The prize is an all expenses paid trip to Trinidad in February to represent North America (and Kansas City) in the 2012 Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, where Maybee will be recreating the two drinks that propelled him to victory in Chicago. Fat City caught up with him by telephone to learn more about what it was like for the organizer of the Greater Kansas City Bartending Challenge to find himself on the other side of the judges' table.
What was your approach to the contest? I hadn't entered a competition in four years. I love Angostura bitters. I'm a big fan. I like using it, like the way it helps add aroma and flavor to a drink. When that competition came up, I thought I'd enter it for fun.
A drink I worked up about three years ago — The Ward and Precinct (Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon juice, grenadine, sugar, orange slices and bitters) — uses a lot of Angostura bitters in a unique way. It's a fun technique [the cocktail is flaming] and wonderful use of the product. They wanted two recipes. I worked up a new cocktail, using rum as the base, a very old-fashioned stirred cocktail. The Exploration Cocktail is Angostura 1919 rum, Clement Creole Shrub [orange liqueur], Broadbent Rainwater Madeira, and bitters.
I drew first which meant I had to go first in the competition. I got it out of the way and didn't have to have anxiety over it. I don't get to bartend as much as I'd like to, but I don't think you ever really forget how to do it. I had seven minutes to make eight cocktails and that's not easy. After the first 10 seconds, it was a blur. It was really just moving fast and I think I finished with three seconds to spare.
Was this win, at all, about establishing Kansas City as a craft cocktail destination? Or has that been accomplished in your mind? I think we've already established ourselves. We have enough talented and passionate people. Still, anything like this helps shed light on our community and it's fun to compete against people from Chicago and New York.
On a more personal note, you dedicated your performance to your late grandfather. How much did winning mean to you? He [Kenneth Maybee] has been very, very supportive of me. He was definitely heavy on the mind right at the same time. I was thinking about him and that probably helped in some regard — it kind of put me at ease.
What happens next? The global finals are going to be held on February 19 in Trinidad. I don't think I have to do anything new or different. I'd love to win the global challenge representing the North American continent and Kansas City.
For someone with no experience with bitters, any tips or recommendations? From a bartending standpoint, I look at bitters as a bartender's salt and pepper, like a chef uses salt and pepper to season dishes, bring out aromas and entice your appetite. They're great for aroma and balancing out sweetness. They serve a practical function, but there's so many flavors and styles that you can experiment with.