Tonight in Las Vegas, finalists will compete in Bombay Sapphire’s 7th Annual search for the nation’s “Most Imaginative Bartender.” In a qualifying competition last month, Chad Spangler of Farmers Fishers Bakers won the title of Washington D.C. finalist with his drink the Bloomingdale, which incorporates a raspberry shrub, absinthe and Bombay Sapphire gin infused with galangal. I interviewed Spangler about the inspiration behind his winning drink, what defines D.C. cocktail culture and his plan of attack for the Vegas finals.
Where did you come up with the idea for your winning cocktail, the Bloomingdale?
I wanted to create a drink to express Bombay Sapphire’s aromatic mix of botanicals in a subtle but complex way. Galangal was used instead of a more typical ginger because the spice, although pronounced, only influences the finish. The foam provides a base for aromatics to jump out, and a sweet entry to the drink. The apple cider raspberry shrub adds a fruit component, but acts mainly as a balancing agent. Gin dominates the middle of your palate, which is one of the main goals of the drink. The elegance and beauty of the finished Bombay drink inspired me to name it after my neighborhood in D.C.; Bloomingdale.
Your winning cocktail incorporated a shrub and a foam, both of which are big on the current cocktail scene. What are some of your other favorite ingredients or methods you use when building cocktails?
I like to play around with new ingredients and ideas all the time. Most recently I have been working with kafir lime leaf, saffron, and chayote (which is a Mexican fruit similar to a cucumber or melon).
The swizzle has always been one of my favorite techniques. (Swizzle is a type of drink using pebble or nugget ice and a swizzle stick).
What are a few simple ways that bars and restaurants can step up their cocktail offerings?
Start with the basics. Bars that have no craft cocktail program should use fresh lemon and lime juice. Mixing your own ‘sour mix’ makes a world of a difference. Bars that want to do craft but aren’t really sure how to should keep it simple at the beginning. Once the basics are mastered they can work towards complexity. Finally, everyone more experienced should focus on ice.
What differentiates the D.C. bar scene from that of other cities?
D.C. was a little late to jump into the craft scene. It has, probably in the last 2 to 3 years established itself as a city worth considering. Especially now, new restaurants and nice craft programs are opening every month. It is very exciting to be a part of and see this movement first hand.
What is your strategy going into the Vegas finals?
Relax, have fun and stay cool.
How to make Spangler’s winning cocktail, the Bloomingdale:
-1 oz Galangal Infused Bombay Sapphire*
-1 oz Bombay Sapphire
-1 oz Raspberry Shrub
-3/4 oz Lemon Juice
-1 oz White Raspberry Foam
-1/8 oz Pernod Absinthe
*To Make Galangal Infusion:
-16 oz Bombay Sapphire
-4 oz dry Galangal (not powder)
Combine first 4 ingredients in a mixing glass
Shake hard for 5-10 seconds depending on type of ice
Fine strain into a champagne coup
Top with white raspberry foam
Spray absinthe on top
Garnish with rose buds and a pansy
Photo credit: Nike Communications