Depending on where you were in Los Angeles last Wednesday, you weren’t very far from a great cocktail event, whether it was the Whiskey Social at Wilshire on the Westside or a three-course tequila pairing dinner at Malo in Silver Lake. But for sheer variety of cocktails to choose from, it was hard to beat The People’s Cocktail Finals and Summer Cocktail Menu launch at Drago Centro.
The People’s Cocktail Contest
For four weeks, Michael Shearin (Drago’s Sommelier and Beverage Director) and Head Bartender Jaymee Mandeville hosted an online contest called The People’s Cocktail. Each Monday, a different “secret ingredient” was announced via Drago’s Twitter account, @DragoCentro. Participants had until noon that Friday to create an original cocktail featuring the ingredient. Entries had to be posted on Twitter, directed to Drago Centro’s account with the hashtag #pplscocktail. All recipe ingredients and instructions had to be included, even if it took multiple tweets. Over the weekend, Michael and Jaymee worked through the recipes to pick a winner, based on a number of factors that included taste, name, and compatibility with Drago’s cocktails. After announcing the previous week’s winner, the process would start over on Monday until four winners were chosen. The finalists would then face each other in cocktail combat, with the winner getting his or her cocktail added to Drago’s Summer Cocktail Menu.
Early on Wednesday night, the finalists and their supporters gathered at Drago Centro’s patio for the final mix-off. The winner would be determined by a judging panel that included Caroline on Crack, The Minty, Tasting Table LA, and Celestino Drago. Using ingredients provided by Drago Centro, each finalist mixed a round of their winning cocktail for the judges. Following are the finalists’ cocktail recipes, based on their original Twitter entries.
Week 1 Ingredient: Blueberries
Winner: Chuck Taggart (Looka!)
- 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
- 20 blueberries
- .5 ounce Amaro Ramazzotti
- 1 barspoon (tsp) Trader Tiki’s Cinnamon Syrup
- Lemon peel for garnish
- Muddle the blueberries in the bourbon. Add the remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Double-strain over ice into a large Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with the lemon peel.
For Chuck’s insights into the creation of his cocktail, check out this entry on his blog.
Week 2 Ingredient: Fernet-Branca
Winner: Ron Dollete (Lush Angeles)
- 1 oz. Fernet-Branca
- 1 oz. Krogstad Aquavit
- 1 oz. Cointreau
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Ron’s thoughts on creating the Tramontana: lushangeles.com/tramontana
Week 3 Ingredient: Gin (or Genever)
Winner: Matt Robold (RumDood)
Dutch Elm Disease
- 2 oz. Bols Genever
- .5 oz. Scotch
- .25 oz. Simple Syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters.
- Stir with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Week 4 Ingredient: Lemon
Winner: Jeni Afuso (Oishii Eats)
Momo Rye Fizz
- 1/2 fresh peach
- 1 oz simple syrup
- 2 oz Rittenhouse 100 Rye
- 1 oz lemon juice
- Club soda
- Muddle the peach with simple syrup. Add the rye and lemon juice. Shake with ice, strain into a tall glass over ice, and top with the club soda.
Once the dust had settled, the judges declared Jeni’s Momo Rye Fizz the best of the People’s Cocktails in a very close finish. Caroline gave me sips of the entries, and each of them were great in their own way. With such high quality entries, a single element could have tipped the scoring one way or another. Sure enough, according to Caroline’s recap, Jeni’s cocktail was the one the panel thought was the best match to Drago’s summer cocktails.
Besides getting her cocktail added to the Drago menu, Jeni also “won” a multi-layered shot made from ingredients picked by her fellow competitors: Tia Maria Coffee Liqueur, Fernet-Branca, and Pernod Absinthe. She downed it like a champ. Congrats, Jeni…and cheers to all the finalists!
Almost lost in the excitement of the People’s Cocktail contest was the debut of Drago’s summer cocktails, which were specially priced at $8 that night. As soon as I arrived I made a beeline for the bar, where Jaymee mixed me an Artillery of the Angels. It was a great way to kick off the party, a refreshing cocktail that will go down very well during the dog days of summer.
After the contest, I had the Tutto Americano, another glass of summer that went down almost too easily. Unfortunately, my glass was cleared before I had a chance to try the pickled watermelon rind, which I heard was the best part of the drink. I’ll definitely be back to explore the rest of the menu, which includes a few classics as well as Jeni’s Momo Rye Fizz.
Drago Centro Summer Cocktail Menu
Nuovi Classici (“New Classics”)
- Arancia Meccanica (“A Clockwork Orange”): Sombra Mezcal, Red Bell Pepper, Cilantro, Agave Nectar, Fresh Lime, Smoked Salt
- Artillery of the Angels: 10 Cane Rum, Rittenhouse Rye, Merryvale Antigua, Sencha, Pineapple, Cherry, Orange
- Dark Passenger: Bols Genever, Amaro Montenegro, Aperol
- Diabolico (“Diabolical”): Partida Blanco Tequila, Maurin, Velvet Falernum, Fresh Lime, Hawaiian Red Sea Salt
- Il Monaco Orientale (“The Eastern Monk”): Rock Junmai Ginjo Saké, Green Chartreuse, Fresh Mint, Fresh Lime
- La Sabbia Bianca (“White Sand”): Casa Noble Reposado Tequila, Coconut Cream, Fresh Pineapple, Fresh Lime
- Serenity Now! Lamill Organic Jasmine Tea Infused Hangar One Vodka, Lemon Verbena, Tangerine
- Tutto Americano (“All-American”): Laird’s Applejack, Angostura Bitters, Fresh Watermelon, Pickled Watermelon Rind
- Vitamin A: Karlsson’s Vodka, St. Germain, Fresh Carrot Juice, Serrano Tincture, Fresh Ginger, Orange
- When in London: Bombay Sapphire Gin, Pimm’s No.1, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cucumber, Raspberries
- Americano: Campari, Carpano Antica, Fever-Tree Club Soda
- Bellini: Principe Prosecco, Fresh Peach Purée
- Negroni: Tanqueray Gin, Campari, Carpano Antica
525 S. Flower St., Suite 120
Los Angeles, CA