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Martini Mix-Off: How to Judge


While this Martini Mix-Off is a competition among the bars, I have had to correct a few folks about it not being a competition among the judges. Unlike competitive eaters, we are not about consuming quantity. We take sips of quality. We are not frat boys seeing how much of the funnel we can drain before barfing. We are not Indiana Jones' love interest drinking down Mongols in a Himalayan bar. But, we do swallow.

Judging martinis is not unlike wine tasting. You bring the martini into your mouth gingerly, as one would a hot soup. It should be cold, but, much like beer, different alcohols are "ripe" at different temperatures. If a bartender has been shaking for five minutes in front of you and it's warm, well, Houston, we have a problem. Once brought into the mouth, the sip should slide and swish all over. Use your tongue. Get it under your tongue, on the back of it and down the sides. Your tongue tastes different flavors on different parts so bathe your tongue. Then, before you swallow, purse your lips and breathe in past the liquid. Get a good lungful of air. Wait ... wait ... wait ... Now slowly exhale through your nose. Let all those alcoholic fumes and flavors from your mouth and lungs pass through your sinuses. Scientists say that we have more taste in our nose than our mouth, so don't neglect the schnoz. Now swallow and concentrate on how that liquid slides down the throat. Is it harsh? Is it smooth? Does it warm or cool your tummy? Now how does your mouth feel once it has been drained? Is it dry? Wet? Does it feel like sandpaper or a black velvet painting of Jesus on a donkey?

Now if you are a judge in the competition, we usually take a second sip of that martini once it has warmed up a little bit. Rinse, and repeat nine more times in the evening. By the last bar we judges are a little happy. You can't help yourself. But we also consider much more than the taste. For this particular competition, we also look at the presentation: how the martini is introduced to us, if the martini matches the description of the entry they submitted and then we give it an overall grade. Each of those categories is a number from one to 10 and the total is added up.

The top martinis in each of the three categories from all nine bars will be judged blind during the finals next week. However, this Thursday, you can come along with the judges from bar to bar as we inspect the contents of the stiletto-heeled glasses at the last three bars in the competition. Beginning at 7 p.m., we'll sip at Piper Pub. Then at 8 p.m., we'll mosey on over to Red Feather and finish at 9 p.m. at Berryhill.

Tickets are $50, which includes a coupon for one martini at every bar and a ticket to the final gala. They are available at all participating bars and at Cheers in downtown Boise.