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Django Barman Wins Major Mixology Award

Django Barman Wins Major Mixology Award

I've said it before: Craft cocktails often drive me to drink—something else.

Trouble is, what tastes unique and spellbinding on the first sip can be wearying and overblown by the third sip. You have to endure a lot of unbalanced creations before you find something that you like as well as your favorite standby. (Like a sidecar, for instance. Do as well or better than a sidecar, and I'll love you forever).

That's why I appreciate the Iowa Restaurant Association's Mixology Championship, held every year since 2014). It's a good way to let others taste through a slew of concoctions—wrought with ingredients such as Heirloom Thai Chile Syrup, Swisher Sweet Cigar Smoked Liqueur, Housemade Black Walnut Bitters and something called an Aronia Berry-Tarragon Tincture Wash—to mine for gold.

The competition was held Thursday, September 8. That day, Josh O’Connell from Black Sheep Social Club in Cedar Rapids bested 10 other mixologists in the contest judged by industry professionals.

O’Connell may have won the day, but the evening belonged to Des Moines-based Mixologist CJ Ryherd. For the People’s Choice round of the competition, the doors of Vivian’s Diner + Drinks swung open to the public. Cocktail lovers paid $30 per person to sample through 20 drinks (two creations made by each of the 10 contestants), then vote on their favorite. Ryherd took home the People’s Choice Award for the second year in a row.

The Ultra Birit (left) and the Gunville Club (right). Both drinks will be served at Django starting September 19.

The Ultra Birit (left) and the Gunville Club (right). Both drinks will be served at Django starting September 19.

Frankly, there was absolutely no way I could make my way through 20 cocktail samples, but I was lucky enough to taste Ryherd’s winning drink, the Ultra Birit, a truly captivating blend of rum, Cointreau, lime juice, George’s aromatic bitters (house-made by Django chef-partner George Formaro), red pepper jam and a splash of craft ale.

Ryherd also took home second place, earlier in the day, for the professionally judged event. Judges were wowed not only by his Ultra Brit, but also by his second entry, the Gunville Club (with bourbon, smoked bacon syrup, black walnut bitters, orange bitters, and George's aromatic bitters).

Want to taste Ryherd’s artistry for yourself? Head to Django (210 10th St.; 288-0268; www.djangodesmoines.com). Insiders told me they'd start serving the drink beginning September 19.

If you do taste one of these creations, please let me know what you think!

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