Lux Row Distillers crowns Bourbon Battle winner
East London Liquor Company bartender Mike Pendergast has been crowned the winner of Lux Row Distillers’ inaugural Bourbon Battle cocktail competition.
After triumphing in the competition’s European leg, Pendergast headed to Lux Row Distillers’ new site in Bardstown, Kentucky, last week to go head to head with six other finalists hailing from the US.
The final round took place on Wednesday 18 September – the first day of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival – and saw competitors battle it out over the course of three knock-out rounds.
In addition to Pendergast, the finalists were: Marie Teckmyer from Cleveland, Naomi Roquet from St Louis, Jake Smith from Louisville, Brock Schulte from Kansas City, Derek Jeffries from Seattle and Giacomo Ciminello from Cincinnati.
The competitors’ cocktails were judged by a panel of independent tasters according to appearance, aroma, creativity, taste and overall impression.
The judging panel consisted of: Lindsey Johnson, founder of Lush Life; Maggie Kimberl, content editor for American Whiskey Magazine; Brian Haara, Kentucky Bourbon author and lawyer; and Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business.
In the first leg of the final, the competitors presented their signature cocktails, made using either Rebel Yell or Ezra Brooks Bourbon. Pendergast impressed the panel with his If You Don’t Dance Then Sit Down serve, which combined Rebel Yell with hot sauce, mango syrup, Eucalyptus honey, lemon juice and Ms Better’s Miracle Foamer Bitter.
Four bartenders – Pendergast, Schulte, Roquet and Teckmyer – were then selected to go through to the second round, in which they were tasked with creating a new cocktail made using either Rebel Yell or Ezra Brooks – whichever they didn’t use in the first leg.
Judges were impressed by all cocktails in this round, but selected Pendergast and Teckmyer as their two finalists. The pair were then given a mystery box of ingredients to make a Bourbon-based cocktail under strict time limitations.
Pendergast’s Crème de Banan-hattan made with with crème de banana, sweet and dry vermouth, Angostura bitters and Rebel Yell was deemed to be a balanced and complex serve that let the base Bourbon shine through, securing him the title of Bourbon Battle champion.
Of his win, Pendergast said: “It still hasn’t quite hit me – it feels a bit like waking up on Christmas morning but in mid-September. The competitors were all top-notch and I did not expect to win when I tasted some of the drinks they made – I thought I was done for.”
When approaching cocktail creation, Pendergast said he “tries to learn as much chemically as [he] can about the spirits and ingredients [he’s] using”.
“Beyond that I know that flavour is recalled the same way that language is, so I always try to make the drinks as simple and approachable as possible, and accompany them with some explanation of the flavours I’m trying to hit,” he said. “Failing that I just try to be as funny as possible.”
As his prize, Pendergast was presented with a choice of one of three barrels selected by Lux Row head distiller John Rempe, which will emptied into 60 custom-labelled bottles.
Philip Lux, global brand ambassador for Lux Row Distillers, said: “The quality of drinks has been really high throughout the competition. There were some really unique recipes. Mike knocked it out of the park; he really showed who he is and brought his culture to his drink.
“The competition itself went really well – everyone was really engaged and excited about it, and there’s more to come. Being able to showcase bartenders’ skills with our brands is what we really want to do.”