Naperville bartender's invention wins Daily Herald martini contest
It started out as a special request from a customer looking for a vodka-based cocktail that was fruity but not sweet.
"It was a dealer's choice," said Graham Essex, 24, of Chicago, who tends bar at Northcott Liquorette in Naperville. "And this is basically what I came up with that night."
Essex's cocktail, aptly called #IDKSurpriseMe, was a concoction of Grey Goose vodka, lemon juice, Aperol, passion fruit syrup and cinnamon syrup with a spritz of Peychaud's bitters infused with silver pearl dust to give it a luminescent finish.
His dealer's choice earned him a first-place finish Monday night at the Daily Herald's ninth annual Best Martini in the 'Burbs Contest.
The fan favorite award went to Andreas Vlahos from Jameson's Charhouse in Arlington Heights for his Deep Blue Water martini.
Coming in second place in the judged contest was Paul Wagner. He might have been the happiest bartender in the competition. As beverage director at Northcott Liquorette, he trained both Essex and third-place finisher Kenneth Burton, who works at Fiamme in Naperville.
"My grandma was a French chef," he said. "I started in the business when I was 13. I learned early on that everything starts with scent and taste."
All three top finishers in the judging had elaborate recipes: Wagner's and Burton's were shaken with egg white to give it a smooth finish. Wagner's even employed activated charcoal, which gave it a deep lavender hue.
"And it's also a detoxifying agent," he said. "It helps get rid of those hangovers the next day."