This past Sunday Sean and I went to Virtue Cider’s Stone Fence Competition at The Chicago Athletic Association’s Stagg Court – A renovated basketball court.
Stone Fence is a simple cocktail that has been around since the late 1700s. More traditional versions are made with a couple of ounces of rum, brandy or bourbon mixed with hard cider. The cocktails we had this day were anything but ordinary.
The creations had to use The Mitten, Virtue’s bourbon barrel-aged cider as well as local ingredients from Koval Distillery and Seasons Soda.
Here is the line-up of what we sampled.
Millet is a grain typically found in birdseed. The millet is aged in new American oak, and the millet provided an excellent balance between apple and whiskey flavors.
The Berkshire Room had our favorite millet cocktail. The sour apple inspiration was apparent in the drink. The cocktail was very tangy and sharp (from the addition of bitters). We could taste the blend of whisky and apple throughout the drink.
The Broken Shaker at Freehand Chicago‘s cocktail was a close second favorite.
A culinary approach was taken when conceptualizing this cocktail. The use of fresh herbs and green apple juice resulted in a fresh and refreshing drink (something to make us forget about Chicago winters), reminiscent of a crisp boozy apple salad.
Best Intentions‘ cocktail was inspired by the traditional long drink, but with more alcohol. Liqueurs were used to increase the spice and sugar content and some carbonation was added to help transform the cider into what was more traditional in the 1700s. The addition of the millet added a spirit forward finish.
Rum was the original spirit used in the Stone Fence – when the drinks consisted of a shot or two of rum with a glass full of cider. These rum based cocktails are boozier than the original, but the traditional features of it shine through.
The Northman‘s cocktail was our favorite rum-based drink. The drink was one of the more traditional takes on Stone Fence. The cherry and vanilla flavors highlighted the cherry bourbon notes in The Mitten, and the higher ratio of cider to rum (~5:2) allowed the cider to stand out.
Revival Food Hall was the other rum based cocktail. The spirit forward stirred cocktail blended chocolate, caramel, and orange with the apple flavors.
The Rye gave the cocktails a “stiff drink” feel, and the whiskey flavors tended to be more pronounced than the apple.
Billy Sunday had our favorite Rye-based cocktail. The Pine Apple Punch was inspired by the evergreen trees of Michigan (e.g., Spruce, Pine). The addition of the Pine and Spruce Tincture added herbaceous flavors to the cocktail, which had light apple flavors and finished with the taste of rye.
Au Cheval‘s cocktail was a unique blend that evenly balanced citrus notes and spice notes. The high acid lemon and lime and light apple flavors were mellowed out by vanilla, black licorice, and rye.
The Koval Bourbon is a blend of corn and millet and when used in the cocktails it provided a nice balance between the spirit forward whiskey and cider.
Dusek’s had our favorite bourbon cocktail. Inspired by oatmeal cookies, the cocktail used bourbon infused with steel cut oats. The raisin and cinnamon syrup added a touch of sweetness that balanced nicely with the cider and bourbon. With every sip, we could taste bourbon, apple, and oats.
“People’s Choice” winner Frontier Chicago‘s winter inspired cocktail was clean and simple. The fennel apple jam and lemon brightened up the warm flavors of the bourbon and cider. The apple flavors, while light, stood up to the bourbon.