Start with one part public service and stir in the creative energies of Annapolis bartenders.
Add members of state and national restaurant organizations and a few local politicians. Sprinkle with equal parts of live music, other performing arts, and a lesson on celebrating -- responsibly, that is.
The third annual FirstNightCap Challenge at Loews Annapolis Hotel pitted local bartenders against each other in a friendly competition to concoct the tastiest nonalcoholic beverage in Annapolis Wednesday.
Sponsored by First Night Annapolis and the Automobile Association of America (AAA) Mid-Atlantic, the contest kicked off First Night Annapolis, the region's only alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration of lively arts.
"What we want to do is encourage responsible celebrating through the arts," said Elizabeth Welch, Executive Director for First Night Annapolis.
The First Night celebration started in 1990 with 83 performances at 32 sites. The event has grown. This year, 175 performances by 200 musicians, actors and other artists will bring the streets of Annapolis to life to ring -- and sing -- in the New Year.
Garvin Kissinger, Vice President of Public Relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic, opened the contest by reciting the grim statistics of drinking and driving and denouncing alcohol advertisements aimed at youths.
Then, with the strains of a guitar strummed by local musician Mack Bailey for background music, the tasting began. Judges and guests wended their way around tables to sample from the ciders, cocoa, and other drinks carefully prepared by nine restaurants.
"This is a real treat. This is one time I really like being a judge," said Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, setting down an empty glass that had contained Chart House Mud Pie Shake.
Another judge, local jazz musician Charlie Byrd, who said he usually shies away from New Year's Eve celebrations, took his time making the rounds.
"I'm having fun. One of my objections to New Year's Eve has been the drinking part. This might get me out yet," he said, laughing.
Joyce M. Williams, marketing director of Ferris, Baker Watts, Inc., Investments, one of First Night's sponsors, explained that the contest was designed to publicize the celebration and promote a family-oriented alternative to drunken carousing.
"I think it gives the Baltimore and Washington area an opportunity we didn't have. At midnight you have strollers with babies, and older people gathered -- whole clans," she said.
At other tables, Buddy's Crabs and Ribs offered cups of wine-based "Broulet" -- with the alcohol cooked out, of course.
Steamboat Landing ladled helpings of its Barn Burner, a steaming brown sugar, cinnamon and spice concoction.
Juan Alfredo's, Mum's Grill, and Armadillo's checked in with cider recipes; Lowes' restaurant, The Corinthian, created a cranberry juice and citrus fruit-based James Grog; The Treaty of Paris, Drummer's Lot Pub brought Mandarin Mocha Cocoa, a hot-chocolate mixed with orange extract and cinnamon; and Herndon, Virginia-based Cafe Northwest Espresso Bar steamed some Mocha Mint.
In the end, the award for best sweet drink went to the Mandarin Mocha Cocoa, whipped up by Drummer's Lot's barkeeper Sandy Evans. Juan Alfredo's Waterfront Cafe received the honors for the best tart drink with its Chesapeake Cider, created by bartenders Matt Tove and Jan Esielonis.
First Night Annapolis Buttons, offering eight hours of entertainment, are available for $8 at locations around the county. The price will rise to $10 Dec. 15. For information, call 787-2717.