The search for D.C.’s next barbecue and bartending stars

July 2, 2013

From barbecue and burger battles to the July-long Rickey Month cocktail contest, Washington is a town that loves its food fights. But they aren't exclusively the domain of former "Top Chef" contestants and well-known mixologists: There are competitions out there that let amateur chefs and bartenders get in on the action. Here are two taking place this month.


Bartender Erik Holzherr (center) is organizing a genever mixology competition at Wisdom, his cocktail den on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. (Photo by Evy Mages for The Washington Post)

The Wisdom-Genever Cocktail Competition
When: Thursday, July 18
Where: Wisdom
How it works: Ever tried a cocktail at a bar and thought, "I could make something better than this?" Wisdom's Genever Cocktail Contest is your chance. It's sponsored by the Belgian genever company Diep 9, so your cocktails have to include at least 1.5 ounces of either Diep 9 Old Genever, an aged genever with an earthy, almost whiskey-ish flavor, or Diep 9 Young Genever, which is crisp but still slightly malty. If you're not familiar with them, stop by Wisdom any night and ask the bartender for free samples of all the Diep 9 products.

Once you've tried it, you can start experimenting. Recipes should be easy to recreate, so use commercially available bitters and liqueurs instead of homemade bitters or gin you infused yourself. Make sure you pay close attention to the posted rules, which cover governing the number of ingredients you can use, the types of garnish and the number of ounces of liquid in the cocktail.

How to enter: Email your recipe with instructions that list the specific quantity of every ingredient (1.5 ounces Old Genever, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, 3 dashes Jerry Thomas bitters) to dcwisdom@gmail.com by Friday, June July 12. Judges will read through all submissions and pick their favorite recipes. (Wisdom owner Erik Holzherr says this is to screen out recipes copied from elsewhere, or drinks that use odd ingredients, like 5-Hour Energy shots.)

The creators of the top cocktails will be invited to come to the bar the following Thursday and mix them up in person for the judges. Points will be given for presentation and style as well as taste, so consider that when you're entering.

What you win: The winner takes home a top-of-the-line bartender tool kit, and will get their recipe featured on the Diep 9 Web site. (It may also be featured on the cocktail menu at Wisdom.) Runners-up receive gift certificates from Capitol Hill and H Street bars and restaurants.

The Red Derby BBQ Cookoff
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, July 21
Where: The Red Derby
How it works: The Red Derby frequently hosts customer-participation events, including a pre-Halloween pumpkin-carving contest and a fall chili cookoff. Later this month, the bar is hosting its own barbecue contest, judged by "whoever's at the bar that night," says co-owner Sasha Carter. Barbecue from 10 different contestants is passed out to all other customers one at a time, who rate each sample on scorecards. There's no charge to enter or to be a barbecue taster – "We are that cheap, free bar" Carter says – as long as you're paying for drinks.

How to enter: Find Carter at the Derby and let her know you want in. Move quickly, though, because there are only 10 slots, which are given out on a first-come, first-filled basis.

On the night of the contest, bring your barbecue to the Derby however you want, whether in Tupperware or a crockpot. There's no requirement on the style of meat, but it must be off the bone and ready to serve – no telling the staff that "before you bring it out, you have to add a dollop of cilantro," Carter says.

What you win: Kitchenware and grab bags of bar swag for the top three pitmasters, as voted by the crowd.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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