When Jeff Guo LAW ’20 walked into a room of mostly professional bartenders whipping up a storm of flavors and aromas in New Haven’s first non-alcoholic bartending competition, he figured that he wouldn’t stand a chance.
The competition, which attracted bartenders from all over the Elm City, was held on Monday night at Sherkaan Indian Street Food. Participants designed their own non-alcoholic cocktails, using at least one beverage from each of the competition’s sponsors — Fever-Tree and Rishi Tea.
Guo signed up for the competition on a whim when he noticed a flyer while getting lunch at Sherkaan last week. In a stunning upset, Guo won the race with his own masterpiece called “Pacific Rim Fog” — a mixture of berry tea from Japan, foam made out of Oolong and shredded Oolong leaves. He took home the top prize for the contest, which included a $100 American Express gift card and a Matcha tea set.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” said Guo, who said he became nervous after seeing some of his competitors bring out foam siphons and blowtorches for their creations. “I just brought my little potions, and I’m going to figure it out.”
In an interview with the News, Guo said he enjoyed the non-alcoholic bartending competition because “it was about all of the aromatic ingredients— everything that sometimes plays second fiddle to the alcohol.” The competition was a celebration of flavors, ingredients and spices from all around the world, Guo said.
Still, many experienced bartenders interviewed by the News said the lack of alcohol in the beverages they concocted made the competition more challenging. Shane McGowan, event participant and owner of a local bar called Tavern on State, said that although he has been bartending for over a decade, this was the first time he competed in a non-alcoholic bartending competition.
“You have to get a little more creative,” McGowan told the News. “Since you’re not drinking for other reasons, it has to hit a lot of notes. You want something that’s balanced and tastes like something you would want to enjoy that has alcohol in it, but you also have to make up for the fact that it doesn’t.”
Sherkaan boasts a list of creative non-alcoholic drinks, listed as “noble experiments” on their menu.
Roger Gross, event organizer and bar manager for Sherkaan, said the competition was a way to share the work that goes into creating a cocktail with everyone who chooses not to drink for personal, health or religious reasons.
“We’re doing something different for the community by taking something traditional and putting our spin on it,” Gross told the News. “It’s an engaging space for everybody.”
The competition was evaluated by a panel of three judges, which included two chefs and a representative from drink mixer company Fever-Tree. The judges ranked the mocktails on a scale of one to 10 for categories like taste, presentation, use of the sponsors’ products and flavor balance.
In an interview with the News, contest judge Kevin McGuire said he was impressed with “The Tiger Inside” — a cocktail made with coconut milk, young coconut and kombucha. McGuire also said he appreciated the story behind Guo’s creation.
“Jeff had the most creative and thoughtful story behind the ingredients that he chose to use,” McGuire said. “His mocktail was high on my list.”
Sherkaan will be holding their next event, Sherkaan + Kawit! Filipindian Feast, on October 10th. It will feature a fusion of Indian street food and Filipino barbecue.
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