WINCHESTER — If the winter doldrums have already set in, here’s something fun to get you out of the house: take a cocktail tour around Winchester, tasting them all to determine which is best.
OK, maybe not all of the cocktails at all of the area restaurants — but the 14 participating restaurants that are offering both a signature cocktail and a signature mocktail for competition this year in the 4th annual Winchester on the Rocks cocktail competition.
Charlie Fish, co-owner of Murphy Beverage Company in Old Town Winchester, created the event to help support local restaurants in one of the slowest months of the year.
“It’s a fun competition, and that’s the whole thing. Personally for me, it was to put butts in seats as I say, when it’s really slow. I’m trying to encourage business down here when it’s so slow,” Fish said.
The contest begins Sunday and continues through Jan. 25. Last year, Roma Old Town Wood-Fired Pizzaria swept all categories, including the top prizes for Judge’s Choice and People’s Choice, with its entry of Who’s Your Honey. The cocktail featured a base of blood orange bitters and honey, but customers would select which liquor they wanted. Based on what liquor was chosen, the drink would be presented in certain glassware with particular garnishes.
Kelly Kinsey, bar manager at Roma Old Town, said the restaurant is defending its title this year with a play on the classic mule, featuring bourbon instead of the cocktail’s usual vodka along with ginger beer, raspberry, mango, and Pechard’s bitters.
New to the contest this year are The Butcher Station and Crush Wine Bar, restaurants both located at Creekside Station. Branden Goldizen, who owns the Crush Wine Bar with his wife Tracey, said it was an easy decision to participate.
“Citywide competition is fun and stimulates exciting and new ideas, but the real winners are the cocktail lovers in Winchester. They have a lot of unique, new choices on everyone’s menu for the winter,” he said.
Crush’s entry into the 2020 competition is something not often seen in the area — a smoked cocktail, called the Autumn Bonfire.
“You know that feeling when it’s chilly outside and you just step up to a warm fire — the chill goes away, the warmth, combined with the hypnotic effect of the crackling fire, a waft of woodsy smoke and then you sip a really good bourbon? That feeling, when everything is right at that moment, and then someone, from out of nowhere has marshmallows — yep, marshmallows! We wanted to try to capture that in a glass,” he said.
The Autumn Bonfire combines Woodford bourbon, black walnut bitters, Aztec chocolate bitters, a dash of house-made marshmallow syrup, which is then smoked under a cloche with Alder wood and topped with a toasted marshmallow.
For those wanting to enjoy the event but are abstaining from alcohol, there are creative entries at most locations for a mocktail. Crush Wine Bar crafted the Honied Blueberry, Rosemary, and Lemon Smash, for the Favorite Mocktail competition.
“The choice to not drink alcohol shouldn’t relegate someone to the two choices of water or cloyingly sweet soda, making their evening dinner and drink experience bland and boring. You shouldn’t have limited choices only because one ingredient is left out,” said Goldizen. He added that his restaurant will offer a new Zero Proof craft cocktail catalog on Feb. 1, to better cater to guests who choose to not drink alcohol.
You can find out what restaurants will serve by either calling the establishment, or checking their Facebook page. All Winchester Restaurant Week cocktails are $7, but mocktail prices will vary by location.
Categories for the public to vote on include Best Cocktail Name, Best Cocktail Presentation, Favorite Mocktail, Favorite Bartender, and Favorite Winchester on the Rocks Cocktail. Voting must be completed by Jan. 26, and can be done either online at www.winchesterontherocks.com/vote or by paper ballot, which will be available at each participating venue. The judges panel will tour restaurants on Sunday and Jan. 25. Winners will be announced Feb. 1.