May is becoming cocktail month in Boise with the second annual martini contest. Dubbed the May Martini Mix-Off, this year's event runs four Thursdays beginning with First Thursday, May 6 and ending with a final gala on June 4 at the Grove Hotel. At the final gala, judges will choose the champion from the finalists, people's choice awards will be announced, the best martinis will be served, commemorative glasses will be handed out to guests and jazz will serenade you from Seattle's Jessica Lurie's Shaken Not Stirred. While the ticket price is more this year than last ($75), a ticket entitles you to one martini at each of the dozen bars in the contest during the month of May and entrance to the gala on June 4. When you do the math, that's $6.25 per cocktail but it's all for a good cause this year—proceeds go to the Gene Harris Jazz Festival scholarship endowment.
Yours truly is a returning judge along with two other returning judges from last year. While the old joke of it being a hard job but somebody's got to do it is funny to say, I must say, based on experience, it really is true. Testing three martinis at three bars means nine martinis per night, every Thursday night for four weeks in a row plus a big blowout at the end. Pacing is key. Last year it took until Independence Day for me to recover from the slog. This year, I have promised myself I will not attempt to imbibe every drop as I did last year—I will only do that for the good ones. But from what I recall, judging last year was difficult as all the martinis were excellent.
While there were two categories last year, the classic and modern, this year there are three—the Classic Martini, the Original Martini and, due to a big sponsor, the Smirnoff Specialty Martini. Copious amounts of research have gone into the choices for this year's selections with extreme detail and attention to very traditional recipes. Recipes are being guarded like the formula for Coca-Cola or KFC's secret spices.
For those less informed martini connoisseurs, the classic will be made with vodka or gin, vermouth and olives or some other classic garnish. For the martini purist, you can experience the true variety of the classic most fail to understand. The Original Martini category is much broader in definition. Just about any cocktail served "martini" style in a proper glass qualifies for entry. Alcohol used varies from whiskey to gin, rum to ouzo. A Cosmo with its sweeter flavor would fall into this category. The Smirnoff Specialty Martini has one rule, mixologists must use Smirnoff product in the cocktail.
Beginning at 7 p.m. this Thursday at Piper Pub and Grill (150 N. 8th St.), Ryan Caufield and Amy Fuller will be serving The Desert Flower, Starry Night and the Piper Pub Almond Joy. Their appetizer for the food category will be their Jumbo Prawn Crustinis. At 8 p.m. the judges will move to Bardenay where 11-year mixologist veteran and bar manager Michael Rowe will serve the Bardenay Bond, the Insomniac and the Desert Rose. The judges will get to nibble on the Mediterranean Plate. At 9 p.m. the final stop of the evening will be next door at Pie where Cameron "Louisianna" Dorsey will serve the Wet Dream, the Russian Punch and Channel No. 13. For nibblers, the judges will bite into When Pigs Fly, a marinated pork wing with a "special blend of spices."
Tickets can purchased at all participating bars or by phone at 440-8455. Look here for future previews on the coming week's round and more information to help you appreciate the king of the cocktails—the Martini.