dance music.
To commemorate House of Loom’s first year, Crampton is encouraging birthday party guests to bring something for a Loom time capsule such as photographs, poetry and music.
His hope is to capture the eclectic mix of programming, people and music that has defined Loom the past year.
“The point of the place is to be a safe space for people to explore pushing cultural boundaries, honoring cultural movements of the past and bringing people together,” he said, “all while enjoying some great drinks.”