Quickly becoming a tradition, the May Martini Mix-Off kicked off its fourth year last Thursday with a panel of judges (yours truly included) sipping and slurping at four of the 12 bars in the competition. Arriving in a stretch limo, the judges first visited Red Feather Lounge, where bartender Kevin Kelpe served up The Slacktivist, a classic martini celebrating "freedom of speech and the simultaneous failure to act"inspired, he says, by all the legislators who visit the bar during the session. For the second martini, Kevin shook up an Apricot Sour made with Meadowlark Farm's fresh egg whites. For the uninitiated, egg white in a cocktail shaker will make a drink nice and frothy, and it will slide down the throat like velvet.
Next, the judges cruised over to Tapas Estrella, where Kevin Farney served up a Knickerbocker classic. This martini harkened back to the old days when martinis were made with multiple non-alcoholic ingredients. This one, named for the famous Knickerbocker Hotel, where one legend says the martini was invented, included Lillet and orange bitters, and was decidedly much wetter than today's Sahara-dry concoctions. Bartenders Will Hay and Marta Tanikumo then prepared The Sun Also Rises, a not-so-subtle nod to Hemingway's Spanish experiences. Using Absolut Ruby Red (a new grapefruit-flavored vodka that is sublime), Courvoisier VS, pomegranate juice and passion fruit.
Next on the agenda was Ha'Penny, where bartender Kristen Gover prepared a Dirty Plymouth, a very dirty Plymouth gin martini, and the Orange Cream Dream, made with Absolut Vanilla, Cointreau and an orange zest. The contrast of the salty dirty martini and the sweet orange follow-up had the judge's taste buds all aflutter.
The final stop of the evening was one of the newest restaurant/bars on the scene, Koi. Scott Saylor prepared the Tokyo Classic, a vodka and sake, Asian-themed classic martini, and The Mellow Cello, a Lemoncello and Absolut Citron modern martini.
Before you become too envious about my position as a judge, I must establish that tasting this many martinis in one eveningnever mind every week for an entire monthis taxing on the human body. You can't judge cocktails like you judge wine. One doesn't spit. One swallows. It is an especially difficult job getting in and out of the limo and snacking on little bites prepared by the city's top chefs between drinking that many martinis. Being one of only two returning judges who have been a part of all four years of competition, I must say that judging gets more difficult each year. But my liver and I persist. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
This Thursday judges visit Reef, Mai Thai, returning Martini champion The MilkyWay, and Happy Fish. Martini Mix-Off tickets are available at all participating bars for $60, which includes one martini at all 12 participating bars and the Martini Gala on May 26 at the Boise Art Museum. All proceeds benefit Boise Art Museum.