Bartender competitions are in full swing these days, with The Standard Pour’s epic Bar Brawl having wrapped up a few weeks ago after a two-month-plus run and another tournament set to launch next week at The Lodge. But “The Shake Up,” which kicks off tonight, stands out for one reason: It’s strictly for the ladies.
Armoury DE general manager Rosey Sullivan, who organized the competition, wanted to show that there is plenty of female bartending talent to go around. It didn’t sit right with her that of Bar Brawl’s 14 contestants, only two were female – and pitted against each other in the first round. The situation didn’t so much anger her as open her eyes to an inherent bias she says pervades the profession.
“I thought, the best way to show that ‘male’ and ‘craft bartender’ aren’t synonymous is to showcase all the female talent that exists,” Sullivan said. “What better way than to host another competition?”
Shake Up’s 16 contestants will be matched against each other in teams of two for a weekly $200 prize. There’ll be a speed round, while another will involve a Daiquiri variation. The competition will feature all-female judging panels, too, including local industry veterans like Remy Cointreau rep Amy Florez and bartenders Jones Long and Mandy Meggs. Meanwhile, Armoury’s all-female front-house management team – including Sullivan, Megan Christiansen and Kelsey Hanshew – made the bar a perfect place to host the Monday-night competition, Sullivan said.
Tonight’s match will pit Madison Carney of Ruins (Deep Ellum) and Katie Morgan of The Charles (Design District) against Candy Gaines of High & Tight (Deep Ellum) and Taylor Weidman of 2 Charlies Bar & Grill (Denton).
Part of each week’s proceeds will benefit a women-focused charity such as Altrusa, Genesis House, Dress for Success and the Dallas Women’s Foundation.
What does Sullivan hope to accomplish beyond female visibility? Making the local female bartender’s network stronger, for one. The title round will be held in early February with a $3,000 reward at stake – though not a one of those who Sullivan asked to participate ever even asked about that detail – which may just go to show just how strong that network already is.
Dallas’ cocktail/spirits community is reeling over the sudden loss of two local bartenders, both lost to unrelated illnesses.
Chad Yarbrough of Armoury, D.E., and Josh Meeks of Henry’s Majestic died within hours of each other late Sunday and early Monday morning.
Yarbrough, who had just turned 33, was a gentle soul whose warmth and steady presence at Armoury, D.E., and beyond earned him the affection of colleagues and patrons alike.
The influence of the force known as “The Cobra” was evident in the outpouring of sentiment that filled his Facebook timeline through the night and into Monday morning, from Shoals’ Omar Yeefoon, who was “absolutely gutted to lose someone so amazing so young,” to High and Tight’s Austin Gurley, who called Yarbrough “one of the most genuine and solid dudes I’ve known.”
The local cocktail/spirits community is tight knit, historically driven by a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats mentality, so when loss hits, it cuts deep and wide. Yarbrough’s abrupt passing is the second to befall the cocktail community – and specifically Elm Street in Deep Ellum – this year, following that of beloved Brick and Bones general manager Ian Brooks, killed by a hit-and-run driver in May.
Yarbrough, who died of liver failure, had been with Armoury and its nearby sister bar, Ruins, since its opening days, and the bar had hosted a fundraiser just two weeks ago to help pay his medical bills at Baylor Dallas.
“Our hearts are heavy today,” read the post on Armoury’s Facebook page. “It is difficult to find the words to describe the loss of such a dear friend to so many of us…. It was our absolute privilege sharing the room with you through the years.”
“We all lost a beautiful soul today and heaven gained an angel,” wrote Spec’s rep Brian McCullough, co-founder of The Standard Pour in Uptown. “I’m so sorry we lost you. I love you brother!”
Keisha Cooper of Uptown’s Circo recalled karaoke nights with Yarbrough and his willingness to dress in drag for a charity event.
“You will always remain a light in this often-dark world that will never flicker, never fail,” she wrote. “Catch you on the flip side, boo.”
“This guy had the biggest heart,” said Austin Marc Graf of Henry’s Majestic, who said he was there the night Yarbrough got his first tattoo.
