Few places in Charleston lend themselves better to a 1940s Hollywood-themed cocktail party than the American Theater. Naturally it was the perfect venue for Tuesday night’s Ketel One Cocktail Classic. All 10 of the bartenders in the competition for best Ketel One vodka cocktail easily surpassed all the screwdrivers and Cape Cods I consumed as an undergrad. Muddled, mixed, juiced, and infused, bartenders from establishments like O-Ku, McCrady’s, FIG, and Fish brought their A games to the somewhat smallish crowd.  

Notable blends of the evening included a Stockholm 75 from Magnolia’s Giles Flowers, a refreshing Orange Flower Water Fizz from Jackson Holland at Reel Bar, and a Zen-sation Cosmo with Ketel One Oranje, lemongrass simple syrup, basil, and limes from Kelly Smith of Chai’s. 

Fish’s Evan Powell presented the Chucktown Mull, a rather apropos drink made of Ketel One Oranje, fresh orange juice, cilantro, and Blenheim Hot Ginger that he garnished to look like a palmetto tree (cilantro) under a Palmetto moon (orange slice). O-Ku’s Jasmine Beck mixed a Mary Full of Grace, the most incredible white bloody mary yet conceived made with Ketel One-infused heirloom tomatoes, tomatillo and peppercorns, and housemade tomato water with a sea salt rim. So, so good — fingers crossed that O-Ku starts dolling these out on the regular.

As always, McCrady’s was par excellence for presentation and creativity. Ben Mill and Tim Logan managed to eke out the juice of yuzu fruit and mixed it with homemade galanga beer, grapefruit bitters, and simple syrup. It certainly matched the imaginative cuisine that we’ve come to expect from McCrady’s.

Winner of the night and my personal favorite was the oh-so-fresh and summery “Cool Hand Collins” from Christian Broder at Social. Broder took a twist on the classic Tom Collins and mixed Ketel One Citroen, housemade jalapeno-infused sweet and sour mix, and a cucumber slice with cucumber foam garnished with an orange slice and cherry. I have it on good authority that this perfect hot-day-in-the-city cocktail will be served at Social in the very near future.