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Jan 27, 2014
01:22 PM
Local Flavor

Getting On Board With Mixology


Merchant places a strong emphasis on craft cocktails. Pictured here is Merchant's Rosa in Fiore drink from their summer drink menu.

Don't get me wrong. I like mixed drinks. I really, really do. I just don't like to figure out what to drink. Sometimes it's simple. Stop in our neighborhood sports bar to watch a football game with the husband, and the options seem forthright: gin and tonic, vodka press or an old fashioned. Those are the drinks I can navigate. When I go to a craft cocktail bar, however, I get lost.

Take my recent stop in Merchant, for example. Merchant is a cocktail afficionado’s dream. The options start at the finest scotch and head toward housemade bitters and syrups. The drink menu reads like a collection of short stories. I got through the first winter cocktail description and thought, That sounds great! Then I read the next one. And realized I still had pages to go.

Now for a young hipster, that is no problem. But I am neither. I'm not old, mind you, but have reached that age where I can't read well in the dark and have to hold things at arm's length for the letters to focus, which doesn't actually make reading the menu in a dark bar any easier. By the way, for those of you who have not reached that age yet, it's forty.

Here's the other issue: I generally only drink one craft cocktail, which makes choosing exactly the right one impossible. Not only am I a lightweight, but I am saving for a vacation where I can drink cocktails on a beach. So anyway, I scanned a few drink titles, and then just decided to order dinner—the Merchant classic burger never fails. The waiter, in a moment of pity (probably for my husband who was already done with his first beer), finally suggested the Thief in Spirit, a combo of tequila, Dolin Genepy Des Alpes Liquor, lime juice, orange juice and the house made  pear-cinnamon syrup. Bring it on.

I know it’s time. I'm willing to embrace this cocktail revolution with a little less reluctance— perhaps with reading glasses and a flashlight on hand.

The perfect opportunity to get started is only a few short weeks away. On Monday, February 24, The Wise bar inside HotelRED will host some of Madison's brightest and kindest mixologists for an event called the MadTown Shakedown. This cocktail competition, which is open to the public, will be similar to the cooking TV show Chopped in that the ingredients the contestants will use aren’t revealed until the competition begins. Using the surprise ingredients, the contestants prepare original cocktails and present them to a panel of distinguished judges, including Brian Lee, host of the CW network’s Open Dining food show.

The judges will score the drinks on appearance, aroma, flavor, balance and originality. There will also be a People's Choice award. Guests in attendance can participate in this round of judging by purchasing a $10 wristband that grants them a taste of each cocktail.

All the proceeds from wristband sales will go to REAP Food Group, which supports nutritious, safe and affordable food for all.

For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page

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About This Blog

Writing has always provided an anchor for my passions, which focus deeply on food, dance, environmental conservation and culture. I grew up “helping” my dad cultivate a prolific garden that produced too many radishes and watching my mom make almost all of our food from scratch, including horehound candy. Meanwhile I took my first African dance class in high school, which ignited my continuing quest to travel to West Africa, via Europe and South America, to study dance.

Through my travels, I learned that we are all connected by food, and our basic need to eat. Since moving to Madison in 1998 to pursue degrees in conservation biology and dance, I have developed an appreciation for the richness of our local food community, and a great desire to share it with others. What started as a personal food blog, A World of Flavors, has since grown into a business teaching cooking classes and leading local and international food tours.

I look forward to sharing culinary adventures with you through my Madison Magazine blog Local Flavor and monthly Dining In recipe column.

  – Otehlia Cassidy
Follow Otehlia on Twitter @madisoneats

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