And Shoals co-owner Michael Martensen remembered how Yarbrough would stop by the bar daily on his way to 7-Eleven just to say hi and shake hands.
“Getting to know Chad Yarbrough over the past years was a joy,” Martensen said. “Enjoy the ride, Chad. You earned the respect and trust of many.”
And encapsulating the thoughts of the entire community, he finished by saying, “I am blessed to have known you.”
Meanwhile, on its Facebook page, Henry’s Majestic announced the loss of Meeks, who had joined the bar earlier this year. “He was always happy to serve you and make you feel at home,” the post read.
The way Nico Martini remembers it, one day his wife told him she and the girls were going to hold a White Elephant exchange, and he said, “OK, what do I need to bring?” And she said, “No, no, no – this is just for the girls.”
“So I said, `Oh, OK. Well, me and the guys are gonna do a whiskey exchange, and I don’t even know what that means, but I’m gonna do it,” says Martini, co-founder of Dallas-based Bar Draught, a mobile cocktail business.
Eight years later, Martini’s annual Whiskey Exchange has grown so much that at Saturday’s now-annual event, held at Bar Draught’s Design District offices, he split the gathering into two groups to facilitate the actual exchange, with dozens of attendees picking in pre-ordained random order from a table topped with discreetly wrapped bottles.
Like any good White Elephant party, there was plenty of pilfering and plundering and a handful of premium prizes to be had, and everybody went home with a quality bottle of whiskey. And because the event is now done with charity in mind, the rules were simple: Participants – who each paid $20 admission – had to bring a whiskey worth at least $50 and were urged to bid for a host of donated spirits, concert tickets and tasting and travel opportunities via a raffle, silent auction and live auction.
But before all that happened, guests heard from Tonya Stafford, director of It’s Going To Be Okay, the anti-human-trafficking organization that would benefit from this year’s festivities. A former victim of trafficking herself, Stafford shared her emotional story with the group.
“Hearing that was harrowing,” one attendee said afterward. “I immediately went and bought a bunch more raffle tickets.”
What began as what Martini described as “basically just this little dudes’ Christmas party” is now a serious source of holiday giving – a commitment that began in 2013 after Martini had dinner at the house of a friend with roots in the Philippines. That dinner took place not long after Super Typhoon Yolanda had ravaged the archipelagic nation, and the man’s village had been badly hit. In particular, the roof of a local elementary school had been torn away, so he asked those gathered around the table for any donations that could help, since his brother still lived in the area.
Martini thought: Hmmm. The whiskey exchange was coming up. Maybe there was a way to help. “I said I’d see what I could do,” he says.
He asked his buddies if they’d mind chipping in $20 apiece to take part, to benefit the cause. Everyone was eager to help. Martini also got a few donated items to raffle off, and the event would ultimately raise $800 toward the school’s reconstruction.
Since then, the event has benefited organizations such as The Birthday Party Project and Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Saturday’s 8thannual whiskey exchange raised $12,000 for It’s Going To Be OK. And this year, for the first time, the gathering shed its males-only origins – because, as Martini put it, while he might have felt he had reason at first, that reason no longer made sense. “I’m so glad I saw so many whiskey loving ladies enojying this event,” Martini would say later. “It made the whole thing feel a little more … I don’t know… real? I guess? Regardless, it’s great to no longer be exclusionary in any way.”
As the night wore on and a DJ laid down tracks, participants shared whiskey stories and knowledge while sipping from a collection of donated bottles – including Whistle Pig, High West, Glenlivet and Jameson and locally made standouts like Balcones and Ironroot. The giving of spirits had bred a spirit of giving, which, in addition to a bottle of whiskey, was maybe the best thing anyone could take home.
“I’m glad we raised so much for charity,” Martini would say in a Facebook post, “but I know that the biggest recipent is me. This gives me hope. This event, this group of people, these causes we support. There are so many things in this world we can’t control… but once we come together and set our minds to it, we can change our world. One good cause at a time.”
