by Anthony Harrison
1. Pedal Noir (Embassy Suites – GSO)
The Second Annual Bartender’s Ball, held at the Embassy Suites in Greensboro on Jan. 18, gave Triad bars the excuse to show off their best work and Triad citizens an excuse to try them all in one place. I’ll start with a cocktail from the house due to the fact that it surprised me the most. The Pedal Noir mixed Pinnacle vodka, the increasingly popular elderflower liqueur, rosewater, almond extract, hibiscus bitters and Prosecco together into an instantly delectable concoction. The Pedal Noir was at once crisp and sweet while also refreshingly unique.
2. Hit on the Sixes (1618 Creations – GSO)
Same as with martinis, you either love sazeracs or you hate them. I’m personally a huge fan. When I realized a stand offered Sazerac Jell-O shots, I nearly went into a fit of ecstasy. The flavors of anise, bourbon, lemon and bitters shined through despite the format. The bartender said to spread the word about them because they weren’t initially popular, but once I went back for one more, they had already run out.
3. Bugs Malone (King’s Crab Shack & Oyster Bar – W-S)
Imagine the greatest bloody Mary you’ve ever had. Now, imagine you were forced to enjoy that bloody Mary in a single shot. It’s tremendously frustrating, but at the same time, totally worth it. A fresh oyster topped with bacon kicked off the Bugs Malone, but King’s Crab house-made Bloody Mary mix, finished with Texas Pete and pepper, was the shooter of the night. The line to their “speakeasy” tent, accessible via fake $100 bills or reciting the password “Speak to me,” steadily grew through the evening until they ran out of oysters, but I witnessed the last shooter and seethed with envy.
4. Blind Willie Johnson (Willow’s Bistro – W-S)
I must say that every cocktail I tried from Willow’s Bistro, also owned by King’s Crab owner Will Kingery, was absolutely delicious. The Bessie Smith gets an honorable mention here for its blend of black cherry whiskey, ginger ale, a sugar cube and a twist of lemon. But the Blind Willie Johnson took their mixology to a different level. The drink combined Hornitos Reposado tequila, lemon juice, simple syrup and blackberry jam together into a shaker, then topped it off with a fresh mint leaf. The result staggered me in its complexity: sweet and tart, but with a beautiful, toasty tequila note.
5. The Devil’s Whiskers (Josephine’s Bistro – GSO)
This is, without any shadow of a doubt, the best cocktail I had that night. Hell, it’s one of the best cocktails I’ve had in my life. Josephine’s took barrel-aged tequila, habañero syrup, lime juice and homemade grenadine, then spiced it even further with a smoked glass and a nasturtium garnish. If you don’t know what nasturtium is, don’t be embarrassed; neither did I. The edible flower provided a perfect ending taste to the sweet-and-spicy cocktail, a mix of honeysuckle sweetness with a kick of wasabi.
6. Peanut Butter Jelly Time
I have no idea where this shot came from. I acknowledge that. The night devolved slowly and steadily; you had to be there to understand. But it is one of the greatest shots I have ever had in my entire life. I was handed two by a friend and ordered to knock ‘em back. They tasted exactly like the most perfect PB&J ever created in history, only liquefied. I apologize profusely for not knowing who created this potent potable, but if you know who you are, please let us all know, because you have a gift from whatever god to whom you do or don’t ascribe.