Sip for SIFF Cocktail Competition 2017

Sip for SIFF Cocktail Competition 2017

Sip for sifF cocktail competition

What do you do when you get a surprise invitation to participate in a cocktail competition held in support of SIFF, a week or so prior?  You say yes!  And then try not to panic, but, we are getting ahead of ourselves.  First of all, in case you are not aware, SIFF is kind of a big deal in Seattle.   Did you know that SIFF (acronym for the “Seattle International Film Festival”) is the largest film festival in the United States?

More than 155,000 folks attend the 25 day event in the heart of Seattle, every year in May.  Over 400 films (feature films, short films and documentaries) are shown during the festival from all over the world (85+ countries).   Interesting to note that the majority of the films shown at SIFF may never be seen again on the big screen.  What an amazing opportunity to soak in the work of aspiring film makers globally.

There are three SIFF cinema’s in Seattle that you should check out it you have not already.  The Egyptian, SIFF cinema Uptown and the SIFF Film Center.  These are not typical movie theaters.   They support international films, independent films and also other similar film festivals… I could go on.   Not to mention, what other cinema offers educational classes?  SIFF provides programs for youth and adults to further awareness about the art of film making.

“Sip for SIFF” is an annual fundraising event held (for going on 8 years) to support SIFF’s mission.   They raised $178,000 Thursday night (November 2,2017) to support their education programs.   When attending the annual Sip for SIFF fundraising event, you walk a red carpet, sample fantastic food served by Seattle’s top Restaurants, in addition to wine/beer/spirits made by mostly local Producers.   There is also an auction, more great food and what is a “partay” really without dancing?

Queen City happily received an invitation from the organizers to participate in the cocktail competition alongside The Tin Table, Witness, Junebaby and Volterra.  All formidable opponents.  There was one requirement of all of us.  Tito’s Vodka generously helped sponsor the event and also provided each of the cocktail competition participants with a case of their vodka to use as the base liquor for our creations, but there was a catch.  Of course, being SIFF, we needed to create a cocktail that was  inspired by a film. 

Panic ensued, but I immediately thought of my co-worker and fellow Bartender, Justin, who just so happens to be quite the film enthusiast.  I consulted Justin later that evening about a picking a movie, giving him the parameters that it for one, must not be an overly well known masterpiece (we need some sort of allure after-all) and secondly, it also obviously must have some significance in the world of film.  I saw an LED light bulb go off behind his eyes within a few short minutes.

“Sugarland Express!”, he exclaimed literally, without hesitation.  “It’s Steven Spielbergs first theatrically released feature film, featuring Goldie Hawn and William Atherton.  It’s about a couple of young parents that set off to get their son back from foster care.  It ends with an epic police road chase across Texas, seeing as the father has to escape from prison to assist his wife in retrieving their son.  Did I mention it’s based on a true story?”  I shrugged.

Justin continued.  “Hmmmm… Let’s infuse the case of vodka with lemongrass, add lime juice and fennel simple syrup to the cocktail.  Shake, finish with a float of sparkling wine on the rocks.  All of the ingredients can be loosely tied to elements in the movie.  The lemongrass is like the vegetation in Texas…”.  Just like that, we had a plan and were shooting from the hip.

“Sugarland express” movie poster circa 1974


Scenes from the movie & pictures of Spielburg filming

The case of Tito’s Vodka arrived the next day, I set to work infusing it with fresh lemongrass.  I also made a last minute decision to add a bit of fresh lemon peel and also (despite Justin’s initial protests) fresh ginger to each bottle…

Tito’s Vodka Lemongrass Infusion

Next, the fennel simple syrup.  Who has ever heard of such a thing?  I had my reservations at first, I like fennel, but the idea of turning it into a syrup much less being added to a cocktail gave me pause.  Despite my reservations, I pushed onward.  I decided that charring the fennel on the grill seemed like a good idea to give the fennel flavor more depth, before steeping in a pot full of water and sugar.   Dom, our Sous Chef offered fennel seeds to add to the mix, which we also toasted in a pan to further extract their full flavor.  Notice the caramel color the simple syrup of charred fennel produced (pictured below).

Charred Fennel,Toasted Fennel seeds& End Product

Now the real test.  How is this all going to come together?  Did we use enough of the infusion ingredients?  Did we use too much?  We could only cross our fingers and wait 6 days to let the infusion of the vodka take hold.  We decided that using a crisp Cava would suit the drink best as the finishing splash, before garnishing with an edible flower.

One last debate, I thought it would be better served up than on the rocks.  There was a moment of truth the night before the event, finally putting all of the theorized elements of the drink together. The acidity of the lemongrass infusion was perfectly balanced by the richness of the charred fennel simple syrup.  Lime, ginger & a splash of cava give it a brightness that would be missed otherwise.  The edible flower gives off a complimentary aroma … in effect, delicious.

“Sugarland express” themed cocktail

The event was held at Block 41, a fabulous event space in Belltown.  Justin and I arrived an hour early to set up and prepare to make a sample size version of our cocktail for 250 people attending that evening.   The table next to us was manned by a friendly young Bartender representing the Tin Table.  He took one look at Justin and said, “Hey… You served me the first cocktail I ever had after first arriving in Seattle!”.  Small world.  His film cocktail theme?  “Best in Show”.  If you have never seen it, stop what you are doing and watch it now.

Sip for SIFF 2017 at Block 41
Ushi & Justin serving the “Sugarland Express”

Attendee’s were given poker chips used to vote for their favorite cocktail.  It was honestly extremely personally gratifying, after all of our hard work, to have people visit with us and tell us how much they liked our theme.  Or express to us that we were hands down their favorite cocktail, while presenting their poker chip, dropping it into the glass vase on our table, often asking for a second taste before leaving.

By the end of the competition each of the cocktail competitors had quite a few poker chips accumulating in their respective vases, but it was clear that Volterra was definitely the winner.  The identities of who took 2nd and 3rd place were not revealed, but I have a hunch that one of those spots belong to Queen City.

Ushi & Justin at Queen City

Many thanks to the organizers of Sip for SIFF, especially Mytet Gumin, for the inclusion of Queen City in the event (we would love to participate again next year!).  Thanks again to Tito’s for supplying us with their handmade vodka.  Also, thank you to everyone that we met that night that went out of their way to converse with us and tell us how much they enjoyed our film inspired cocktail.  We will be serving the “Sugarland Express” cocktail at Queen City this coming week, feel free to swing by and request it.  Cheers!

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  1. 1
    Leah Miller

    How creative and what an inspiring event! So impressed by Queen City Grill’s inventive staff. I’ll be stopping in to try the Sugarland Express ASAP. Infused with fennel?! Yumm.

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