On Saturday, the Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum will transform into a virtual city under a roof. Think bodegas, food trucks, a 13-piece band, a shoeshine stand.
In that sense, the always zany Ultimate Cocktail Experience will be no different – and yet very different in its quest to raise money to benefit for needy kids and their families. Each year, dozens of bartenders from Texas and beyond form teams and try to out-do each other as one-night-only pop-ups, churning out cocktails for charity while creating an identity fitting the theme.
“We really create an experience,” says event founder Bryan Townsend, who first created the event to benefit Trigger’s Toys, the charity he started 10 years ago. “I want it to be the kind of thing where people look at their friends and say, ‘What the hell is going on?’”
What began as a modest holiday-season party at an Uptown bar has eclipsed $200,000 in proceeds each of the last two years. Now in its 10thyear, the event has raised $1.2 million in all, moving from the grassy expanse of Klyde Warren Park into the massive Deep Ellum venue.
“It’s turned into this thing,” Townsend says. “I’ve been really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Ten years ago, Townsend was feeling trapped in the corporate job he had then and began to focus on other things – like his dog, Trigger. He and Trigger were at a Grapevine hospital one day when a nurse told him about a little girl in therapy who’d been unable to socialize with others.
Townsend said: Maybe she’d like to give Trigger a treat?
The girl did, and then Townsend wondered if she might want to follow Trigger through one of the play tunnels in the children’s ward. When that happened, the nurse went and got the girl’s mom, because it was so unlike the girl to be so social.
Inspired by the experience, Townsend created Trigger’s Toys, a nonprofit providing toys, therapy aids and financial assistance to hospitalized kids and their families. As the proceeds grew, Townsend spread the benefits around, with funds now also providing therapy services at Bryan’s House, a Dallas agency serving kids with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and more.
That’s the mission at the heart of Saturday’s revelry, which runs from 7-11 p.m. at the Bomb Factory, or starting at 6 p.m. for VIP ticket holders. Attendees might encounter breakdancers, drum lines, fortune tellers, even a dog park.
“We want to it be like you’re walking through a city,” says Townsend, vice president and sales director for spirits producer The 86 Co. “What would you see?
Four different pop-ups will vie for top honors:
Elevate, a glam hotel-style bar headed by Megan McClinton and Jason Pollard (The Usual, Fort Worth);
The Lab, a molecular mixology bar led by Fernanda Rossano (High & Tight, Deep Ellum) and Austin Millspaugh (Standard Pour, Uptown);
Corner Bar, a neighborhood-bar concept led by Ravinder Singh (Macellaio, Bishop Arts) and Jones Long (Knife, Mockingbird Station); and
Neon, headed by Zach Potts (Gung Ho, Lower Greenville) and Kelsey Ramage (Trash Collective, Toronto).
Four years ago, the annual, bar-industry-driven fundraiser for Triggers’s Toys was a modest Christmas-season party at The Standard Pour, with 50 bartenders in Santa hats raining cocktails upon their mirthful elf minions. These days… well, look at it: Repositioned in the expansive savanna of Klyde Warren Park, this benefit behemoth, now dubbed the Ultimate Cocktail Experience, last year raised more than $200,000 and aims to exceed that this time around. Naturally.
The 2017 version of the Ultimate Cocktail Experience is set to go down on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. There will be food trucks and a charity casino area. Tickets, which range from $65 to $125 for VIP status, are available here. Or you can get your tickets for $80 at the door.
This big boy pop-up is the brainchild of Bryan Townsend, vice president and sales director for spirits producer The 86 Co., who a decade ago was a corporate wonk who didn’t like his job very much. In 2008, he left his job and began to focus on other things – including his dog, Trigger.
One day he was a Grapevine hospital with his newly trained dog when he met a nurse distressed about a young girl who’d been in therapy for a year, unable to socialize with others. Townsend suggested that maybe the girl would like to give Trigger a treat.
The girl did, and Townsend wondered if she might follow the dog through one of the hospital’s children’s ward play tunnels. Then that happened too. The nurse retrieved the girl’s mother. “It was the first time she’d ever crawled,” Townsend remembered.
