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Monteru: A Mixology Competition

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A bartending competition was recently held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. A half-dozen mixologists from some of L.A.'s finest drinking establishments were charged with the task of creating a new cocktail. But not just any cocktail. The barkeeps were asked to develop a beverage using Monteru Single Brandy. What is Monteru? I'm glad you asked. What's more, you'll be glad you asked.

Monteru was inspired in large part by the worldwide success of single-varietal wines since the 1970s. The concept was applied to spirits by distilling only single-varietal grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, Chardonnay from Burgundy, Merlot from Roussillon and Riesling from Alsace. The result is a brandy made from a single-grape varietal.

But this is no ordinary brandy. This is a double-distilled eau-de-vie crafted in old-fashioned small copper pot stills, then aged in French oak barrels previously used to mature cognacs. Whereas traditional brandies use several varieties of grape and are aged for several years (even decades) to take on the character of the oak barrels, Monteru is designed to retain the integrity of the fruit and the distinguishing characteristics of the varietal, creating a brandy with a range of unique and complex flavors. It is distilled twice to allow the spirit to gain enough purity without removing the characteristics of the grapes. It is produced by the distillery Tessendier & Sons, who have been using the same distillation method for four generations in the Southwest of France.

But how would this spirit fare as a cocktail? Certainly, you wouldn't treat it like some well liquor, and mix it with a carbonated beverage from the soda gun. No, a task like this would require the skills of a world-class mixologist. And so a contest was held. The categories the three-judge panel would consider: visual appearance, replicability (ease of making), taste and conceptual connection with Monteru. And for the winner: a trip to France, and an opportunity to visit the estate where Monteru is made.

From a list of more than 100 mixologists, 32 were chosen, and the list was eventually narrowed to six: Zack Patterson (Bagatelle), Julian Dixon (Rivera, Sotto, Picca), Connor O'Brien (Bazaar at the SLS Hotel), Pablo Moye (Pour Vous, Melisse), Brian Summers (Harvard & Stone) and Naomi Schilnek (The Spare Room at the Roosevelt Hotel).

The concoctions devised by this elite group of bartenders were nothing short of amazing. Each creator explained the inspiration for his/her particular cocktail, and demonstrated its preparation. And it was a spectacle to behold. And a delight to imbibe.

In the end, it was a very close competition. O'Brien won for visual presentation, Moye for replicability, Summers for taste, Patterson for conceptual connection, and the only woman in the bunch -- Naomi Schilnek tallied the highest overall score, scoring herself a trans-Atlantic trip in the process.

You'll be seeing Monteru soon. And while it's great straight, with the creativity of one of these top-notch mixologists, you'll discover a cocktail unlike anything else your friends are drinking. Of course, you may enjoy playing mixologist yourself and find your own favorite recipe. Cheers.