Looking for Honolulu's Most Inspired Bartender

John Heckathorn
Sam Treadway of the Waikiki Edition Lobby Bar holds his "most inspired bartender" trophy. On to the nationals in Vegas.

It’s not easy being a bartender these days. Cocktails are back, with a demand for fresh seasonal ingredients and housemade syrups, exotic liqueurs and bitters.

A bartender has become a culinarian, almost a chef.

Biting Commentary was  just at Pearl Ultralounge, where a dozen of Honolulu’s top mixologists vied for the local title of Most Inspired Bartender, a contest sponsored nationwide by Bombay Sapphire gin, GQ Magazine and the U.S. Bartenders Guild. 

Biting Commentary got to help judge the contest, which meant some careful sipping through a dozen often amazing cocktails.

Things like bartender-made simple syrup infused with lemongrass and ginger were the order of the day. But it got more complicated. One bartender made her own fresh tomato juice from Maui tomatoes and onions.

Another froze up some fresh pineapple and gin sorbet and served it in the little cup in the bottom of a fancy martini glass.

One contestant infused his gin with cantaloupe-flavored Jelly Bellies. Another infused his with English Breakfast tea, added clotted cream and strawberry preserves, served his drink with a lavender scone on the side.

What did it take to win?

Victor Sam Treadway of the Waikiki Edition lobby bar made a cocktail called a Reviver No. 11. 

Corpse Revivers (as they are properly called) are a series of 19th-Century American cocktails, back in the bad old days when people had cocktails in the morning to revive them from the night before.

Treadway’s was a variation on the most legendary of these drinks, the Corpse Reviver No. 2. 

According to the classic recipe, he added gin, lemon juice, bitters. But then he took it a step further. First he infused his simple syrup with Kahuku Farms vanilla. 

Then (left), he put a pieces of vanilla bean on a plate, torched them and turned his cocktail glasses upside over it. The sides of glass became coated with burnt vanilla flavors.

Once he shook his drinks, he poured them into  the prepared glasses. Not done yet. A Corpse Reviver No. 2 calls for one drop, and just one drop, of absinthe. More would ruin the drink.

Treadway had his absinthe in a spray bottle, so he could add just a spritz.

The result: a cocktail of wondrous depth, balance and complexity, spicy, citrusy, full of burnt vanilla flavor. Biting Commentary was deeply saddened that he could drink only a few sips; far more drinks to come, he had to keep his wits about him.

The result for Treadway: bragging rights, a trophy and a trip to Las Vegas to compete in the national competition. 

Win the nationals and you end up on the cover of GQ Magazine’s Man of the Year issue (presumably in a real nice suit). You also get to be a "brand ambassador," presumably encouraging yet more bartenders to make drinks with Bombay Sapphire.

If those drinks are as good as Treadway’s, you really can’t complain.