Inspired by the experience, Townsend launched Trigger’s Toys, a nonprofit that provides toys, therapy aids and financial assistance to hospitalized kids and their families. That’s the organization at the heart of the revelry that now includes bartenders, brand reps and spirits distributors from Texas and beyond who come to lend their shaking, stirring hands.
Recast as a global throwdown, the Ultimate Cocktail Experience puts forward six unique bar “concepts,” each representing a different part of the world with drinks to match. This year’s showcased locales are Mexico City, London, New Orleans, Hong Kong, Havana and Casablanca, and each station’s drink lineup will include a classic drink and a non-alcoholic selection.
In the mix this year are bartenders Ash Hauserman of New York’s Havana-themed Blacktail, named Best New American Bar at this summer’s Tales of the Cocktail festival, and Iain Griffiths of London’s Dandelyan, which won the honor of the world’s best cocktail bar.
This year’s teams, classic drinks and team captains are as follows:
Casablanca (Mule): captain Andrew Stofko (Hot Joy, Uptown)
Could Dale DeGroff have imagined that, some 25 years after he began squeezing fresh citrus and making simple syrups in the service of better cocktails, he’d be among the elder statesmen of a 20,000-strong spirits festival? Yet there he was – King Cocktail! – with his signature wry smile, at New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone, flaming orange peels and cranking out drinks like a champ at Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits festival that last weekend concluded its 15th run.
A bartenders’ walking tour: That’s how all this started. Back then a lot of people still thought of bartending as a temporary gig you did on the way to something else – but the spirits industry is now a $25 billion-dollar beast, and Tales is likewise a juggernaut, with people traveling to New Orleans from 40 countries for five days of booze-related workshops, career advice, happy hours, tastings, competitions, parties, bonding and networking. What was once a manageable, almost intimate gathering of industry professionals riding a wave of love for the craft and quality ingredients has, in some eyes, become too big for its own good, an overcrowded, over-the-top party of sold-out seminars, ever-accumulating wristbands and fewer one-on-one opportunities.
“Tales has become, to me, more about learning one-on-on through networking than in seminars,” said Brittany Koole, a bar manager and consultant in Houston.
It didn’t help that the stretch of Bourbon Street normally frequented by Tales-goers was a war zone of giant potholes, wire fencing and bulldozers. “I didn’t feel the same connection with the area,” said Justin Kallhoff of Dallas event space DEC on Dragon, who spent more time off the strip and less time dealing with the big parties.
Just the same, Tales carried on, the thus-far clear leader in the spirit-festival world. As usual, attendees this year included a good number of Texans – bartenders, bartenders-turned-spirits-reps, bar owners, bar suppliers, bar goers and those who chronicle it all.
So there were Brian McCullough and Mandy Meggs of The Standard Pour in Uptown, who staffed a table at Saturday’s mezcal tasting room at the Monteleone. And Campari America rep Chase Streitz and Megan McClinton of Thompson’s, in Fort Worth, were among those who joined Jimmy Russell, the legendary master distiller for Wild Turkey, for dinner and whiskey at Cochon. “I was lucky enough to get to pour Jimmy a glass, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Streitz, formerly of Bulldog Gin, The Standard Pour and Sissy’s Southern Kitchen.
Cazadores Tequila partnered with the Bartender Boxing Organization to sponsor a battle between Houston and Los Angeles bartenders that culminated at Tales. And in a bowling event pitting bartenders from 14 cities against each other in the lanes, Team Texas took second only to Miami.
Major spirits companies, small-batch distillers and beverage-related producers also come to Tales to build or bolster brand recognition. But possibly the fastest growing group of attendees might be people who just like consuming and learning about spirits and the various things made with them – people like Jean Verhaar of Houston. “We are what you call cocktail enthusiasts,” she said, at the festival with pal Pam Stevens of New Orleans.
