Stone Fence Virtue Cider Cocktail Competition


Tacos and Lonestars were put aside at Big Star while Virtue Cider and eleven cocktails amassed bar. The upstairs of their Wrigyleyville location hosted the fifth annual Stone Fence Virtue Cider Cocktail Competition. Eleven of Chicago’s finest bartenders gathered from across the city with their version of the historic Stone Fence Cocktail.

Traditionally, the Stone Fence is a cider, whiskey combination, but rules allowed the barkeeps to experiment with any Virtue Cider while mixing in their preferred spirit. Bourbon, rye and rum collaborations were prevalent among the entries. A couple barkeeps experimented with gin variations, but Zafar Banduka of The Native went as far as concocting a Virtue Cider Rosé and Jeppson’s Malort recipe.

The Native’s Zafar Banduka

The Native’s Zafar Banduka

The tradition of Malort may not run as deeply in the thread of the red, white and blue as the other competing spirits, still, the renegade history of America has established a desire for thirst. *According to Daniel Okrent in his book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, “When twenty-four-year-old George Washington first ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he attributed his defeat to his failure to provide enough alcohol for the voters.

There was no failure of enough alcohol on this frigid Sunday evening. The barkeeps poured pre-batched samples of their cider-spirit delights for 200 guests and a group of esteem judges to indulged on. Cocktail by cocktail, hour by hour, smiles grew on the faces of guests as they warmed up to their favorite Stone Fence renditions. As quickly as the cocktail samples were pulled off the bar, the bartenders replenished the 5 oz. cups for the next guests in line. And by the end of the competition, the judges would honor their champion, and People’s Champ would be crowned by the convinced tastebuds of the ticketed guests. 

Much like Washington’s second attempt at the Burgesses, Chicago’s finest impressed the judges and the public with various forms of alcohol. *“Washington floated into office part on the 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer his election agent has handed out.” But the competing barkeeps weren’t trapping votes by bribery, they purely allowed the integrity of their individual cocktails to earn them the title. The Swill Inn’s Brandon Sontag’s “War of Roses” was a delicious feat of Virtue’s Michigan Brut and cognac. Emily Nydam crafted “The Great Wall of India,” which provided amazing, elevating notes of apple pie and clove, derived from rye whiskey and Virtue’s The Mitten.

When three hours passed and the bar was at max capacity, the pours ceased and the votes tallied up. Two winners were to be named, and up first was the People’s Champ. Called to the stage was the creator of “Fresh Oil” – the man bold enough to base his cocktail with the infamous Malort. Banduka proudly raised his trophy–the size of a youth soccer league champion–over his head and chugged a can of Rosé.

Proxi’s Matt McClellan. McClellan’s

Proxi’s Matt McClellan. McClellan’s

As the cheers quieted for The Native’s barkeep, a new reign of applause was lifted for Proxi’s Matt McClellan. McClellan’s double cider, spiced rum, caramel simple syrup with a squeeze of lime sipper took first place of the competition. He embraced the two-foot trophy with the tender care of a child and the pride of an olympian. 2019’s competition was locked up by innovators modernizing the scale of mixology between spirits and cider. 

* Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent

jake hukee