Paul Rabe has once again shown Savannah foodies that there’s more to the Bluffton and Hilton Head Island drinking scene than cheap beer in koozies and alcoholic sugar shakes.
For the second year in a row, the Bluffton bartender, who you can find making craft cocktails at The Lucky Rooster Kitchen and Bar on Hilton Head Island or at Calhoun’s in Old Town, took home the grand prize at the Savannah Food and Wine Festival bartender challenge last week.
Rabe represented both restaurants in the semifinals this past September, winning the bourbon category for Lucky Rooster with his Darjeeling 1888 Punch and winning the tequila category for Calhoun’s with his Farrier’s Reward.
Judges crowned Farrier’s Reward the overall winner in the final round of competition Nov. 9.
In addition to a cocktail shaker trophy, Rabe won $1,000 cash.
“For me, the way that I’ve always looked at it, especially working in Savannah for so many years, they have some really good bartenders (there),” he said Tuesday. “The idea of competing (against) them and trying to gain their respect is important, (but) it’s just nice to show that there are good things happening in Bluffton and Hilton Head.”
To prepare for the competition, Rabe took ideas he had been working on throughout the year and played around with them until he found the right combinations and techniques.
He only had five minutes to prepare and present his drinks to the judges, so he practiced both behind the bar and at home, where his many experiments began to take up valuable real estate in his kitchen.
“My wife gets back some of the fridge now,” he said.
Rabe’s Darjeeling 1888 Punch is made with Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon, Amontillado sherry, Sibona Camomilla and clarified chai. To assemble it, though, you have to “combine ingredients in mixing glass and stir for 10 revolutions or 5 secs. Strain neat into punch glass or over large cube in an old fashioned. Express and discard lemon peel. Garnish with dehydrated lemon wheel.”
In other words, just go to Lucky Rooster (unless “dehydrate lemon wheels” is on your DIY bucket list, you freak).
Rabe’s Farrier’s Reward is made with Herradura Anejo Tequila, Amontillado sherry, spiced tepache and Demerara Syrup (“Stir and strain into coupe spritzed with vida mezcal. Garnish with dehydrated pineapple flower.”).
Never fear, people who don’t have pineapple flowers in their spice cabinets or vida mexcal-spritzed coupes ... Calhoun’s will add the drink to its cocktail lineup soon — right after Rabe is done producing the tepache, a Mexican drink that has to be fermented in open tanks using the peel and rind of pineapples and then sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon.
But if it were easy, it wouldn’t have been called a bartenders “challenge,” right?