On Thursday, Steve and Beverly Davis of Mobile, Alabama, roamed a tasting room dedicated to pisco, the clear brandy native to Peru and Chile. “A little waitress at Galatoire’s told us about (Tales) some years ago,” Beverly said. The two have been coming ever since with friends John and Sue Lawyer.
“It’s just fun,” Sue Lawyer said. “There’s no purpose to it but to learn and have a good time.” She ducked over to one drink station where DeGroff, now widely considered the godfather of the modern cocktail renaissance, was busy making Algeria cocktails for the masses.
It was at New York’s Rainbow Room that DeGroff built a following by reviving classic, pre-Prohibition cocktails in the 1980s, a gig he landed a few years after being hired by restaurateur Joe Baum, the man behind the Four Seasons and other fine dining establishments; the Alegria – pisco, Cointreau and apricot brandy – was among the cocktails featured at Baum’s La Fonda del Sol in the 1960s, at a time when anything not a Manhattan or Martini was rare. Now DeGroff had revived it as the Algeria, with his own twist, for the pisco event. “Because (Baum) was my mentor,” he said.
Brands found clever ways to promote themselves, crafting whimsical and interactive tasting rooms, throwing happy hours, offering special product unveilings or cocktail-paired dinners – or, in the case of Amaro Montenegro, the excellent Italian bitter liqueur, having its master botanist demonstrate its 132-year-old production process using herbs and spices, an alembic, a boiler and a macerating device.
Jagermeister, the ubiquitous digestif now angling for a piece of the craft-cocktail craze, recruited Gaz Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology, for a happy hour at Fritzel’s, the Bourbon Street jazz pub where LSU students made Jager popular in the late 1980s. And then threw a huge party afterward. And there was Diageo, the giant spirits company behind brands like Tanqueray and Don Julio, scoring Snoop Dogg for its own beats-heavy Friday night bash.
Workshops this year included explorations of ingredients like grains and bitter gentian in spirits and liqueurs; the use of technology such as centrifuges behind the bar; and the rising popularity of umami flavor and low-proof drinks.
Cocktails were plentiful, served mostly in small plastic Tales cups, and it was wise to heed the oft-quoted Tales adage “you don’t have to finish that” while collecting grab-and-go bottled water along the way. That said, I did find the bottom of a few superior creations –my favorites being Laura Bellucci’s House of the Rind, a dessert-like mix of Earl-Grey-infused honeysuckle vodka, lemon curd and citrus-chamomile bitters served at Sunday’s “Legs and Eggs” burlesque brunch at SoBou; and from Aaron Polsky of Los Angeles’ Harvard and Stone, the Precious Punch served at Thursday’s pisco tasting room, featuring pisco acholado, apricot liqueur and amaro.
Camaraderie is what keeps people coming back to Tales, and festival vets saw old friends while newbies made new ones. Second-timer Ashley Williams, a Bols Genever ambassador who tends bar at Filament in Dallas, was looking forward to being in New Orleans and meeting fellow ambassadors. What had she learned from her first go-round?
“Pace yourself,” she said. “You don’t have to do everything. There’s so much going on. Take some time to just go sit in a park.”
Being in the French Quarter, amid the stilt-walkers and human statues and little kids drumming on plastic buckets, it was also worth revisiting gems like the rotating Carousel Bar, grabbing a frozen Irish Coffee at classic haunt Erin Rose or nestling in at the French 75 Bar at historic restaurant Arnaud’s, which recently won the James Beard award for bar program of the year.
Around the festival’s midway point came the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild’s beloved annual Thursday midnight toast, on which Texas naturally has put its stamp over the years with waving Lone Star flags and choruses of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” This year’s spectacle was a bit more subdued, given that the whole shebang had to be relocated from construction-torn Bourbon Street to the second-floor confines of Bourbon Cowboy Too. Nevertheless, Texas endured – and somehow so did Tales, which will power on to see another year.
When it comes to benefit events involving cocktails, there’s always room for one more. This weekend, Dallas’ Industry Alley is pulling off what perhaps no other local cocktail bar has done by throwing two benefit events on consecutive nights.
