The cocktail scene in San Francisco is thriving and earlier this week I judged a competition hosted by the United States Bartender's Guild. There were eight bartenders from the Bay Area making drinks with DonQ rum in two distinct categories: a homemade ingredient-driven, spirit-based drink and a fruity, long drink served over ice in a tall glass.
The tasting was blind, fellow judges Martin Cate, owner of tiki bar Smuggler's Cove, and Borys Saciuk, brand ambassador for 42 Below Vodka, and I were behind a mirror, so we couldn't tell which bartender mixed which drink. Besides enjoying eight mighty delicious libations, I also learned some interesting things. To find out what they are, keep reading.
- Cocktail competitions are serious. If you think a cocktail competition is not serious, think again! There's an intense evaluation system when it comes to the drinks and the United States Bartender's Guild does not mess around. Technique (how the bartender makes/presents the drink), appearance, aroma, creativity, taste, and incorporation of theme are all considered. Everything is based on a certain number of points with some categories (like taste) counting more than others (like aroma).
- There are tons of beverage ingredients out there. I consider myself a pretty well-informed home bartender, but Martin and Borys were tossing around spirits and liqueurs I've never heard of, from averna to cocchi americano.
- Being a good bartender is way harder than it looks. Creating a drink that's complex and original and incorporates homemade ingredients is not easy to do. Neither is spending every weekend behind a bar shaking difficult-to-make drinks. The competition was held at the Burritt Room and bar manager Kevin Diedrich was wearing a special brace because he recently threw out his arm from too much shaking!
- Up-and-coming bartenders should focus on interesting, quick, and profitable drinks. Both Martin and Borys have been in the beverage industry for years, so it was fun to hear what they had to say about the future. The general consensus is that to succeed, bartenders need to create compelling cocktails that can be made quickly and sold profitably.
Have you been to a cocktail competition? What did you learn? Share with us below!