The Heaven and Hell of Booze Showdowns and THE Best Rum

17 Jun
Pineapple Sesame Daiquiri

Not that I’m dramatic, but sure, I went dramatic with the name of this entry. Last Monday I was running around from 7:30am til 5-ish on 4-minus hours of sleep and still jet-lagged from a trip to Italy, pouring booze I most certainly was not allowed to drink…that could have been hell. But honestly I had a fantastic time as a helper at the LA Spirits Awards. Although I’m a goth masochist so take my pleasure with a grain of Carolina Reaper.

For all the wine adventures I’ve had, I have never judged a contest. Not with wine, and especially not with spirits. So I jumped at the chance to get in behind the scenes. Especially for this competition. It has THE most diverse set of judges around and incorporates the ever-growing categories of lo-no spirits for those who don’t imbibe, as well as ready to drink cocktails.

I spent the day polishing glasses, pouring flight after flight (after flight), delivering said flights, cleaning up when the judges were done (mmmm emptying spit buckets), and doing it all again, all day. This does not sound exhausting, but let me tell you, I got nearly all my 10,000 steps they (who are they?) say you should get in, by the end of the day. Seriously, it was like 15+ flights ranging between 2 and 9 spirits. I DO NOT know how the judges’ palates held up.

I could barely handle my recent experience with 50-ish Barolos. This crew consisted of utter pros who held it together all day although there were a couple of flights I suspected they wouldn’t loved based on what I smelled when pouring and sure enough, the judges were laughing in the way you do after something terrible but not actually tragic has happened, like attending a one-man show in Los Angeles or anywhere.

Honestly though, this panel of judges was the most diverse, the kindest, the most thoughtful (I enjoyed listening in to them as they debated how a spirit should rank) one could hope to find. Here’s how judging worked: each table of judges had a different set of booze they’d be judging. They had to come to a consensus for each. It either got nothing, or qualified as bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. Everything that got a gold or platinum would then be tasted by ALL the judges the following day, before winners were declared.

Meanwhile, as helpers, we were not trying the spirits, so I sniffed the day away–and when I deemed a pour particularly good or bad based on nose alone, and the judges passed similar judgement, I felt quite validated. Not that I need validation from other humans to be happy except I do.

Actually, I might say working the contest was more like limbo, as my nostrils were apparently doing fine work, but my palate wasn’t getting in on the game. Heaven was regained as I was invited not just to supper with the judges, but also sample the Ten to One rum, whose white rum received a Gold and amber rum received a silver medal in the 2021 competition.

The dinner paired three cocktails featuring the rums, and we got samplers of them to boot and whooo-eeee lemme tell you, Ten to One makes complex and aromatic rums. They paired well with the dishes but also with the judges I was sitting with. I learned about everything from roller derby to what it takes to move cats from Argentina to Cambodia that night. Not your average cocktail chat.

Said dinner was held at Caravan Swim Club, the poolside restaurant at the Playa del Rey-ish Hotel June. The welcome cocktail (and the leading picture for this write-up) was a Pineapple Sesame Daiquiri, featuring the Ten to One white rum, pineapple, juice, lime juices and–this was the level-up move–each was dotted with a few drops of sesame oil. The drink did well by what I honestly think is the best chopped salad I’ve ever had. Normally I eat chopped salad and wish I had all the elements separately and in bigger pieces. But this one provided forkful after cartable forkful of satisfaction. I’m not exaggerating. I want this salad again. The Charred Elote salad featured chopped lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, cilantro, cotija, and chipotle dressing. It was savory and slightly spicy so was both complimented and the heat mitigated but the savory and sweet nature of the cocktail.

I missed out on the second course of Crudo, seeing as I’m vegetarian, but everyone else cleared their plates.

The next cocktail was a Blood Orange Daisy using (again) the Ten to One white rum, as well as martini fiero (an orange vermouth), habanero agave, and lime. I loved this. I also love blood oranges and spiciness–although I honestly think (and this is rare for me as I love the heat) the spiciness could have been dialed down just the teensiest to let the other flavors show through more. But as a cocktail making enthusiast it is rare that I taste a drink and have no notes. I promise you I’ll find a way to make any drink just a shade better. Although that Pineapple Sesame Daiquiri would give me a run for my money.

My vegetarian main paired with the Daisy was a Spicy Cauliflower Steak, featuring peppers, smoked paprika, cashew, cilantro, and cream sauce. I’m not sure, but seeing as I didn’t notice any actual cashews and as I think they were trying to make this vegan–is it possible the cream sauce was made of cashews? At any rate as I mentioned I have a love affair with spicy. And creamy. And cauliflower. And the whole thing was topped with a refreshing mix of micro greens that played nicely with the spicy cauliflowernsteak. I was very happy.

The dessert drink was a Rum Old-Fashioned, paired with an Horchata Panna Cotta which sadly, I had to forgo as panna cotta has gelatin in it. But I had zero problems finding a taker who wanted to eat mine seeing as a) they were petite and b) apparently fantabulous. Old-Fashioned ingredients were not listed but given the color, as well as brown-sugar notes, I’m thinking it was made with Ten to One amber rum. It was a delightful way to wind down the dinner, with the luxardo cherry garnish serving as my dessert.

The winners winners cauliflower steak dinners have not been announced yet, so stay tuned. I may need to do a round-up tasting of the best. I’m rooting for Ten to One for another medal or so…and that’s not just the rum talking.

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