When Is a Cocktail Worth $1,000?

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I recently helped to organize the Rickey Competition in Washington D.C., in which Clinton Terry of PX took the grand prize with his Kaarin's Kocktail and Jill Zimorski of Café Atlantico took the prize for "People's Choice" with her Fresa Rubia. Both are variations on the classic Rickey, even if distant cousins. It was a great event but this little microcosm has also given me much insight into the world of cocktail competitions.

Our competition was a mere $1,000 prize, generously provided by Hendricks's Gin and Woodford Reserve Bourbon, but other notable contests, including Domaine de Canton's "Bartender of the Year" prize won by John Lehermayer of the Florida Room, have topped the scales at $10,000. Could it really be worth it? I mean is one cocktail worth $10,000? Are they even worth $1,000 a pop?

Enter the Moscow Mule. In the 1940s vodka was far from dominating the market as it does today. In fact, vodka was quite scarce. Who would drink a "flavorless, colorless, odorless" spirit when you had bourbon or brandy? By the mid 1950s things had changed. David Embury notes the tremendous leap in his The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:

In the last half of 1950... there were less than 387,000 gallons of vodka bottled in the United States. For the year 1955, the figure had jumped to almost seven million gallons.

The Moscow Mule was one of the deciding factors. John G. Martin of Hublein and Jack Morgan of the Cock 'N Bull Bar created the Moscow Mule to sell their respective products, vodka and ginger beer. The Mule wasn't created by way of competition, but the same principle applies--a great cocktail will sell product if it catches on. So, yes, it's well worth it.

See the recipes below for the Rickey contest winners and the Moscow Mule. Although the first two are definitely not for the beginner home bartender, the Moscow Mule is refreshingly simple--so newbies skip ahead to recipe three.

Kaarin Kocktail


    • 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
    • 5 Opal Basil Leaves
    • 3 Lemon Wedges
    • Dash of Lemon Bitters
    • Spicy Ginger Ale to taste

Muddle basil, bitters and lemons. Add ice and Bourbon. Shake and top with Spicy Ginger Ale, then strain over crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist and purple basil flower.

Spicy Ginger Ale:

    • 1 lbs. Ginger
    • ½ cup Sugar
    • 2 qt. Water
    • Peels of 2 lemons, pith removed, rough chopped
    • ½ - 1 seeded Serrano/Jalapeno chili, to taste

Boil ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes, Allow to cool. Puree in blender and strain through fine sieve and cheesecloth. Add mixture to soda siphon.

Fresa Rubia


    • 1.25 oz Hendrick's Gin
    • 3 oz Jicama-lime soda
    • ½ tsp Strawberry water

Pour over ice into a tall glass and garnish with one whole fresh strawberry.

Strawberry water:
Combine fresh strawberries, sugar and water overnight. By the next day, juice is leeched out of the berries, producing a pink colored water.

Jicama-lime soda:
Cut off the jicama skin and discard, chop the remainder and put through a juicer. Strain through three layers of cheesecloth; allow it to sit overnight and then strain again. Per quart of jicama juice, add two ounces of limejuice. Add mixture to soda siphon.

Moscow Mule


    • 2 oz. Vodka
    • 4 oz. Ginger Beer
    • ½ oz. Lime Juice

Pour ingredients over ice and garnish with lime wheel; mint optional. If you really want an authentic Mule, serve it in a copper mug.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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