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The Wilmington Cocktail: An Origin Story

Updated January 19, 2021
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For the past few months, we’ve had a blast with Aviation Gin in seeking out THE BEST cocktail submission to represent the city of Wilmington. Look back on our journey with us!

“If Manhattan can have one, why can’t we?”

It all started a week or two after the Presidential Election when Joe Biden was declared our nation’s President-Elect. With Biden having strong ties to Wilmington, our team quickly realized what this win would mean for us. Thrust into the spotlight for the foreseeable future, we were beginning our journey to becoming the nation’s HOTUS (Hometown of the United States.) People who once couldn’t locate Delaware on a map all of a sudden were using a microscope to get to know us better. “What’s Wilmington known for?” “What is there to do?” “Where does Biden like to eat?” “What is The Queen?”. 

The influx of questions had US asking OURSELVES, “How do we showcase our city to the entire nation?”

“Well,” we thought, “We do love a good cocktail…” and the concept for The Wilmington Cocktail Contest was born. We reached out to our friends at Aviation Gin, (which is owned by MY CELEBRITY CRUSH Ryan Reynolds!) and after hearing about our idea, they worked with us to finetune the details. Any and all could enter, whether you were a Wilmingtonian or not. No more than 4 ingredients to keep it simple so it would be easily replicated, with bonus points for using ingredients that have meaning to our state.

Aviation Gin’s Natasha Sofia does an interview with local press for The Wilmington Virtual Dedication Ceremony, last Thursday. (Matt Jones Photography)

After that, everything snowballed…

You see, part of Delaware’s charm is that EVERYBODY really knows EVERYBODY, so collaboration is just something that comes naturally. It’s a part of the state’s DNA; we depend on our relationships with others to get things done and succeed. Even though I wasn’t born and raised here, I STILL feel like I belong, and it’s because of the connections I’ve made in the communities I’ve been involved in all over the state. 

I’m getting all sentimental over here, back to the snowballing!

“What about a Dedication Ceremony at Le Cavalier? I have friends there, and we can probably get Aviation Gin to come down from NYC,” our head of PR, Katie Zamarra, volunteered. 

“Yes, a ceremony! I grew up with State Senator Sarah McBride, maybe she would be willing to do the dedication!” exclaimed Witt Godden, our Director of Strategic Marketing for Tapp Network (who runs the It’s Time campaign).

The more we talked about it and kicked around ideas, the more excited we got.

“Let’s reach out to the national media and Ryan Reynolds,” suggested my boss, Joe DiGiovanni.

“What if we do a People’s Choice contest where we call on the community to get involved?” I offered. 

Our community coordinator, Lacey Eriksen, found the perfect platform to host the People’s Choice, which ended up bringing in over 19,000 votes!

The excitement kept growing, and then, before I could even process what I was shouting, I yelled, “If Manhattan can have a cocktail, why can’t we?!”

 

A National Contest and 19,000 Votes

With the rules published, all we could do was advertise the competition and wait for those entries to pour through. And boy did they! We had entries from some of our favorite spots like Bardea, Copper Dram, Torbert Street Social, Columbus Inn, and Crow Bar. We had aspiring freelance mixologists like Miss SabrinaNubian Bartending, and The Bar Chief.

We even had a submission FROM FLORIDA (which technically made the competition go National!). At the end of the 7-day contest, we received 25 submissions TOTAL and sent them off to Natasha Velez, the National Director of Education and Advocacy for Aviation Gin, to comb through and test out the recipes to choose just one winner! (Check out all the submissions here!)

Kate Gantner and Fazal Vandal were the chosen winners of The Wilmington Cocktail Contest, and reside in Wilmington’s Forty Acres. (Matt Jones Photography)

In the meantime, we launched The People’s Choice Award contest. This contest was important to me because I wanted to give people a voice in choosing a cocktail they thought repreented their hometown. Throughout this campaign, it’s been evident to me that Wilmingtonians want to be HEARD and want the authenticity of our city represented. 

Votes flooded in, with almost 1,000 on the first night! Our team was constantly checking the tallies as the lead toggled between 4 competitors. We loved seeing our community get involved by sharing their favorite entries with their friends on social media. At the end of the week-long contest, we had over 19,000 votes and a winner who beat out second place by just 100 votes.

 

More Pivoting, Collaboration, and Going Live

As we pitched ideas to Aviation to get Ryan Reynolds to make an appearance (Remember that whole crush thing?) a last-minute decision was made to transition our in-person event to virtual. After some consideration we asked ourselves, “How do we respect social distancing but make it all worth watching?” 

