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Bartenders Battle in Nail or Fail Cocktail Contest

Mathias Simonis pours his "No Floozie in the Dramboozie"

Mathias Simonis pours his "No Floozie in the Dramboozie" 

Photo courtesy of Gwen Rodgers

This week, more than a dozen bartenders from around San Francisco dusted off sticky bottles of Drambuie, embracing the challenge to reconsider the 200-year-old Scotch-based liqueur.  Whether they normally spend their nights slinging Jaeger shots to college kids or discussing the finer points of the Manhattan to patrons perched precociously on velveteen stools, on Tuesday night, all were equal.

At Nail or Fail, a competition sponsored by Drambuie that kicked off its national tour at the Regency Ballroom on Monday, bartenders shook, stirred and strained head-to-head, hoping to win a slot at Tales of the Cocktail, a week-long mixology festival that takes place in New Orleans each July. 

Traditionally served either as a cordial or as the base of the Rusty Nail (on the rocks with Scotch), Drambuie has all but fallen out of favor, with professionals and consumers alike, sometime over the past, oh, 30 years. But Brand Ambassador Anthony Caporale sees new possibilities for the spirit as bartenders are looking for more interesting ways to sweeten their drinks. “Using liqueurs instead of simple syrup adds another dimension of flavor and complexity to a cocktail,” says Caporale.

For his “The Walking Drambuie,” Moe Arce from Monarch took advantage of Drambuie’s natural alliance with coffee by combining Firelit, a coffee liqueur, with Snap ginger and Amaro to create a libation that would fit in nicely alongside classic cocktails on a Tiki bar drink list. Deric Witt from Fish and Farm brought together rye whiskey, homemade grenadine, and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram in a crowd-pleasing combination.

But it was Eric Saldana’s “Prince Neville’s Drambuie Ode to Jupiter” that was to be the ultimate winner on Tuesday night. Inspired by the drink’s namesake, a still, unsweetened ginger beer, Saldana said he strove to find complimentary flavors that wouldn’t compete with Drambuie’s sweetness. Yamazaki, a Japanese single malt, muddled Thai basil and blood orange rounded out the libation.

The San Francisco winner will take on bartenders from around the country later this spring.