The Bleader | Blog + Reader, Cocktail Challenge blog posts

Cocktail Challenge

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This gefilte fish cocktail is a Passover dish you can sip

Posted By on 10.11.17 at 08:44 PM

Brandon Phillips, bartender at the Duck Inn, had never tried gefilte fish before Drumbar's Gary Matthews challenged him to create a cocktail with the traditional Passover dish of poached ground whitefish. So he called a Jewish friend, who, Phillips says, "seemed surprised. He was like, you want to buy gefilte fish? Why?"

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Tums cocktail that gives you heartburn—and relieves it

Posted By on 09.22.17 at 01:12 PM


"It's kind of a jerk thing to do, I think, to give someone over-the-counter medicine. It was difficult to incorporate into a cocktail," says Gary Matthews. The Drumbar bartender is referring to Sarah Syman of Otto Mezzo, who challenged him to create a cocktail with Tums—the antacids traditionally used to relieve heartburn.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 18, 2017

Drink your vegetables with this kimchi cocktail

Posted By on 08.18.17 at 12:44 PM


River North's Italian cocktail bar Otto Mezzo serves almost exclusively Italian beer, wine, and spirits. Kimchi isn't an ingredient you'd usually find on the back bar, or anywhere near it—so when Jill Anderson of the Drifter challenged bartender Sarah Syman to create a cocktail with the Korean fermented vegetables, she headed to Joong Boo Asian market to take a look at the options. "I spent a while in front of the kimchi cooler," she says, debating between radish and scallion kimchis (the more traditional cabbage only came in giant containers) before settling on the former. "I thought the scallion kimchi might be too many strong flavors," she says.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Watch a Drifter bartender make a farm-fresh cocktail with instant ramen seasoning

Posted By on 07.20.17 at 05:48 PM

Instant ramen is one of the most typical examples there is of a highly processed, factory-produced food. But when Kiel Schelich of Eight Bar challenged Jill Anderson, bar manager at the Drifter, to create a cocktail with instant ramen seasoning, her mind went immediately to Willowthorne, the small farm she owns just south of Chicago. "This week all kinds of stuff was popping: we were able to pull honey out of our hives, we had a few tomatoes that started ripening up, we had all this amazing purple ruffled basil that came up," Anderson says. "I was thinking, how do you take this very processed product and make it into a fresh, summery, farm-focused cocktail?" 

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A peaches-and-cream cocktail goes best with Jell-O shots

Posted By on 06.01.17 at 07:37 PM

"When I was growing up, all I would eat with cottage cheese were these really syrupy, densely packed peaches," says Kiel Schelich, bar manager at Eight Bar (the previously nameless bar/restaurant downstairs from Maple & Ash). But when Steve Gleich of Luxbar challenged Schelich to use cottage cheese in a cocktail, his mind didn't immediately go there. Schelich's first thought was to make a drink modeled after a cement-mixer shot, where lime juice is added to Bailey's to curdle it. He quickly rejected that idea and moved on to scotch because, he says, it pairs well with cheese. "For like three days, I was doing scotches, trying to make a sophisticated cocktail with it," he says. "Then I was like, 'It's fucking cheese curds. Why am I overthinking this?'"

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Uh-oh, a SpaghettiOs cocktail!

Posted By on 05.03.17 at 05:17 PM

Making a cocktail with the canned kid-pleaser SpaghettiOs "sounds like a nightmare," says Luxbar bar manager Steve Gleich. But when Nicole Brudd of the Revel Room challenged him to do just that, Gleich got to work. His first idea was a Bloody Mary, which evolved into a Bloody Maria and then sangrita, a drink that's typically sipped alongside tequila. Though sangrita originally consisted of just fruit juice and chile powder, today it often includes tomato juice as well, which is the route that Gleich went with it.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Friday, March 31, 2017

How to make a beer cocktail

Posted By on 03.31.17 at 03:43 PM

"I'm a big beer dork, so I've had my fair share of Troublesome," says Nicole Brudd, a bartender at Wicker Park's Revel Room. She's referring to Off Color Brewing's Troublesome, the beer with which Paul "PK" Kim of Cafe Marie-Jeanne challenged her to create a cocktail. "Troublesome is a gose, so it's a salted wheat beer with lactobacillus—you get a lot of lemon, sourness, saltiness," she says.

Brudd made a simple syrup with the beer, reducing it over heat to concentrate the flavor before adding sugar and water. She imagined pairing the syrup with tequila and celery bitters for a simple, savory cocktail, and experimented with the combination several ways: stirred, shaken, and up. "I was really confident, but [the drinks] were garbage," she says.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

All hail the #NotMyPresident, a Trump-tinted cocktail made with powdered cheese

Posted By on 03.08.17 at 02:00 PM

Cabot Cheddar Shake is "a dehydrated cheese product made of the finest northeastern cheddar cheese," says Paul "PK" Kim, a bartender at Cafe Marie-Jeanne. He'd never heard of the cheese powder before Jacob Huelster of Watershed challenged him to create a cocktail with it. "But I wanted to show respect to it, because I know it's an ingredient that's near and dear to Jacob's heart," he says.

Kim describes the powdered cheese as salty, delicious, and perfect for popcorn. "Everything's better with cheese," he says. Well—maybe not absolutely everything. Getting Cheddar Shake into a form that Kim could incorporate into a cocktail was difficult, he says. He first tried mixing the cheese powder with room-temperature water. "It looked pretty gross," he says. "I found it clumped up."

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, January 30, 2017

How to make a Nutella cocktail

Posted By on 01.30.17 at 04:36 PM

For a product that enjoys a reputation as a cult favorite, Nutella is surprisingly ubiquitous: it's sold in 75 countries at a rate of one jar every 2.5 seconds worldwide and its maker, Ferrero, buys a quarter of the world's hazelnut supply, producing enough jars of Nutella each year to cover the Great Wall of China eight times over. Plus World Nutella Day—which is essentially just an excuse to eat the chocolate-hazelnut spread—is coming up on February 5.

Not surprisingly, Watershed bartender Jacob Huelster was already quite familiar with Nutella when David McCabe of Osteria Langhe challenged him to create a cocktail with it. "At first I was a little worried," Huelster says. "It seemed a bit pedestrian. But when I started working with it, I found that it's actually pretty difficult." Huelster first consulted the book The Flavor Bible to see what it recommends pairing with hazelnut. Garlic was one suggestion. "Garlic does go well with hazelnuts, and it does not go great with chocolate, I found out. That was a dead end," Huelster says.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , ,

Monday, January 9, 2017

Osteria Langhe’s David McCabe utilizes snails to put a new spin on the Bloody Mary

Posted By on 01.09.17 at 02:27 PM

Osteria Langhe, the Piemontese restaurant in Logan Square where David McCabe tends bar, has been serving snails in pastry shells with beurre blanc since it opened in 2014. Until recently, though, McCabe had little to do with the gastropods, leaving them to the restaurant's chefs. But when Christopher Marty of Best Intentions challenged him to create a cocktail with escargot (or lumache, as they're called in Italian), McCabe had some planning to do.

Continue reading »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Top-Notch Tuesdays Laugh Out Loud
July 25 1
Galleries & Museums
June 11 1

Tabbed Event Search

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories

Follow Us

Sign up for newsletters »

 Early Warnings
 Food & Drink
 Reader Recommends
 Reader Events and Offers