If you didn’t catch on by now, we talk to ourselves a lot at It’s Time.

Enter our in house genius, Witt Godden, who has a lot of experience with productions. “I decided on turning Le Cav into a semi-studio setting. Think ‘Good Morning America’ meets ‘The View’. We were able to have The Wilmington contest winners on one camera, have our People’s Choice Award Winner tune in remotely, along with the fantastic newly elected State Senator, Sarah McBride.”

The broadcast streamed through Facebook Live so we could respect Covid Guidelines. We even interviewed our People’s Choice winner, Jasmine Rochester, from her home! (Matt Jones Photography)

We pulled it off!

We streamed the broadcast (watch it for yourself, here!) from 6 locations, 3 of which were inside of the INSANELY GORGEOUS Le Cavalier. The coordination and behind the scenes work from Aviation, Le Cavalier, the press, and It’s Time took a lot of precision and attention to detail, but it worked. 

Aviation’s Sr. Brand Marketing Manager, Adrian Molina, commented on air,  “With Wilmington being a great American city and becoming the Hometown of the United States…and Aviation Gin being a pioneer in the Gin category, it was a natural fit. How can anyone say no to having a namesake cocktail for what is going to be a very, very fun city in the coming years? So it was a match made in heaven!” 

We counted down our People’s Choice Winners and even got to interview Jasmine Rochester of The Bar Chief, whose drink was a twist on the standard gin & tonic, with rosemary lavender simple syrup, lime juice, and tonic. “It came from the heart. Win, lose or draw I said, ‘This is what I’m going to submit.’”

That’s another theme that really resonated throughout this contest: creativity. We have always known that Wilmington is a vibrant, bustling city that takes its art seriously. We were even named one of the Top 40 Most Arts Vibrant Communities in the United States this past fall! To see that creativity come out of our city’s own volition was extremely special and reminded us why we are so lucky to live here in the renaissance as we officially take the title of #HOTUS. 

During her official dedication of the cocktail, State Senator Sarah McBride commented, “As someone who was born and raised here and now a member of the city’s legislation there is no title that I’m prouder to have than Wilmingtonian. To me, this competition represents the exciting creativity of the city. Our creativity, our diversity, our innovative and persistent spirit, those are the defining features that makes Wilmington a great place to live, to work, and to play.”

 

I’m “The Wilmington,” Nice to Meet You.

The Wilmington combines peach simple syrup, lemon juice, Aviation gin, and cinnamon. (Matt Jones Photography)

The last part of our broadcast featured the debut of The Wilmington, the brainchild of Fazal Vandal and Kate Gantner who live in Wilmington’s Forty Acres. “We love the city of Wilmington and we love cocktails so we thought we might as well give it a shot!” commented Vandal during the livestream. Upon explaining their inspiration and process, Gantner commented, “Peach and lemon seemed too bright and needed something to ground it so we decided to go with cinnamon on top, and The Wilmington was born!”

So here it is, in all its glory: The Wilmington:

Ingredients:
  • 1.5 oz Aviation gin
  • 0.75 oz Peach Infused simple syrup (you can order this pre-made too!)
  • 1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • Ground cinnamon garnish
Steps:
  • Combine gin, peach-infused simple, and fresh-squeezed lemon in a shaker tin.
  • Shake.
  • Strain into a martini glass, served up, no ice.
  • Garnish with ground cinnamon.
Sarah McBride
State Senator Sarah McBride dedicated The Wilmington to our city virtually through Facebook Live.

 

The flavor profile of The Wilmington is sweet, subtle, and a testament to our city and state. It gives a nod to our historical roots as one of the premier exporters of peaches back in the day. (Fun fact: now our biggest fruit export is strawberries!) The ingredients of peach simple syrup, lemon juice, Aviation gin and cinnamon blend together and collaborate like our city does; each unique and distinct on their own, but more powerful and bigger together. It showcases our city’s creativity and resilience, all in that first sip. It goes down easy, and trust me, you’ll want another.

Unfortunately, Ryan Reynolds was on set filming throughout the entire contest, so my hopes of catching a glimpse of my celebrity crush were…well, crushed. But at least we got an incredible cocktail and a great reminder of who we are!


What was your favorite part of our “The Wilmington” cocktail contest journey? Comment below, and, as always, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube

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