Thirty minutes before she had to submit what turned out to be a winning cocktail contest recipe, Lauren-Taylor Axt was still tinkering.
Axt, who works at Chattanooga’s Chato Brasserie, had made an estimated 70 different drinks in order to come up with what she hoped would please judges in the first Broker’s Bowler Cup competition, which required the use of Broker’s Gin and fewer than seven ingredients.
“We played and played and played,” says Axt, 21, who has worked at the North Shore restaurant since it opened around two years ago. “We had some really willing taste-testers [in] trying to decide what recipe to send it.”
The recipe for her Mule Broker cocktail was one of 75 submitted from across the country for a three-week Facebook vote and one of three that won the East region that includes Chattanooga. The winners from each of the four regions then replicated their drinks at a mixologist competition in Los Angeles presented by The Tasting Panel Magazine and sponsored by Broker’s Gin.
A trip to Tales of the Cocktail, the world’s premier cocktail event in New Orleans, was on the line for each of the four regional winners.
Keri Eliason, marketing brand manager for Hood River Distillers, distributors of Broker’s Gin, and one of seven judges, says Axt’s Mule Broker had “a freshness and lightness that everybody loved.”
“It’s refreshing,” she says. “I could definitely see it being a super popular cocktail, especially in the hot summer months.”
Cocktails were judged based on taste (50 percent), creativity/originality (20 percent), visual presentation/appearance (20 percent), and creativity and appeal of the recipe’s name (10 percent).
The Mule Broker, based on the vodka-based Moscow Mule drink, has gin, egg whites, lime juice, simple sugar syrup, a lychee nut puree, fresh thyme and Fever-Tree ginger beer.
“The Moscow Mule is a traditional drink that’s been around for a while that Chattanooga’s just now becoming exposed to,” Axt says. “It’s grown like wildfire. It’s served in a copper mug. People love it, and they say, ‘I want that. I don’t care what it is.’”
She began her creation with gin instead of vodka, ginger beer and lime, giving it a similarity to the original drink, then played with the other ingredients.
“Botanicals and herbs can easily be mixed [with gin],” says Axt. “To everybody in the mixology world, herbs are everything. They balance out all the different flavors.”
Just prior to being submitted for the contest, though, the Mule Broker was a mint drink, she says. A last-minute change substituted thyme for mint and may have proved the difference.
Alex Canale, co-owner of Chato Brasserie with Chris Casteel, says Axt was one of the restaurant’s original hires. She moved quickly from lunch server to dinner server, then “took on the bar by storm,” he says.
“She’d never bartended before,” he says. “She is literally a sponge behind the bar, from learning how to do everything to creating menu concepts to training other employees on her cocktails.”
Axt says former Chato Brasserie employee Jarron Harris was her mentor behind the bar.
“I came from a small farm town [Estill Springs, Tenn.],” she says. “It seemed like behind the bar was this magical word — something I wanted to tackle and get experience with. [Harris] was very patient with me. We had a lot of fun after [restaurant] hours and before hours experimenting. He taught me the ropes behind the bar. There was no strict [course]. He taught me how exciting it is.”
She says the Broker’s Gin Tasting Room in New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone was one of the busiest at Tales of the Cocktail earlier this month. She says she and the other regional winners had about an hour to make a vat of their drinks — the Mule Broker usually takes four to 10 minutes to make — and wound up serving around 500 people.
“The great thing about Lauren’s cocktail,” says Eliason, “is that it could easily translate to something to be consumed year-round. It was a fan favorite. The fact she was a winner among 75 entries speaks well of the cocktail.
“She also was really sweet, great to work with. Everybody was excited to have her involved. She had nothing but fantastic reviews.”
Canale says Axt is like a chef in the bar, infusing everyday kitchen items into cocktails.
“It’s encouraging and rewarding [in the] sense that we’ve given her a blank canvas to create whatever she wants to behind the bar,” he says. “She gained that trust with very little training, and the fact she mastered it so quick is amazing.”
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.