Swag Off ’08: We Have a Winner!

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Since I was deep in the thick of competition and couldn’t take notes, I enlisted the services of Portland, Oregon food writer Ms. Lizzy Caston. Following is her report.

What does a group of creative bartenders do with bags full of promotional alcohol samples, mixers and condiments? Hold a contest to determine who can make the best drink using nothing but the swag handed out at Tales of the Cocktail.

Welcome to Swag Off ’08.

In true rogue spirit, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Daniel Shoemaker from the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon and Eric Adkins from the Slanted Door in San Francisco met Friday night on the roof the Monteleone Hotel by moonlight, in what is sure to become a legendary annual event.

The rules were simple. Gather together a group of three judges; in this case Keith Waldbauer, bartender at Union in Seattle and author of Moving at the Speed of Life, Lauren Clark from Drink Boston and Misty from LUPEC http://lupecboston.blogspot.com/. The lovely and vivacious Liquid Muse, Natalie Bovis-Nelson agreed to MC.

Ingredients included a hodge-podge of liquors not limited to airplane sized bottles of Bluecoat Dry Gin, G’Vine French Grape Gin, Pearl Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, Veev Acai Spirit, Poli Grappa and the most prominent swag at Tales this year: Canton French Ginger Liquor.


In lesser hands these drinks could have been small disasters, yet each contestant showed skill, inventiveness and their own personal touches. Jeff’s strategy was to, “take one of everything on the table and mix it together” in a technique reminiscent of a savant teenage mixologist at a house party. Eric on the other hand, took the molecular cocktail approach by smoking an inverted drinking glass over a Navan liqueur vanilla-scented aromatherapy candle. Daniel simply grabbed a few different ingredients and like a mad scientist on speed mixed and tasted and mixed some more.

All drinks were served up, and Eric’s had a whopping 2 oz of gin, a full oz of Veev, an undisclosed amount of grappa and the above mentioned “smoke of the vanilla candle”. Daniel chose chili powder, 7 whole dashes of Angostura bitters, agave nectar, 1.5 oz gin, ¾ oz grappa and ½ oz of Campari for his “Seat of the Pants” cocktail. Jeff could not resist muddling the Sour Green Apple Cocktail Candy http://www.cocktailcandy.com/ccandy/ccandy.html for his “Green Mile”, adding it along with 4 dashes of Campari, dashes of Angostura, with some of the gin, St. Germaine, Bitter Lemon and a float of Lemoncello.

While the judges reactions were mixed, no one “spat” which is surely a good sign. Feedback was generally positive with all judges agreeing that each certainly had the Spirit of the Cocktail in them. Yet a clear winner did emerge; Daniel Shoemaker’s Seat of the Pants. Look for it at a Bennigan’s or TGIF Fridays soon.

So congratulations Daniel. And remember, we are all winners at Tales of the Cocktail.

Thanks, Lizzie! Be sure to watch the video coverage of the event at the Small Screen Network.

10 Replies to “Swag Off ’08: We Have a Winner!”

  • Lizzy

    If you have, in fact, been writing this blog for several months now, then you’ve some serious explaining to do for both the quantity and the quality of posts in those months. I, for one, am offended by the work.


  • Lizzy Caston says:

    Yes, it is true. As of NOW I am taking over Jeff’s site, although tell them the truth Jeff. I’ve been writing his damn blog for months now anyway, because Jeff is too busy being a superstar to write it himself. Kidding. Jeff, it was fun writing this. If you ever want another guest blog post, count me in! And Natalie, it was a pleasure meeting you. Stay in touch!

  • Oh, sure, Kathy… the *one* post I don’t actually write myself…

    I might have to change the site to LizzyCaston.com!

  • Kathy Casey says:

    Loved the story and pics – I felt like I was there! Thanks!

  • Ted Munat says:

    I, like my fellow media whore Jamie, am disappointed to have missed out on this event. I feel like I could have offered something valuable to the proceedings, as I spent a great part of the week swagging off in my hotel room. There were some spectacular results, but no one to share them with.


  • This was one of the highlight events of the 5 days. Hilariously fun (if not a bit sweaty on the rooftop pool bar)

    Thanks to Lizzie for writing this great coverage. And, thanks to Jeffrey Morgenthaaaler for coming up with such a creative and fun idea.

    All six “Daily Recap Webisodes” will be on my homepage (and SSNetwork,and Tales) by tonight. The Swag Off is featured in Episode 4!!!

    xooxxoxoo The Liquid Muse

  • Jamie, you’re very much invited to next year’s Swag Off. Although, there is some speculation that you’d have too tough of a time without your little collection of bitters, flamethrowers, powders etc., I think another year of not bartending will give you plenty of time to practice.


    And Jennifer, we had a great week with you as well.

  • Jennifer Colliau says:

    you guys are f’n rock stars! and it was a pleasure spending the week with all you.

  • laura tran says:

    omg that was so funny i will have to buy the person a drink at the carousel bar next year who came up with the idea of swag off.

  • I can’t believe you f@#kers didn’t let me in on this!!! That’s a competition I’d actually consider competing in.
    Son of a BITCH!! It pisses me off that someone who lives in Washington’s “Mexico” and California’s “Canada” actually won this thing!
    ‘Til next year…
    (I’ll be the guy making a cocktail from the four different airplane bottles of vodka–blending vodkas adds complexity, don’t you know)

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