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Buffalo’s Best Mixologists Face Off in Cocktail Showdown

Tommy Lombardo's "Bellweather" featured cucumber-infused Nolet’s Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, creme de violette, lemon juice, and fresh lavender.

Tommy Lombardo’s “Bellweather” featured cucumber-infused Nolet’s Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, crème de violette, lemon juice, and fresh lavender.

On Monday, INdustry Night (IN) celebrated one year of bringing together Buffalo-area culinary professionals, writers, and food enthusiasts for twice-monthly themed events with a booze-soaked, open-to-the-public party and cocktail competition showcasing some of the finest mixology talent Buffalo has to offer. My fellow party-goers and I had the pleasure of sampling each of the four drinks vying for the title of “best,” and, overall, I was very impressed.

The Ruby-Fennel Fizz from Bacchus’s Michael “Greenie” Green was the first drink served. A combination of Nolet’s Gin, fennel seed-infused simple syrup, fresh grapefruit juice, and club soda, garnished with fennel fronds and a slice of grapefruit, it was a light and refreshing way to start the night.

Tony Rials’ winning “I Dream of G&T” earned high marks for its name, technical execution, appearance, and cohesiveness.

Tony Rials of Mike A at the Hotel Lafayette followed with I Dream of G&T, another Nolet’s-based cocktail whose name, I’m guessing, is a nod to its pink hue. With green Chartreuse, strawberry-chamomile tonic, strawberry water, and Chandon rosé, the drink tasted of herbs and flowers with an undercurrent of berry and a hint of of clove. It had an understated sweetness and complex flavor profile. The judges named it the night’s winning drink, scoring it particularly well for drink name, technical execution, appearance, and cohesiveness.

My personal favorite drink of the evening (and the crowd favorite, based on popular vote) was a Don Julio Reposado number called Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The drink was created by Vera Pizzeria bar manager Kerry Quaile, who combined the golden amber tequila with cucumber syrup, grapefruit shrub, Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Bitters, and champagne. The boldly flavored drink managed to be lip-smackingly tart upfront and sweet and spicy at the finish without overpowering the floral and herbal notes of the tequila. I could have kept drinking these all night.

Barely behind Breakfast at Tiffanys in terms of deliciousness and downright craveability was the judges’ pick for second-placea cocktail called Bellweather by Ristorante Lombardo’s Tommy Lombardo. For this unique riff on the classic Aviation, Tommy mixed cucumber-infused Nolet’s Gin with Dolin Blanc Vermouth, crème de violette, lemon juice, and fresh lavender. I worried that the drink would be overwhelmingly floral, but the bright acidity of the lemon and the drink’s ice-cold presentation tempered but didn’t mask the violet and lavender. It’s a drink that should put the bar at Ristorante Lombardo on every cocktail connoisseur’s must-try list. If you’re planning on attending the Italian Festival in August, note that the restaurant will be serving specialty drinks on its patio throughout the event.

A full rundown of how the judges scored each drink is available on IN’s Facebook page, where you can also find details on the group’s August 5 event: a pie bake-off and coffee tasting.