The Bleader | Blog + Reader, Cocktail Challenge blog posts

Cocktail Challenge

Monday, June 4, 2018

Gas station pork rinds and scotch? Watch this week’s Cocktail Challenge

Posted By on 06.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Laura Kelton (Sportsman’s Club) and Carley Gaskin, who co-owns a cocktail catering business called Hospitality 201, are known for their love of snacks and for always carrying some in their purses. A couple years ago they were driving back from a bachelorette party in Nashville, "feeling not so great," Gaskin says. "We stopped at a gas station and got two huge bags of pork rinds. Before we even got back on the interstate, both bags were gone." It’s been a running joke between the two ever since, so when it came time for Kelton to choose an ingredient that Gaskin would need to make a cocktail with, she naturally chose pork rinds—and specified that they had to come from a gas station.

That didn't limit Gaskin's selection: she found 12 different flavors at a gas station not far from her apartment. "I picked a mesquite barbecue that I think will go really well with Dewar’s White Label," she says. "[The whiskey has] some nice citrus and honey notes." She steeped the mesquite pork rinds with the scotch for half an hour before straining out the solids to create pork rind-infused whiskey, which she made into an old-fashioned by adding a little honey syrup and smoked chile bitters.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Sportsman's Club bartender creates a tiki cocktail to pair with crab rangoon

Posted By on 05.07.18 at 06:00 AM


Laura Kelton
(Sportsman's Club) and Elizabeth Mickiewicz (EZ Inn) have a habit of ordering "a lot" of sushi when they're together, Kelton says—and the sweet-and-sour sauce that comes with the crab rangoon is one of her favorite parts. So naturally, when Mickiewicz was choosing an ingredient that Kelton would have to use in a cocktail, she settled on sweet and sour sauce.

Peychaud’s Aperitivo Though no one knows for sure where crab rangoon originated, the Trader Vic's Polynesian-themed restaurants are often credited with inventing the appetizer common on Chinese, Thai, and other Asian menus, an association that Kelton decided to play on by making a tiki drink in the style of a sherry cobbler. "It's light and low ABV, but it's still got a lot of fun tropical flavors that I think are really highlighted by the sweet-and-sour sauce," she says.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Watch a bartender turn a perfect pairing—queso dip with a michelada—into a cocktail

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 05:54 AM



When bartenders Adrienne Stoner (Lost Lake) and Elizabeth Mickiewicz (EZ Inn) meet up to chat, it's usually over queso dip at Lonesome Rose in Logan Square. So when Stoner decided to challenge her friend as the next participant in the Reader's Cocktail Challenge series, she had no trouble picking the ingredient: Mickiewicz would have to make a cocktail with Lonesome Rose queso dip.

Procuring the dip was the easy part. Mickiewicz stopped by the restaurant and got two orders of queso dip to go—one to experiment with and one to eat. "It comes with cilantro and tomato," she says. "You can add black beans and chorizo, but I opted out for this challenge."

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, March 2, 2018

A cocktail with hoisin sauce? Watch a Lost Lake bartender mix one up with a tiki spin

Posted By on 03.02.18 at 11:14 AM


Hoisin sauce—usually made with fermented soybeans, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil—is sweet, salty, and viscous. It's commonly used in Chinese cuisine, rarely used in alcoholic drinks. But when Sam Ruppert (DryHop Brewers) challenged Adrienne Stoner of Lost Lake to create a cocktail with the sauce, she had a supply at the ready. The menu at Lost Lake is Asian inspired, and chef Fred Noinaj makes hoisin sauce in-house to accompany a duck dish.

Stoner not only used Noinaj's hoisin sauce, she also named the cocktail after him. "He doesn't like to be called chef, so I call him the Sauce Boss," she says. "The drink is called the Oui Chef Sauce Boss Swizzle." It took a little work to perfect: Stoner had originally planned to pair it with coconut, but says the first cocktail she made, using a hefty dose of coconut milk, was disgusting. "I think the richness of the coconut was overpowering, and hoisin is already mouth coating. I had to use more refreshing flavors instead," she says. "I decided to go citrus forward and use it in a swizzle."

