The Golden Bear was transformed into a midtown winter wonderland on Monday night. Owner Kimio Bazett donned a Santa Claus costume and posed with patrons in a picture booth, while others sported their finest ugly holiday sweaters and elf hats. At the heart of these festivities was a hot toddy contest featuring some of Sacramento's top bartenders and notable up-and-comers. The competitors didn't have many limits for ingredients, except they all had to use Buffalo Trace Bourbon - the contest's sponsor.
Hot Toddies come in various styles, generally using bourbon/whiskey, brandy or rum as its base spirit, and sweetened with honey. A little lemon is usually added to balance the sweetness, and spiced up with cinnamon, clove and other aromatically pleasing ingredients. The "hot" part of a "hot toddy" might come from apple cider, tea or good ol' hot water. Either way, a hot toddy should be soothing, spicy and have a boozy kick - perfect for curling up on a cold winter's night or as a tasty kind of Nyquil substitute during cold/flu season.
The nine hot toddies from Monday night incorporated all kinds of influences and surprises, and I was part of the judging panel with Billy Ngo of Kru, a rep for Buffalo Trace and Angela Rosas, the local social media maven and founder of Chicas Latinas de Sacramento. (She took the above pic that shows some of the toddies). Ella bartender Chris Dooley, who won the hot toddy competition last year, also served as a de facto judge.
So, we sipped ... and sipped some more. A couple of the hot toddies tasted on the medicinal end, like citrus-y Theraflu or a Hall's cherry cough drop. Bacon was a popular ingredient, including one hot toddy that had the bourbon steeped for 24 hrs. in bacon and garnished with a slice of peanut butter and bacon sandwich a.k.a. "The Fat Elvis." Another toddy, from Mark Neuhauser of Tres Hermanas, used a chocolate dipped candy cane as a swizzle stick. He also provided each judge with a homemade cookie with the toddy.
But when all the points were tabulated, one competitor didn't just win the competition - she owned it. That would be 1st place winner Karina Martinez of Ten22, who scored the $350 top prize. She went all out with her creation, printing a poem on a small coaster underneath the toddy glass, made her own monogrammed tea bags and torched some cinnamon bark for added aromatics. The drink itself was fantastic, which included almond water and Torani syrup, that was perfectly sweet, spiced up and just punchy enough with the bourbon. In short, she nailed it.
A few of us wondered, "Who is this Karina Martinez, anyway?" I've judged cocktail competitions around town and never seen her participate, nor have I heard much buzz about her. Judging by her showing Monday night, she can definitely hang with the best bartenders in town due to her creativity and culinary skills. I'm going to make a point to drop into Ten22 to try some more of her cocktail creations - and you should, too.
Also nabbing cash and gift cards were Neuhauser, who placed second, and third place finisher Lauren Steele of Hook & Ladder. And with that, it's just about time to cozy up with a hot toddy and play Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis." Ho, ho, ho!