Photos by Chris Casella

Bar Bet

Bartenders, while a friendly bunch, can sometimes be a bit competitive. Each season, as new menus roll out across town, there is a bit of cocktail envy that inevitably takes place. With a seemingly endless pool of ingredients to choose from when formulating a new drink—and a similarly endless list of failed attempts to use them—(614) presents Bar Bet, a special cocktail challenge for bartenders to come up with a cocktail using a weird ingredient of their challenger’s choice.

Happy birthday to you Happy birthday to you Happy birthday, dear Bar Bet I get drunk and write you

This month Bar Bet turns one, and I couldn’t be more proud of our little guy. In the span of 12 short months, we’ve gone from a green onion verdita and a beef jerky margarita to mushroom Manhattans for lunch and avocado drinks for brunch. I’ll just stop rhyming now.

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There’s been some pretty incredible drinks made out of seemingly ridiculous ingredients this past year, and with any luck, there’s another year of them ahead. Photographer Chris Casella and I have travelled to German Village, Bexley, Powell, and everywhere in between to act as guinea pigs for this game between bartenders and document the whole process. We’ve hit almost all the great cocktail bars in the city, and were even treated to a legally questionable picnic in a park.

It seems fitting that while celebrating the first birthday of Bar

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Bet, a milestone in and of itself, that we would reach another milestone that I’ve been looking forward to all year: the first time we’ve really stepped outside of the cocktail bar or fancy restaurant and into a space I wouldn’t expect this column to lead me. Part of the fun of this game is that we don’t choose who gets challenged. That being said, it doesn’t take a genius to predict that we would end up at Curio, Mouton, M, Sidebar, Giuseppe’s, and the rest of the usual suspects when it comes to places known for their cocktails. This system allows the bartenders to have a little fun with each other and challenge their friends, but the hope was that once those obvious choices had been exhausted, we would end up outside of the cocktail bar, tasting drinks made by new faces. There are great drinks and talented bartenders to be found in casual restaurants, sports bars, and dives, and this month we found both in Little Palace.

I didn’t know Greg Burnett all that well before Alex Chien of Blind Lady Tavern challenged him to make a drink with Peeps last month. He has probably served me a beer once or twice while I sat at the Little Palace bar eating those awesome sliders one night, but I drink a lot of beers and consequently, I can’t remember every big bearded bartender who serves them. After I added him on Facebook and messaged him about the challenge, I noticed we had something in common: as it turns out, both of us had applied for a spot on an all expenses paid trip to the Wild Turkey distillery to hang out with the master distillers and party with a bunch of other bartenders. The only difference was that Greg apparently got accepted, and I got an email saying, “sorry, maybe next time.”

My first week of Internet friendship with Greg was just a long series of posts and pictures reminding me of how much fun he was having on his free bourbon getaway down in Kentucky. Showoff.

You might not be surprised to learn that the first ingredient in Greg’s cocktail was… you guessed it—Wild Turkey 101 bourbon. But apparently it wasn’t just his weekend getaway that inspired Greg to use Wild Turkey. After showing me even more pictures of his stupid awesome trip, he told me that it has been his drink of choice for as long as he can remember and is his first recommendation when a customer can’t decide. Alright fine. Whatever. I guess he deserved to sip bourbon straight from the barrel with master distiller Jimmy Russell while I sat around writing stupid words. Fine. I’m over it.

Peeps are a pretty tough ingredient to use for a number of reasons, and Greg ran into his fair share of troubles trying to break down the marshmallow into a useable form, and balance the overpowering sweetness. After a few experiments and a brainstorming session with Curio’s John Tyler, he ended up with a pretty unusual and very delicious solution. First, he added hot water to the Peeps and put them in the microwave to melt them down a bit. Once cooled, he added egg whites and black walnut bitters and blended the whole mixture with an immersion blender. Finally, he lifted the blender out of the mixture a bit so the blades were partially exposed, forcing air into the mix and whipping it into a foamy texture

that he could spoon on top of the drink. You know, just basic stuff.

Along with Wild Turkey, the drink underneath the Peep foam included Benedictine, sweet potato juice, apple cider vinegar (to provide some acidity), and more egg whites to add viscosity and give the foam something to sit on.

“I feel like egg whites are the St. Germain of past years,” Greg said, referring to the overuse of the elderflower liqueur that led to it being nicknamed bartender’s ketchup. “But this drink needed them.”

Obviously, weird ingredients are the point of this whole challenge, but I have to congratulate Greg on adding even more strange cocktail ingredients to the mix. Sweet potato juice and apple cider vinegar are not stocked in most bars, but in this drink they work flawlessly. The sweet potato and marshmallow combination was a perfect homage to the sweet potato casserole found on many Thanksgiving tables, and the acidity from the vinegar and bold bourbon flavors did a great job taming the sweetness and bringing the drink back into perfect balance.

It looks like I’m gonna have to start ordering more cocktails at Little Palace. If he can work this magic with Peeps, sweet potatoes, and vinegar, then I can’t imagine there’s much that a dude like Greg can’t do behind the bar. And yeah, he totally deserved that trip more than me. James Patrick Moore, get ready. Greg challenged you to kick off year two of Bar Bet by making a drink with green curry. Here we go!