Behind the Bar Stick People

Who Created the Best Naked Cocktail in Philadelphia?

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Six of the best bartenders in Philadelphia gathered at Maison 208 for the Naked Grouse Cocktail Competition finals. A free and unforgettable trip to Denver was up for grabs, so each bartender arrived at the top of their game.

The finalists would have to perform in front of 100 people, who were drawn to the stylish multilevel cocktail lounge in Center City to see what local bartenders could do with Naked Grouse, a new all-malt-blended scotch finished in first-fill sherry casks. As a bonus, they were treated to complimentary cocktails at the first floor bar.

One finalist shakes up his signature cocktail at Maison 208.

Spectators had their choice of three specialty cocktails: the bright and bubbly Wood or Ice, the more herbaceous Bitter Truth or the classic Penicillin. The mouthwatering drinks weren’t made by the finalists—they were busy prepping upstairs—but they gave the crowd an idea of what Naked Grouse can add to a recipe.

Local DJ Sweat Daddy played music to build a sense of anticipation as the spectators moved upstairs to watch the finalists face off. When the time came to create and present their cocktails, the bartenders zeroed in on the judges.

Every cocktail had to feature Naked Grouse and be poured and presented in 15 minutes. But the story behind the recipe would be the factor that would separate the winner from the pack. The finalists had to explain the inspiration for the recipe, illustrating how each ingredient reflected the real, authentic and naked personality of the bartender.

The judges sip the Amorous Men Are Gullible, the winning cocktail from the Naked Grouse Cocktail Competition.

Miranda Helck did it all with her savory and unexpected creation, the Amorous Men Are Gullible. She infused Naked Grouse with dried shiitake mushrooms and added dashi syrup, made from a combination of sea kelp and fish flakes.

“I wanted to toy around with flavors that are tough to work with and turn them into something delicious and full of character,” says Helck. “It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s balanced, bright, flavorful and an expression of how Naked Grouse can enhance and carry flavors.”

It was certainly to the judges’ tastes, because they named her the winner of the competition. They saw that challenging herself to mix polarizing flavors wasn’t just representative of Helck as a bartender—it’s who she is as a person.

Miranda Helck, center, poses with the judges following her victory.

“We can all present ourselves as a fun sour cocktail or as bold as something spirit-forward and stirred,” says Helck. “But sometimes we have to let the funky and complicated parts of ourselves shine.”

That’s how Helck translated her naked personality into a stunning cocktail. And it’s why she traveled to Denver for the trip of a lifetime.