October 14, 2010

Las Vegas Debrief: The Harlem Shot Drink Showcase

harlem_bottle.jpgSo we're finally back from Las Vegas, and the hangover has mostly subsided enough to talk about some of our experiences there. For those of you who don't know, we went out to Sin City for the Harlem Shot Drink Showcase. For those of you who don't know what Harlem is, it's a new herbal liqueur we never got a chance to try until we were actually in Vegas (not that it took much convincing to get us out there anyway). For those of you who don't know what a shot drink is - there's not much we can do to help you.

Keep reading for our quick review of Harlem itself, a brief description of our time in Vegas, and our thoughts on the "2 ounce cocktails" we tried at the showcase itself. Oh, and for those of you laughing at the quality of the picture on this post - you try snapping a good shot on an iPhone, in the dark, after sampling 13 or 14 shots.

Our Take on Harlem
As we mentioned in our previous article, Harlem is a kruiden (herbal) liqueur, and we defy anyone to discuss it without using Jagermeister as a reference point. They are similar liqueurs, branded differently, and our longtime readers (hi, mom) know we were historic fans of Jager's consistency, flavor, and overall punch.

That said, Harlem does stand out by hitting a few different flavors than Jager. When we tried it (ice cold of course), we were greeted by that old familiar bitterness of your herbal liqueurs, but without the grit-your-teeth-and-grunt quality of Jager. We also tasted orange pith and - this will either make you love it or hate it - it reminded us a bit of the root beer plus camphor flavor of Moxie soda. We happen to love Moxie, and we happened to drink our weight in Harlem. But seriously - even folks who have sworn off Jager should give Harlem a try...we think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The Showcased Shots of the...Showcase
One thing that was interesting was the huge differences between the drinks we tasted at the Showcase. The event itself was held in a private room at the Palms Casino, with fifteen or so stations and shots being made to order. The event itself was hosted by Harlem and Tasting Panel, and there were bartenders from all over the country in the showcase (Chicago, San Franciso, LA, Orange County, Phoenix, New York, Miami, Las Vegas). Each city had drinks representing the fan favorites and the judge's favorites from competitions in each market. The point of this gathering wasn't to choose the One Shot to Rule Them All (tm) but instead to show them all off and declare everyone a winner, like a grade school soccer game but with shots.

We cruised around the tables, speaking to most of the bartenders about their creations, and we were really struck by the creativity involved. These weren't your typical "dude, it'sh one AM letsh do shots" kinds of drinks - many of them were very balanced and understated drinks that it felt a shame to slam. Most of them could stand on their own as cocktails, as odd as that might sound, and the best of them focused on extracting one particular flavor from Harlem - the orange, the herbs, the bitterness - and complementing that.

We had more than a few favorites - and there were a few more featured as well but the bartenders were apparently too hung over to stick around for the entire show so we didn't get to try them. Some of the most intriguing flavors we bumped into with the shots were oatmeal cookie, an interesting take on the blood and sand, even ginger snaps. Ingredients included alcoholic whipped cream, handmade marmalade, rosemary, limoncello, pumpkin pie filling, and even Red Bull and Coke.

The point of the event wasn't to name favorites, but of course...we're going to. There were multiple excellent shots, but below are the ones we wished we could have blown up to full-sized cocktails:

HARLEM Renaissance
Andrew Record from Hacienda del Sol
Lemon Cello
Rosemary Infused Simple Syrup
Soda Water
Fresh lemon juice
Thin zest of an Orange
Combine ingredients in a tin. Shake and strain into a shot glass. Garnish with the thin zest of an orange.

HARLEM Express
Dan Long from First & Hope/STK
1 oz. HARLEM
3/4 oz. Chilled Espresso
3/4 oz. Vanilla Syrup
1/4 oz. Cream

Add HARLEM, Espresso & Vanilla Syrup to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a shot glass. In a separate container, shake cream until slightly whipped. Float cream on top of shot.

HARLEM Marmalade
David Ruiz from Mr. Smith's
1 oz. HARLEM
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1 bar spoon homemade Triple Citrus Orange Marmalade (ThatsMyJamm.com)

Add HARLEM and Fresh Lemon Juice to shaker. Add Marmalade and ice. Shake very hard to break down Marmalade. Double strain and pour into a shot glass.

Find the rest of the winners and their recipes at the Harlem Blog.

All in all it was a great trip, and we got to meet a lot of great folks along the way. We have plans to write a companion article that discusses our time away from the shot competition - tentatively entitled "10 Things We Learned in Vegas" but we'll see if we get the gumption. We'll say we don't think Harlem will necessarily be for everyone in its raw "Slamsterdam" form (chilled Harlem, down the hatch) but we can guarantee that among all the drinks we tried everyone could find one they would enjoy.

We'll leave you with some links to other coverage from the event, which we'll update as we find more.

HARLEM Kruiden Shot Drink Showcase @ The Palms Casino [via Manolith]

Sexiest Liqueur of All Time (Video) [via Bourbon Blog]

We're expecting to see more stories from Thirsty in LA, 7x7, Imbiber, Manjr, and Complex Magazine - assuming they sober up enough to write them.

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Posted by Jake Jamieson at October 14, 2010 8:40 PM
Recent Comments

Harlem = Swill

Posted by: Mike at February 11, 2011 11:03 PM

It took a few weeks, but I did finally sober up long enough to post a report. Proost!


Posted by: Thirsty in LA at November 1, 2010 1:11 AM

Glad you made it out to Vegas and enjoyed the Showcase. Till next time, Proost!

Posted by: Julie at October 19, 2010 1:42 PM
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