On Jan. 16, some of Chicago’s best bartenders competed to make the tastiest Irish Coffee cocktail at Metropolis Coffee Roastery (3057 N. Rockwell St.) in Avondale. There were eight teams of two bartenders and baristas from all over Chicago—two from Logan Square—who created and executed one innovative Irish Coffee cocktail that incorporated Slane Irish Whiskey.
Bartenders and Baristas from Monnie Burke’s (1163 W. 18th St.) Lance Bowman and Mark Cunningham won first place for their extremely well-balanced and super tasty “Shimmy, Shimmy, Cocoa Puff” cocktail made with Cocoa Puff Syrup and a cream blend paired with a decadent, crunchy s’more.
Logan Square bartenders Zafar Bandukda and Brian Tepps from The Native (2417 N. Milwaukee Ave.) won second place for their “Darjeeling Limited,” which was a cozy, multicultural and multifaceted Irish Coffee Cocktail made with Chai spiced syrup, vegan whipped cream, and topped with cinnamon and orange.
Third place went to Zachary Johnson (Chicago Planner Magazine) and Sami Katon (Dark Matter Coffee) of Inspired Catering for their delectable and innovative Champurrado cocktail made with spiced brown syrup topped with a vegan coconut whipped cream and savory cayenne pepper.
There were four judges (Erin Byrne from 312 Food, Carina Conyngham from Slane Irish Whiskey, Chris Petrovich, Roasting Manager at Metropolis Coffee Company, and yours truly from LoganSquarist and Chiveg.com) who assessed these cocktails in terms of: cocktail balance, integration of Slane Irish Whiskey, the story behind the cocktail, and the amount of time it took to make the cocktail.
The Judging Experience
What was it like to judge an Irish coffee competition? I was a bit nervous since I am not a whiskey expert but I do know a thing or two about coffee. So, when I was asked to be a guest judge I couldn’t say no (I figured it couldn’t be too different from evaluating food/cocktails at restaurants for my blog).
It was extremely satisfying tasting all eight cocktails and it was nice to have some objective standards to assess the cocktails with. However, it still felt difficult to be completely objective since taste is a very subjective sensation. But I’m not complaining; I was so impressed with how creative and enthusiastic the finalists were. To engage in public speaking and make a cocktail on the spot is a lot of pressure.
I was also happily surprised by how two of the eight Irish coffees were made with vegan whipped cream. I don’t drink a lot of Irish coffee because I try to avoid the heavy cream, but it was spectacular to see that some of Chicago’s best mixologists are making vegan cocktails!
Aside from being in awe of the cocktails and finalists, it was truly great to meet my co-judges who have expertise in different areas. Erin is a famous Chicago food blogger, Chris is a Metropolis Coffee wiz and Carina is a co-owner of an Irish whiskey company! It was really interesting to hear their perspectives on the beverages and a learning experience.
As someone who loves Logan Square, it was also exciting that the second place winners are bartenders at the beloved The Native. Bandukda’s story of bringing Indian and Irish flavors together was very inspiring and empowering for us first and second generation kids. I also found Carina’s story about Slane Irish Whiskey a dynamic example of how businesses can successfully incorporate sustainability and social responsibility within their mission.
The Slane Synergy Story
Judge Conyngham of Slane Irish Whiskey came all the way from Ireland to judge the competition and build relationships with potential Chicago-land distributors. Conyngham has identified similarities between Chicago and Ireland given the significant “old Irish community here,” Conyngham said.
“I see a new generation of Irish whiskey drinkers who have different interests than previous generations of drinkers,” she said. “The food and beverage industries have not really addressed environmental sustainability, which is a whole new area to develop.”
Conyngham said Slane Irish Whiskey focuses on sustainability. The idea for this whiskey originated from wanting to do something sustainable and beneficial for the community.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a family-run business started by her husband, Alex Conyngham, who wanted to diversify their 1500-acre estate. They wanted to find further methods of utilizing the barley they were already producing.
“The best value of a crop of barley is to turn it into whiskey. It takes time to develop the whiskey and build a distillery.”Carina Conyngham
They decided to open the farm, made it organic, and turned it into a glamping/tourism business to build more revenue. The farm has livestock and organic vegetables that are used to feed their visitors. Their aim is to have a zero-waste facility and for 30 percent of thermal energy to come from biogas. The Conynghams look at waste with an innovative eye instead of looking at it as unusable trash.
What makes Slane Irish Whiskey stand out from other whiskey brands? In addition to their whiskey being sustainable, their whiskey is also “flavor-forward” and comes from a triple-cask blend process. They age their whiskey in three different casks: virgin oak—rare for Irish whiskey, a seasoned oat barrel cask, and a fruity, sherry cask. These three different casks are blended together giving the whiskey unique berry notes, banana notes, and vanilla notes, according to Conyngham.
Slane currently has markets all throughout the U.S. ranging from L.A. to New York and the Conynghams are currently establishing partnerships in Chicago and Wisconsin. They specifically partnered with Metropolis Coffee because “Metropolis has built their name as a quality producer and roaster,” Conynghams said.
“Slane also has synergy with what Metropolis is doing considering their commitment to environmental sustainability,” she added. “It’s very inspiring and grassroots. If you don’t do it, no one is going to do it.”
If you are interested in trying any of these recipes, they can be found here. Cozy up and drink some Irish Coffee to get you through these cold, winter days! Check out photos from the competition below.
Photos: Shanti Chu