A bartender is a noble and caring creature. Most often found in pubs, restaurants, and nightclubs, they are friends, allies, cheap therapists, and most crucially, creative and reliable chemists.
For their unrecognized contributions to the lives of hard working people in search of a fresh taste and a good time, there is Made with Love. It’s a competition among Edmonton’s best mixologists to determine who among them can create the best and most memorable cocktail.
“A great cocktail, for me, has got to have balance,” says local ambassador and general manager of Ampersand 27, Chris Krock. “Balance between your spirit, your citrus, and whatever base that you’re using, balance is key. You want to make sure that you’re tasting every ingredient in there, but also want to make sure that it’s something that lends to everybody’s palate. It’s really tough making a cocktail.”
Contestants were recruited from both the best voted cocktail bars in town, as well as those on the margins making a name for themselves in the industry. Rostizado, Baijiu, Three Boars Eatery, North 53, and a whole host of other eateries will be represented in the first ever Edmonton Made with Love competition.
Founded in 2009, Made with Love began in Montreal, and has since spread beyond Canada to the cocktail meccas of Mexico and Spain. With so many different competitors, and so many different drinks, you really need something to set yourself apart from the pack.
“I went to the regional finals in Toronto, in March, and there was a competitor named Luis [Martinez] from El Catrin, and he told me the story about his cocktail,” says Krock. “His mother would always give him burnt, charred pineapple with ice-cream for dessert. That was always his desert in Mexico. What he did was he actually brought a burnt pineapple jelly with a little bit of condensed milk into this cocktail, and it really brought him back to memories of his childhood. That story captivated me, plus the cocktail was absolutely delicious, and he was my vote.”
Made with Love is scored by a panel of industry professionals, but also by the public. Those there to try some new and interesting cocktails are each given a dog tag to be presented to the mixologist that they think made them the best drink and showed them the best time.
“The people’s vote is a lot more in depth,” says Krock. “Yes, the cocktail is beautiful, but they’re also able to pair with the chefs from each respective location, so everyone that’s competing. Ninety five percent of the competitors are all doing food pairings with the cocktails, as well as with some of the best chefs in the city, which is pretty great. But then the booths themselves are incredible. You just bring in atmosphere.”
There’s no exaggeration—competitors can bring whatever, or whomever they need to present people with the purest distillation of their establishment. That means Mexican blankets from El Cortez, and nets and lobster traps from Black Pearl. For Have Mercy Tavern, Whyte Avenue’s Dixie roadhouse, the booth must be both loud and eye-catching.
“I am going to have a drag queen as part of my team,” says competitor and assistant general manager of Have Mercy, Rodney Dirksen. “At least once a month we have drag shows at Have Mercy. A good friend of mine is an organizer and she does that, so I invited her to be a part of my team.”
Dirksen, originally from Edmonton, got his start in Vancouver at a bar called the Waldorf. There he was introduced to tiki cocktails and it lit a powerful fire under him. Soon he was scoping out other bars and nightclubs to see the world he’d been missing out on since turning legal age. Despite his obvious passion for the craft, Dirksen is quick to emphasize the good-natured sportsmanship of the competition.
“We’re all taking it seriously, but it also just gave us this feeling of comfort knowing that I’m with my respective peers,” says Dirksen. “Rather than just guarding secrets, we’re sharing information with each other, helping each other. It’s a competition, but we’re still looking at each other as peers and saying, ‘I’m having trouble working out an aspect of my drink, can you please give me some insight?’”
With all the dedication that’s gone into the first Edmonton Made with Love competition, it seems that the mixology scene is bound to move into a far more recognizable and memorable part of the city’s culture.
“Everybody that’s in this competition, this is their passion, this is their culture, this is their career,” says Krock. “They’re not just doing it for the money anymore. These girls and guys love what they’re doing, and what it really means to them [is] how much our community has grown within the mixology world.”
Remember to tip your bartender.
Mon., July 24, (6-11 pm)
Made With Love
Fairmont MacDonald Hotel
$65 in advance, $75 at the door