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, February 5, 2018

A DryHop bartender takes the bitterness out of a hop-infused cocktail

Posted By on 02.05.18 at 02:01 PM


"People have this misconception of hops," says Sam Ruppert. "Every time they hear the word, they think bitter, but hops impart so many flavors in beer that people don't even realize." So when Autumn Eytalis (BellyQ) challenged Ruppert, a bartender at DryHop Brewers, to create a cocktail with hops, he set out to showcase their flavor without the bitterness.

To accomplish this goal, Ruppert made a simple syrup by cooking the hops sous vide with sugar and water. "If you keep hops below boiling you can release all their flavor oils without getting all that bitterness," he says. "The sous vide is a minor version of the giant boil kettle you see in a brewery."

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Watch a BellyQ bartender make a newfangled old-fashioned using dancing fish flakes

Posted By on 01.11.18 at 02:06 PM

Autumn Eytalis, a bartender at Asian barbecue restaurant BellyQ, learned what bonito flakes were a week before Adam Kamin of the Delta challenged her to create a cocktail with them, she says. Coincidentally, she'd ordered brussels sprouts that were served with bonito flakes on top. "They were dancing," she says. "I was like, what is this weird thing?" Bonito flakes, made from smoked skipjack tuna that's fermented and dried in the sun for several months, are sliced so thinly that the steam from hot dishes makes them curl and sway, appearing to dance of their own accord.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Delta’s Adam Kamin creates a cocktail with lobster guts and lobster ice cubes

Posted By on 12.07.17 at 01:57 PM

Lobster tomalley, also known as "the green stuff," is a digestive gland in lobsters that performs the functions of the liver and pancreas. Or as Adam Kamin, beverage director and partner at the Delta, calls it, "lobster guts." Challenged to create a cocktail with tomalley by Brandon Phillips of the Duck Inn, Kamin says his first worry was "justifying to my partners why I had to buy lobsters for their guts to mix into a cocktail." Since tomalley isn't sold separately, the first step in creating the cocktail was purchasing a couple of whole lobsters; the second was poaching them and removing the tomalley. 

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This gefilte fish cocktail is a Passover dish you can sip

Posted By on 10.11.17 at 08:44 PM

Brandon Phillips, bartender at the Duck Inn, had never tried gefilte fish before Drumbar's Gary Matthews challenged him to create a cocktail with the traditional Passover dish of poached ground whitefish. So he called a Jewish friend, who, Phillips says, "seemed surprised. He was like, you want to buy gefilte fish? Why?"

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Tums cocktail that gives you heartburn—and relieves it

Posted By on 09.22.17 at 01:12 PM


"It's kind of a jerk thing to do, I think, to give someone over-the-counter medicine. It was difficult to incorporate into a cocktail," says Gary Matthews. The Drumbar bartender is referring to Sarah Syman of Otto Mezzo, who challenged him to create a cocktail with Tums—the antacids traditionally used to relieve heartburn.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 18, 2017

Drink your vegetables with this kimchi cocktail

Posted By on 08.18.17 at 12:44 PM


River North's Italian cocktail bar Otto Mezzo serves almost exclusively Italian beer, wine, and spirits. Kimchi isn't an ingredient you'd usually find on the back bar, or anywhere near it—so when Jill Anderson of the Drifter challenged bartender Sarah Syman to create a cocktail with the Korean fermented vegetables, she headed to Joong Boo Asian market to take a look at the options. "I spent a while in front of the kimchi cooler," she says, debating between radish and scallion kimchis (the more traditional cabbage only came in giant containers) before settling on the former. "I thought the scallion kimchi might be too many strong flavors," she says.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Manic Mondays Frances Cocktail Lounge
November 20
Performing Arts
Tempel Lipizzans Tempel Farms
June 19

Tabbed Event Search

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories