Elizabeth Mickiewicz making her cocktails
  • Elizabeth Mickiewicz making her cocktails

Last week I went to Lost Lake for the House of Angostura’s U.S. Cocktail Challenge Chicago regionals—a competition to determine who advances to the U.S. finals in New Orleans next week at Tales of the Cocktail. “Regional” appears to be a relative term: while one of the bartenders was a Chicagoan, the others hailed from Nevada, Wyoming, and Washington state, respectively. I’ll admit to rooting for the Chicago bartender—Elizabeth Mickiewicz, who works at Drumbar—but it wasn’t hometown bias that made me prefer her cocktail to the others. The judges did too, declaring her the winner (the judges were Angostura brand ambassador David Delaney Jr., Lost Lake’s Paul McGee, and Amy Cavanaugh of Time Out Chicago).

Each bartender had seven minutes to make two servings each of two cocktails: one a freestyle category, where the only requirement was that the recipe included at least five dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters (not the orange kind), and a second one that had to include Angostura rum as well as at least five dashes of the bitters. The participants had all submitted recipes using Angostura bitters to the contest and been chosen as finalists by a panel of judges; they came up with the rum cocktails after being selected.

They were judged not only on the taste, appearance, and aroma of the cocktail, but also on the presentation—a category that Nicole Barker of Reno, Nevada must have won in the Chicago competition. Before she began mixing she declared that for the next several minutes she was not herself but Tia Delma, voodoo queen. “Today we will resurrect the flamingo, but first we must kill it,” she said, readying a cleaver, before dramatically lopping the head off a plastic lawn flamingo and pouring a red liquid from its neck. Her freestyle cocktail was called the Flamingo Fizz, which I didn’t taste at the competition; while all the bartender mixed both their cocktails, the audience (apart from the judges) was served only one of them, prepared by a Lost Lake bartender in batches. Barker’s rum cocktail wasn’t among my favorites, but the recipe for her Flamingo Fizz, which contained a full three quarters of an ounce of Angostura bitters, intrigued me.

I’ve experimented with Angostura quite a bit, first in the Pink Gin cocktail and Planter’s Punch, and then in cocktails I came across after trying Angostura’s newish amaro. When I made Planter’s Punch, I thought one and a quarter ounces seemed like a lot, but the Amora Amaro cocktail I tried this spring—which used three quarters of an ounce of Angostura bitters—made that seem like nothing.

Flamingo Fizz, homemade version

I tried mixing up the Flamingo Fizz myself this week, and was impressed at how smooth and easy to drink it was. I’ll include the recipe at the end of the post, but in addition to the Angostura bitters it uses Cointreau, lemon juice, honey syrup, egg white (it’s supposed to be infused with rose water but I didn’t do that), and grapefruit soda. I’d never realized how beautifully the flavor of Angostura goes with orange, and the egg white smoothed out any harshness that the insane amount of bitters might have contributed. It was a little on the sweet side, but a slightly drier grapefruit soda—or using half soda, half seltzer—would fix that.

Trinidad Cobbler
  • Trinidad Cobbler

Back to Mickiewicz’s cocktails: the one the audience tasted was her freestyle cocktail, the Trinidad Cobbler, with amontillado sherry, Angostura seven-year rum, pineapple-cinnamon demerara syrup, lemon juice, and a quarter ounce of Angostura bitters. While that’s not as much as was in the Flamingo Fizz, it’s still a pretty healthy dose for a single cocktail. The result is lightly fruity, both tart from the lemon and warmed by the cinnamon and rum. The sherry contributes a subtle nuttiness, the Angostura contributes lots of spice and complexity, and all the elements combine for a light, almost savory drink.

I talked to Mickiewicz on the phone this week, and she told me she’s been obsessed with sherry cobblers lately, which led her to develop the Trinidad Cobbler. “Both drinks I made are what I’d want to drink lying on a beach in Trinidad,” she says. “It’s summer, and if I won, I was going to be making drinks in the middle of July in New Orleans. Light and refreshing was the only thing on my mind.”
Mickiewicz moved to Chicago from LA just last October, and Drumbar was one of the places she most wanted to work. “They do craft cocktails but at high volume, and that was a challenge that appealed to me,” she says. “Being a craft bartender, you sacrifice making money to make good cocktails.” But in a high-volume craft cocktail bar, bartenders can do both.

That environment may also have helped prepare her for the competition. “Anyone can make beautiful, balanced cocktails when they have all the time in the world. When there’s a clock ticking, it keeps you on your toes.”

For the competition in New Orleans next week, the freestyle cocktail has to contain Angostura orange bitters instead of the aromatic bitters, which means that Mickiewicz has had to change up her recipes a bit. Because the judges preferred her cobbler to her other cocktail, she’s moving it to the rum category and creating a new recipe for the freestyle category inspired by the Pink Gin. And she’s working on her presentation, which she says was her weak point in the Chicago competition. “There’s a really fine line between just making the cocktails, and erring on the side of too theatric,” she says. “I want my cocktails to speak for themselves, but you have to put on a little bit of a show.”

As far as rituals before she competes, Mickiewicz says she always takes a shot beforehand—”to calm my nerves a little,” she says. “Me and my roommates took a shot of the seven-year [rum] before this one.”

Trinidad Cobbler (Elizabeth Mickewicz)
1.5 oz Lustau amontillado sherry
.5 oz Angostura 7-year rum
.75 oz pineapple-cinnamon demerara
.5 oz fresh lemon juice
.25 oz Angostura aromatic bitters
4 orange wedges
Garnish: grated cinnamon, large mint sprig, orange wheel, pineapple leaves

Flamingo Fizz (Nicole Barker)
.75 oz Angostura aromatic bitters
.75 oz Cointreau
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz honey syrup
1 rose water-infused egg white
1.5 oz grapefruit soda
Garnish: sprinkle pink sea salt