On Sunday, a team of bartenders from Uptown’s Standard Pour will be slinging drinks at the Cedars District bar, all for a good cause: All of the night’s tips will benefit Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
“The Standard Pour Takeover” runs from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday at Industry Alley, just one night after the bar hosts a pair of pop-up dinners from two teams of Dallas chefs, also to benefit Scottish Rite.
Standard Pour bartenders Austin Millspaugh, Christian Rodriguez and Jorge Herrera started the takeover events as a way of both promoting their bar and giving back, and they hope to make it a monthly thing. Last month’s inaugural benefit takeover, at Deep Ellum’s High and Tight and sponsored by Avion tequila and St. Germain elderflower liqueur, benefited the Dallas office of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“It’s, like, paying it forward,” Millspaugh said. “And people get to experience different venues.”
Sunday’s event will be sponsored by Remy Cointreau, so look for cocktails featuring Mount Gay Rum, Botanist Gin and, of course, Cointreau.
Here’s some Halloween weekend activity that won’t have you saying Boo.
Monday’s event at Victor Tangos is the highlight, and the costume party/cocktail fest doubles as a charity effort, with proceeds benefiting Dallas CASA, an agency that helps abused and neglected children find safe and permanent homes.
The longtime Knox-Henderson craft-cocktail den is teaming up with Brian Floyd of The Barman’s Fund, a national organization of bartenders who hold monthly events to benefit worthwhile causes and donate their night’s tips to the proceeds.
The Victor Tangos party features an all-star cast of Dallas bar industry pioneers, including five members of the original teams at milestone craft-cocktail joints Bar Smyth and/or The Cedars Social, both of which earned national acclaim: Michael Martensen, Mate Hartai, Josh Hendrix, Julian Pagan and Omar YeeFoon.
Joining them will be Victor Tangos vet Emily Arseneau, Brian McCullough of The Standard Pour, Midnight Rambler’s Zach Smigiel and spirits distributor Kristen Holloway.
The fun gets underway at 7 p.m. with drink specials, with tracks spun by DJ Bryan C and prizes to be awarded for the best, most outlandish and most inappropriate costumes.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the classic Windmill Lounge on Maple Avenue will hold its annual Halloween bash with drink specials, a midnight costume parade and contest ($100 for first place!) and DJs Chris Rose and Genova providing the beats.
Now, it’s back for another run: The 5th annual Trigger’s Toys cocktail bash, billed as “The Ultimate Cocktail Experience,” is projected to be the biggest ever – with ailing kids as the beneficiary.
The yearly pop-up, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5, has moved to Klyde Warren Park, showing how far the annual benefit event has come after stints at The Standard Pour in Uptown and Henry’s Majestic in Knox-Henderson.
Five teams of bartenders, distributors and brand ambassadors from around Texas will face off for charity, and under this year’s theme, “Cocktails Around The World,” each squad’s pop-up bar will represent a particular continent – North America, South America, Africa, Asia or Europe.
With this year’s larger venue, Trigger’s Toys founder Bryan Townsend hopes to raise as much as $300,000, more than three times the $130,000 raised at last year’s event. By 2020, he aims to offer a million Christmas-season care packages to needy area children.
“We’re offering a unique way for people to experience the talents of our service industry while giving back to their community,” said Townsend, who named the agency for his dog, Trigger, after seeing the animal’s positive effect on a child in need of therapy.
The annual event helps chronically sick kids and their families through financial assistance and supplemental programming.
This year’s event will run from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets, available here, are $65 or $125 for the VIP experience — including 6 p.m. entry.
Team captains and their logos (provided courtesy of Trigger’s Toys) are as follows:
For a lot of people, the idea of making a few drinks brings to mind mixing a little vodka with soda over ice, but for the craft bartenders who strutted their stuff before the judges earlier this week, it meant much, much more – firing up an original cocktail and then knocking out a dozen tequila classics, all within minutes. And with flair, to boot.
