A weekend vibe ran through the air of Mad River sports bar in Lakeview, although it was only a Tuesday.

Among their regular crowd of jersey-wearing patrons, bartenders sported high heels and black was the uniform for tonight’s special occasion.

IMG_6663On the radar for the evening: Jack Daniels’ Cocktail Throwdown.

IMG_6799Shuffling past the numerous LCD screens glowing with buzz-worthy playoff highlights, spectators of all sorts converged in front of Mad River’s back bar, tonight’s center stage for the dazzling display of cocktail fury that was about to go down. Five of Chicago’s savviest bartenders showed up to compete for the top spot, which included a trophy and night out courtesy of Mr. Daniel, a pair of Cubs tickets and of course industry bragging rights. Spectators did not walk away empty-handed either, with plenty of complimentary food, free drink tickets and Jack Daniel’s swag to go around.

IMG_6735The rules of contest were simple: make a cocktail using a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey (original Old No.7, Jack Honey or Jack Fire) and include at least one of the contest’s mandatory ingredients, ranging from ginger and basil to Tabasco and vinegar. Judges gave points based on time, taste and creativity. Two rounds of action equaled one total score, and the highest score took home the trophy. Make it nice and make it fast — but don’t forget the garnish.

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From such simplicity arose a colorful array of unbespoken artistry. Flavors spanning the palate came together into a single glass with speed and style. Old recipes were jazzed up while new classics were also being born. The results were as diverse as the city itself with no two drinks alike, except for all being damn fine whiskey cocktails.

IMG_6757Hailing from Moe’s Cantina, Enrique Cobos set the bar high, starting things off with a mix of Jack Fire, Rumchata and a dash of jalapeno flavoring poured over a cone of crushed ice, a refreshing and smooth ode to his ancestral roots. From there, Allie Erickson, one of two local Mad River competitors, heated things up blending the Jack Fire with lime, cinnamon and sugar, aptly called the Wildfire. Daniel Jahnke from Barcocina served up a Hillbilly Breakfast, using the Honey whiskey and adding hints of blackberry and basil with other natural flavors. Third up and representing Browstone Tavern and Grille was Tony Staunton, who produced the Misses Lynch, audaciously mixing both Jack Honey and Jack Fire with lime soda, surely receiving bonus points from the Jack Daniel’s judges. In the end, Mad River’s very own Amanda Cameron walked away the winner with her perennial favorites: the orange-juice-based OJ Did It and I Like It On Top, a sublime concoction of Jack Honey, lime, lemonade and red wine among other things.

IMG_6649Like any proper cocktail contest, the Jack Daniel’s Cocktail Throwdown was more than just a sight to behold. As the talented competitors were putting on quite a spectacle, churning out drink after drink in front of eager onlookers, the marvelous crew of Mad River was hard at work behind the scenes, replicating each concoction of newfound fame into miniature samples for all to try.

IMG_6748With summer slowly creeping in and the promise of warmer weather on its way, a cocktail will no doubt make the perfect accessory to a perfect day downtown. The innovative nature of the cocktail makes for an ever-expanding list of delectable choices. One may never find the time to try them all, and now, we’ve added even more to that list.