On February 22, 42 Below Cocktail Competition  at the Regency Center was nicely spread out in two large rooms, plenty of space to taste and view bartenders make New Zealand vodka creations. Some of our best local talent competed to go to nationals, which take place in NYC, then on to finals which happen in 42 Below's native land, New Zealand.
It takes skill to bring layers of flavor out of vodka and this group delivered. Certainly, there were other spirits mixed in and some real creativity set to a rowdy, live rockabilly/punk band. Congrats to the two winners: Michael Callahan of Gitane , created a fresh, aperitif-like concoction using, among other things, lemon and fennel root. Josh Harris , of 15 Romol o, once again pulled a win with his nuanced "Bridge to Terabithia" (loved that book as a kid), which contained everything from his own fennel syrup to 42 Below’s Kiwi Vodka, dusted with masala chai.
Josh Harris goes for the win. Photo by Virginia Miller.
I loved straight-from-the-orchard apple freshness of Spruce ’s Brandon Clements’ cocktail – his answer (or welcome antidote?) to Apple-tini requests. I commend the use of cherry jalapenos in Chase Williamson’s (of 21st Amendment ) Wha Rua (“42″ in Maori ).
My favorite was also the biggest adventure: Tavern at Lark Creek ’s Joseph Parrilli’s Waggle Dance (name inspired by bee action) is a floral/sweet creation of vodka, Fever Tree  ginger beer, wildflower bitters, Wedderspoon Manuka  raw honey, topped with sugar-crusted, gold-dusted bees. Yes, bumble bees (stinger removed). I dove right in an ate one. Cute, crunchy, without much flavor, it’s kind of like eating a grasshopper, like I’ve had in Southeast Asia.