Hollywood Bar The Spare Room Wins First Mixology Competition

Amy Graves

Ten top Los Angeles cocktail creators battled to win the first-annual All-Star Mixology Competition, to benefit Covenant House California and co-sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter.

Perhaps inspired by TV’s cavalcade of reality shows pitting chefs against each other in cooking challenges, there’s a new wave of competitions bringing a different crew of tastemakers – mixologists -- to the table.

On Thursday night Oct. 3 in Culver City, ten cocktail experts came together to shake things up in the All-Star Mixology Competition, a benefit co-sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter and ABC-7 for Covenant House California, which operates centers in Los Angeles and Oakland, which provide housing, health benefits, education and employment help to homeless youth.

The rules of the event – which drew the likes of E! correspondent and former Bachelorette Ali Fetodowsky and VH1 Hit the Floor star McKinley Freeman -- were simple. The mixologists – some were cocktail makers at L.A. bars such as ShoreBar, Eveleigh and The Spare Room; others were liquor brand ambassadors – arrived with ingredients to make a drink they’d already conceived for the evening. In the first round, five of them took to a long bar in front of a judging table, where they had 15 minutes to execute their concoctions. One brought a bag of sous-vide fruit. Another put his cocktails under huge bell jars so that the aroma of the drink wafted up when they were removed in front of the judges. One even rimmed a glass with salt and ground-up tequila worms. The next five took to the bar for the second round.

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For the third and final round, the top three finishers were tasked with making a drink on the spot with a secret ingredient: pear. Winning it all was The Spare Room’s Edwin Cruz, who combined three varieties of pear with London No. 1 gin, Alfonso Oloroso sherry and prickly pear.  “It was just a well-rounded cocktail that had the right aspect of bitter and sweet and had a lot of depth,” said judge Georgia Hardstark of Cruz’s drink. She sat on the judging panel with Alie Ward, her co-host of the Cooking Channel’s Tripping Out with Georgia and Alie and co-contributor to the channel’s Unique Sweets. Added Ward: “His drink was a little sweet at the outset, but for me the arc of a drink is important. So the first sip might be a bit sweet but by the time you get to the end of it, there’s ice and it melts a little bit and it mellows. The flavor was great and it only got better as the ice melted.”

Among the other judges were A-list stylist and interior designer Estee Stanley (clients have included Penelope Cruz, Jessica Biel and Lea Michele), Paramount Pictures vp Liza Pano, and Meridith May, publisher and executive editor of The Tasting Panel magazine, which organized the competition, held at the Unici Casa event space. Between the cocktail challenges, guests sampled bites from Le Pain Quotidien, Toscana, Akasha, 25 Degrees and Le Clafoutis and spirits including Breaker bourbon whiskey, made by the first legal distillery in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition, Cedar Ridge Bourbon, Tapatio tequila, and a grain spirit called baijiu, which is the most-consumed spirit in China, by the label Byejoe. Tasting Panel senior editor Rachel Burkons thinks baijiu "will make a real splash in upcoming years. An ever-educated consumer is looking to explore new categories and flavor profiles."

“It was so much fun. I felt like I was on Top Chef, my favorite show,” said Stanley. She supports Covenant House, she said, because “what they do for homeless kids is so incredible. Helping over 5,000 kids last year is a remarkable task and so needed. No one should be homeless but to be left this way because of circumstances most kids have no control over is devastating and this place changes that.”

Other sponsors of the event, emceed by ABC-7 Eyewitness News' Robert Holguin, included Delta, Pleasant Holiday Travel, Tesla and Funkin and co-hosts include THR culture editor Degen Pener, producer and restaurateur Laurent Zilber of Cafe des Artistes and HBO’s Moana Casanova.

Below photo: Judges Georgia Hardstark and Alie Ward of Cooking Channel’s Tripping Out with Georgia and Alie.