Eight bar pros vied for the top prize at the first annual cocktail competition at the Washington, D.C., outpost of the popular Cuban hotspot.
Rum cocktails, empanadas and live Cuban music on a Tuesday night? Sign us up.
More than a hundred guests attended Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar’s first annual Mixology Match on September 12, 2017. The event was hosted by the restaurant and The Cocktail Nation and held at the Penn Quarter location in Washington, D.C., during which attendees tasted 8 libations while sampling grilled skewered baby octopus, empanadas, arroz con pollo, spinach and manchego Buñuelos, tres leches roto, and flan. Proceeds from the event benefited CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees), whose mission grants support to children of food and beverage service families navigating life-altering circumstances.
Eight mixologists created original cocktails using a specific brand of rum from the white, añejo, spiced, flavored, 100% sugar cane, or dark category. Judging the competition were wine, spirits and lifestyle writer Kelly Magyarics (Nightclub & Bar contributor and author of this article) and Laura Wainman, editor of DC Refined. Drinks were rated from 1 to 10 in each of five categories: name, presentation, simplicity/consistency, taste, and originality, with a maximum score of 50 points.
Aaron Joseph, brand ambassador for Papa’s Pilar Rum, took home both the grand prize of $400, as well as $200 for the popular vote (guests used a wooden chip to vote for their favorite cocktail). His drink, Papa’s Watering Hole, was inspired by the rum’s namesake Ernest Hemingway and his penchant for lingering at bars in both Cuba and Key West. Joseph wanted to create a drink to bridge the summer and fall seasons, using both a watermelon basil puree and fall spice syrup with cinnamon, allspice and peppercorns, along with Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum. The effect was light and refreshing, with a hint of some of the ingredients generally associated with the cooler months. Upon being named the winner, Joseph generously donated the $200 he won for the popular vote to CORE, declaring that it’s a great organization for the kids.
Taking home second prize of $200 was Amy Hosseinnian of Buffalo & Bergen, the bagel/soda shop and bar in the city’s Union Market. Her drink, the Muckraker, started with Bayou Silver Rum, unaged rum produced in Louisiana with triple-filtered fresh water. She mixed it with lime juice, orange syrup, mint leaves and an agua fresca made with tamarind, the Asian and North African fruit whose flavor is reminiscent of lemons, apricots and dates.
Other noteworthy sips that night included the Pink Seal from Juan Palomino, bartender at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, who mixed Gosling’s Black Seal Rum (a blend of Caribbean rums produced in Bermuda and aged in used whiskey and bourbon barrels) with strawberries, lemon and lime juices, Peychaud’s Bitters, and a lavender-rosemary-black tea syrup, topped with sparkling wine; and When I Die, Preserve Me in Piña Coladas, a riff using Brugal Añejo Rum, a blend of rums produced in the Dominican Republic aged three to five years in used whiskey and bourbon barrels. She mixed it with honey, lemon, Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut and chocolate. And Cuba Libre’s in-house bartender Luis Flores used Diplomático Rum Mantuano from Venezuela, a blended rum made up of both batch kettle and pot still distillates, aged up to 8 years in used whiskey casks, in aptly-titled-for-D.C. Diplomatic Corruption. A fitting drink to usher in fall, it mingled the run with Drambuie, apricot liqueur and velvet falernum.
Papa’s Watering Hole
Recipe courtesy of Aaron Joseph, Papa’s Pilar
The winning drink at the Mixology Match is the perfect mashup of late summer refreshment with a hint of fall spice. Charred cinnamon and a mint sprig really boost the aromatics as you take each sip, and a chunk of watermelon is a nice reminder to enjoy the fleeting weeks of seasonal produce at the farmers market.
- 1 ½ oz. Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum
- 1 ½ oz. Watermelon basil puree (see note)
- ¾ oz. Lime juice
- ¾ oz. Fall spice syrup (see note)
- Mint sprig, watermelon segment and charred cinnamon stick, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Double strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice, and garnish with the mint sprig, watermelon segment and charred cinnamon stick.
For the watermelon basil puree:
Puree 4 cups chopped watermelon in a blender. Pour into a container with 1 cup basil leaves and store in the refrigerator for 12 hours. Strain off basil leaves and keep the watermelon cold until ready to use.
For the fall spice syrup:
Heat 4 cups water, 6 cinnamon sticks, 7 allspice pods and 25 black peppercorns in a saucepan to a soft boil, then simmer for 15 minutes to allow spices to steep. Add 4 cups sugar, stir until it’s dissolved, then continue to cook and reduce for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, strain off solids, and allow syrup to cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Recipe adapted from Amy Hosseinnian, Bartender, Buffalo & Bergen
The second place drink has layers of flavor thanks to a housemade agua fresca made with tamarind. If you don’t want to make it from scratch, look for commercially made versions at a Hispanic market or bodega.
- 2 oz. Bayou Silver Rum
- 1 oz. Lime juice
- 1 oz. Orange syrup (see note)
- 10 Mint leaves
- Sparkling agua fresca de tamarindo (see note)
- Champagne, to float (Hosseinnian uses infused tamarind Champagne, but any sparkling wine will do)
- Orange peel flag and mint sprig, for garnish
In a shaker tin, combine the rum, lime juice, orange syrup and mint leaves. Add ice, shake until chilled, and double strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice. Fill with agua fresca de tamarindo, float Champagne on top, and garnish with the orange flag and mint sprig.
For the orange syrup:
Combine 2 cups water, 2 cups sugar and the peels from 3 oranges in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove the mixture from the heat and steep 10 minutes or until desired orange flavor is achieved. Strain out solids and store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a month.
For the sparkling agua fresca de tamarindo:
Combine 8 peels and deveined dry tamarind pods, ¾ cup of water and ½ cup sugar in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove it from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Mash the pods into the saucepan, removing and discarding the seeds. Strain the pulp into a pitcher, add 4 more cups water, and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a charged soda siphon and chill until ready.
Recipe courtesy of Luis Flores, Bartender, Cuba Libre DC
Flores’ double-entendre drink name refers both to the Venezuelan rum and to the unseemly political deals and compromises that take place in Washington, D.C. It’s boozy yet balanced – a great drink to take us into fall.
- 1 ½ oz. Diplomático Rum Mantuano
- ½ oz. Drambuie
- ½ oz. Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur
- ¾ oz. Velvet falernum
- Orange twist, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into a coupe or rocks glass and garnish with the orange twist.
Recipe courtesy of Judy Elahi, Bartender, True Food Kitchen
Sweet, spicy and easy to drink, Elahi’s cocktail employs the juice of freshly pressed apples. If you aren’t able to press your own fruit, feel free to substitute a high quality apple juice.
- 1 ½ oz. Flor de Caña 4 Years Rum
- 1 oz. Cinnamon-vanilla syrup (see note)
- ½ oz. Fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ oz. Freshly pressed apple juice
- Splash soda water
- Flamed grapefruit peel, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice, top with soda water, and garnish with the flamed grapefruit peel.
For the cinnamon-vanilla syrup:
Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 2 cinnamon sticks in a saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved, then turn heat to medium and simmer 5 to 10 more minutes. Remove pot from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon high quality vanilla extract. Let steep until desired cinnamon flavor is achieved, then remove cinnamon sticks. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyaric.com or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.