Jorge Herrera is on his way to New York City because he managed to make the whole thing look easy. A veteran of Plano’s Mexican Sugar who joined The Standard Pour in Uptown earlier this year, Herrera took top prize at Monday’s Espolón Cocktail Fight for the right to represent the DFW area at the tequila brand’s national finals in November.
Held at the DEC on Dragon, the event – part culinary competition, part WWF – was a raucous, “luchador-style” affair pitting Dallas drink slingers against their Fort Worth brethren.
Here, in photos, are some of the highlights.
In the first matchup, Devin “El Guapo” McCullough of The People’s Last Stand, at Mockingbird Station, took on Amber “Waves of Pain” Davidson of Fort Worth’s Bird Cafe. Contestants had two minutes to set up their stations and three minutes to prepare their original cocktails for the judges.
Next up was Jonathan “Manila Killa” Garcia, also of The People’s Last Stand, against Jermey “Big Jerm” Elliott of Citizen, in Uptown. Garcia appeared in a conical hat while Elliott fired up the crowd by stripping down to shorts and a tank top.
With competitors taking the stage with painted faces, or in skimpy or outlandish outfits, supporters embraced the costumed spirit of things and advantaged the nearby photo booth.
The third matchup pitted Cody Barboza, of Deep Ellum’s Armoury D.E., against Jason Pollard of The Usual, in Fort Worth. Both Barboza’s mescal-fueled El Rico and Pollard’s One Hour Break — which leaned savory with Averna and molé bitters — earned second-round status.
In the fourth duel, Brittany “B-Day” Day of Thompson’s, in Fort Worth, faced off against Geovanni “Geo” Alafita of Knife, near Mockingbird Station. Day’s Smoke In The Morning went smoky-sweet with mezcal, maple syrup and Allspice Dram while Alafita’s preciously presented Rosario combined tequila with mildly bitter Aperol, cilantro and jalapeño.
In addition to taste, presentation and how well the tequila shone through, contestants were judged on showmanship. In addition to yours truly, the panel included chef Nick Walker of The Mansion at Turtle Creek, Bonnie Wilson Coetzee of FrontBurner Restaurants and Frederick Wildman brand ambassador Austin Millspaugh.
The fifth and final first-round match was easily the most entertaining as the typically understated Jorge “Don Juan” Herrera of The Standard Pour took the platform with a lovely lady on each arm in his duel against Sean “McDoozy” McDowell of Thompson’s. But Herrera put some shine on his show by completing his deceptively simple drink with plenty of time to spare, then lighting up a cigar and preening before the crowd as McDowell continued to race against the clock.
Herrera’s Carolina cocktail was lush with cigar-infused Grand Marnier, while McDowell’s tart Trade With Mexico bundled both Espolón blanco and reposado with tea and homemade ginger beer. Both advanced to the second round.
In the second round, the top six contestants each had to crank out 10 El Diablos — a lesser known tequila classic featuring reposado tequila, créme de cassis, lime and ginger beer — within a few minutes’ time.
Herrera’s and Davidson’s were dubbed mas macho by the judges and both advanced to the final round, where each had to craft a Margarita using Espolón blanco, a Paloma with Espolón reposado and an Old Fashioned with Espolón añejo — again, within a few minutes.
A taste of each drink, then the judges conferred, taking into account the entire night. It was Herrera’s performance that was judged best overall, which means he’ll be competing at Espolón’s national finals in early November.
Brian McCullough, co-founder of The Standard Pour, said he had no doubt that the Uptown bar’s attention to efficiency on busy weekend nights helped prepare Herrera for the competition’s fast-paced demands.
Between that and Herrera’s previous training at FrontBurner, which owns Mexican Sugar, “he’s been working toward winning this ever since he started working here,” McCullough said.
To watch a normally subdued guy transform into the very picture of confidence made him proud.
“Seeing him do that was like seeing him come out of his shell,” McCullough said.
Booze news and adventures in cocktailing, based In Dallas, Texas, USA. By Marc Ramirez, your humble scribe and boulevardier. All content and photos mine unless otherwise indicated. http://typewriterninja.com