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Imaginative Bartending: Q&A with Devon Boyll of Plat 99 and Tini
The double-duty drink-slinger faced off with 45 of his kind in Las Vegas this month in an effort to claim the title Most Imaginative Bartender, a GQ cover, and bragging rights.
JONATHAN SCOTT: First, congratulations. How many bartenders did you square off against in Indiana to win entry to the national competition?
DEVON BOYLL: There were nine of us total for the regional. It was held at Ocean Prime on August 27. It was actually kind of crazy because we were the last regional market to finish. Once I won the regional, it was right off to Vegas 11 days later. I actually had to change my schedules at both jobs to be able to make it.
JS: What were the dates you were competing in Vegas?
DB: I was in Vegas from September 7 through 10. The semifinals, when everyone competed, were on the 8th. The top 10 advanced to compete on the 9th.
JS: Do I have it right that the Vegas cocktail competition involved 50 bartenders, one from each state?
DB: There were 46 bartenders total. Not necessarily from every state. There was one guy from Canada and even a women from South Africa. Some of the bigger markets like Vegas had two competitors. California also had a couple.
JS: What was your drink of choice in the Indiana competition, and was it same for Vegas? Also important: What's in it?
DB: Yeah, drinks were the same for both competition. My drink:
2 oz. Bombay Saphire Gin
0.75 oz. Lillet Blanc, a French aperitif wine made mainly from Bordeaux grapes—people may recognize this as a popular ingredient in Bond's Vesper Martini.
0.5 oz. Freshly-squeezed lemon juice
0.5 oz. Toasted Coriander and cinnamon simple syrup—an ingredient I made on my own.
Freshly grated cinnamon on top as garnish, and I also threw in a little cayenne pepper to add a kick.
My inspiration for this drink was a classic cocktail called the Corpse Reviver No. 2. This is one of my all-time favorite cocktails. It is a very bright and awakening drink. It was originally created by Harry Craddock in his 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. If you have never had one, I highly suggest it.
Also, I named the drink Season's Turning. I wasn't sure what to expect the first time I made it. I knew it would be fairly citrus-y from the lemon and the Lillet, but wasn't really sure how my homemade simple syrup would taste. After playing with the ratios, I really liked how it was very bright and citrus-y but also warming from the cinnamon in the drink. So it reminded me of summer turning into fall, which is how i got the name.
JS: What were some of the wildest drinks that you saw crafted at the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition? Who made them, and where were they from? I heard that one involved incense.
DB: [Laughs] Yeah, the wildest cocktail that I came across was made by one of the Canadian competitors. It involved incense, pita, and a homemade chutney. I've got to give it to him, though. It was way more imaginative than mine, which was one component of the competition. The whole point was that it all told a story. I never got to hear the story, but he lit the incense and then made a very citrus-forward cocktail. The pita with his homemade chutney served as the sweetener for the drink. You drink, then take a bite. Pretty original, if you ask me.
JS: Where did you place in Vegas out of the participants?
DB: Not sure where I placed. The finals involved the top 10 from the semifinals. You made it or you didn't, so not sure.
JS: Who did you think should've been the victor?
DB: The guy that won deserved it. He did a great cocktail for both the semifinals and finals. His name is Julio Cabrera, and he works in Miami. He does national competitions all the time. He is basically a god in the mixology world.
JS: Who's your drink-slinging hero or a cocktail-making mentor—personally, in real life to date—or in the culture of crafting cocktails at large?
DB: The person that has taught me the most is the GM of Plat 99, Michael Gray (pictured at left), formerly from The Libertine. I also really look up to Josh Gonzalez, who is currently working at The Ball and Biscuit but also in the middle of opening his own bar in Fountain Square, which will be called the Thunderbird.
DB: I have been at both for the same amount of time. I started them both in late December. Before, I was working as a bartender and server at Palomino.
JS: What's your favorite drink to make on the fly?
DB: The Negroni is easily my favorite cocktail to make and drink. People who appreciate the Negroni's bittersweet profile are few and far between. If you come to my bar and order one, I am probably going to try and start a conversation with you because I know you're going to be cool.
JS: What's the mark of a fine cocktail?
DB: The marks of truly great cocktails are layers of flavor. You don't want it to be the same all the way through. Each sip should have beginning, middle, and end.