“I never, ever, ever, ever, ever expected to win.”
Such was the surprise of the Iron Shaker statewide cocktail competition winner Vincent Miezejewski last night after seeing his final point tally. Miezejewski, who just started making serious craft cocktails a year ago when he helped open Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, had never entered a mixology competition until he placed in the qualifying round for the Iron Shaker two weeks ago. But as Ariane’s bar manager, he’s learned the trade. In preparation for the third annual Iron Shaker, produced by West Caldwell-based R&R Marketing, he ventured to the grocery store to pick out ingredients and experiment with syrups and unique flavor combinations.
His first drink in the four-round contest? A mixture of toasted snap peas, rosemary, arugula, saffron, lime, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and Prairie organic vodka.
“Bartenders like those of us here aren’t satisfied by staying within the realm of what’s already at the bar. We want to bring flavors (from the outside) behind the bar,” he said while prepping for the contest at Harrah’s in Atlantic City.
The 33-year-old Bloomfield resident took a close second place among eight contestants with his first drink, in the farm-to-glass category. He took second again with his Halloween drink, inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration, that spiced up an Ilegal Mezcal margarita with homemade allspice, cardamom, clove and lime, which he then rimmed with black lava salt and garnished with candied marigolds. When he presented the drink to the three judges, he added a striking visual touch: six-inch tall candles shaped and decorated as bizarre Day of the Dead figurines.
It was during the third round, when contestants were presented with three mystery ingredients, that Miezejewski says, “The cards fell in my favor.”
And how. Miezejewski and his fellow competitors from bars across New Jersey had brought an array of ingredients, homemade syrups and even a hand-held smoker to hedge their bets for the mystery round. Miezejewski serendipitously brought along a tarragon syrup that worked perfectly with the surprise ingredients: tarragon, pear and grapefruit. He spun together a tarragon gin lemonade with the syrup, lemon juice, mint, and muddled apple. It worked. He pulled into first place.
Miezejewski clinched the title in the fourth and final round by answering the call for a truly New Jersey drink with “The Sun Also Rises in Newark.” Here’s how he explained it: Ernest Hemingway’s family has licensed the late author’s likeness and words for the Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum he used in his cocktail. In The Sun Also Rises, characters drink a rum cocktail called the Jack Rose, which is said to have been invented in New Jersey. So Miezejewski created his version of the Jack Rose with New Jersey’s own Laird’s Applejack, Pilar Blonde Rum, local blueberries and lavender, bourbon vanilla beans and lime. Voila, between the judges and the people’s choice vote, Miezejewski accumulated enough points to win.
He took home a $1,000 gift card, a trophy and more confidence in his new-found talents.
“I just wanted to push myself,” he said. “I feel humbled and elated. I’m not one for the spotlight.”Click here to leave a comment