ANNA MARIA – Rodney Rich, from The Waterfront Restaurant & Craft Bar in Anna Maria, has earned the people’s choice award for his whiskey-inspired “A Coal Miner’s Daughter” cocktail.
The recognition came during the Set The Bar craft cocktail competition at the Aloft hotel in Sarasota on Oct. 4.
In addition to winning the gold medal people’s choice award, Rich’s concoction also received the second-place silver medal from the panel of judges.
The Sarasota-Manatee Originals and Tito’s Handmade Vodka sponsored the contest that featured entries from 10 establishments that are members of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals. The group consists of locally-owned restaurants that share a passion for dining excellence and a commitment to community.
“Jason (Waterfront owner Jason Suzor) put me in a vodka competition. I’m from Kentucky. I don’t know anything about vodka, so I made the vodka into a whiskey,” said the Bradenton resident, who hails from Fort Thomas, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
Rich used boards – also known as staves – from a whiskey barrel to create his winning entry.
“I infused vodka with bourbon barrel staves from Maker’s Mark and vanilla. I added in some charcoal solution, egg whites and a burnt orange simple syrup I made,” Rich said of the process used to extract the whiskey flavor from the barrel wood.
“I have a buddy who works at Maker’s Mark and sends me the staves. I broke them down and infused the vodka with them. It turned out good,” he said. The infusion procedure, he said, takes six days.
“The egg whites bring down the sour flavor and makes a smooth and frothy head. The charcoal powder makes that black, dark, eerie-looking color. I like making drinks that don’t taste anything how they look,” Rich said.
Rich came up with his crowd-pleasing recipe on a whim after being given six days’ notice of The Waterfront’s entry in the cocktail contest.
“That was my first competition. There were about 150-200 people there and they voted us the best. I’m proud of my team. We went down there and rocked it.”
The Waterfront team included bartenders Lauren Zoller and Patty Reese, and cook Mike Rain.
Due to the labor involved, the cocktail entry deemed best by attendees and second best by the judges will not be a regular offering at The Waterfront.
“I do a smoked Manhattan, which I smoke over barrel stave,” Rich said, noting that you can find him behind the bar Monday through Friday.
“They worked hard and I’m happy they were able to get the people’s choice award,” said Suzor, himself a former bartender.
“I’m real proud of the craft bar. We were the first craft bar on the Island. We opened ours in Sept. 2013, when craft bars where just taking hold in Florida. Our craft bar is an extension of our kitchen, so all our bartenders bring their own culinary tools to work. They take it serious and I’m proud of them,” Suzor said.
Suzor said the craft bar revolution began about 10 years ago in New York City, when bartenders started steering away from standard ingredients.
“It’s the reinvention of the old bartender, where they made their own tonic and soda water and the ingredients were fresh – drinks that were built from the spirit up. You can buy a margarita mix that has yellow #5 and high fructose corn syrup or you can come to our bar and get fresh squeezed lime and sour mix and simple syrup that we’ve made from scratch,” Suzor said.