Charlotte is one of 40 cities on the search, and 11 handpicked bartenders from local watering holes competed in last night's most-inspired martini contest.
I had the lucky job of judging, along with Bombay Sapphire's global brand ambassador Merlin Griffiths (who proved to be an encyclopedia of information about the history of gin, the latest trends in cocktails and his favorite places to party), Cantina 1511's mixologist Nicole Sharpe and fellow nightlife columnist Brittney Cason from Creative Loafing.
One thing that set this bartending competition apart from others I've judged: a trip to Las Vegas and a mention in GQ was on the line.
The guys (sadly, no female bartenders) really brought out all the tricks including edible flowers, Brazilian sugar cane sticks, rose water, fried basil, elderberry, crystallized ginger and fresh kiwis. Some of the bartenders had been preparing ingredients as early as two weeks before the competition.
Considering that my only previous experience with gin was a requisite gin and tonic here and there, tasting last night's concoctions was like an explosion of flavors. Only 11 points separated first and last place, giving you an idea of how hard the guys worked.
But Stefan Huebner's "The Queen Charlotte" was so tasty that it prompted an expletive from Griffiths ("That was &*%$ing fantastic") and equally effusive praise from the rest of the judges.
His winning cocktail consisted of Bombay Sapphire, Campari, Prosecco, peach bitters, simple syrup, orange juice and a candied sugar twist for garnish. He called it a new twist on a classic '40s cocktail called the French 75.
Huebner will go on to compete against his fellow Top 40 in Las Vegas over Labor Day weekend and will be featured in the "Man of the Year" issue of GQ magazine, on newsstands in December.
His first thought when he won? "There goes all my gambling money."
He praised his competitors Wednesday as he nursed his celebratory hangover: "I was really excited to win because everybody brought it last night. Everybody's cocktails looked great."
You can find Huebner and his yummy cocktails (his cantaloupe martini won at Bar Wars 2008) at the new Cosmos in Ballantyne.
Congrats, and good luck in Vegas!