Four different drinks, four of the most respected bar mentors judging them, and one of the best of your peers racing you to finish first. How fast could you make and garnish those cocktails, and would the quality of your drinks meet the judges' exacting standards? That's the challenge faced by Speed Rack competitors—and in eight U.S. cities it's the most exciting event of the cocktail year.
Speed Rack was founded in 2011 by Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero to celebrate female mixologists around the country and, while doing so, to raise money for breast cancer research, education, and prevention. It has been embraced by the bar community both for its charitable purpose and as an opportunity to recognize the best of the profession.
For this year's San Francisco competition, the top eight bartenders coming out of preliminary qualifications were:
- Shirley Brooks (The European)
- Karri Cormican (Comstock Saloon)
- Ashley Curren (Rickhouse)
- Jacquelyn Goldstein (ABV)
- Candice Meierdirk (Lolinda, Alchemist)
- Keli Rivers (Hardwater, Kin Khao)
- Kimberly Rosselle (Trick Dog)
- Alicia Walton (Brass Tacks, Bloodhound)
The judges were four people any bartender would be daunted trying to impress: Brooke Arthur, one of the cities most beloved and influential women bartenders; Neyah White, another old school SF mentor and scotch guru; Martin Cate, master of all matters rum and tiki; and Jennifer Colliau, the traditional ingredients sorceress behind Small Hand Foods.
Though it's all in good fun and among friends, every woman behind those bars is giving it her all and the audience knows it. The crowd, made up of San Francisco's close-knit bar community—bartenders, barbacks, brand ambassadors, spirits brands and media, and other friends and family—hangs on every pour and cheers wildly for every completed drink.
Bar patrons help the cause too, by supporting their favorite bars' tip drives. Smuggler's Cove racked up an impressive evening's donations from their fine fans and presented a check for over $1000 to add to the competition's fundraising through cover charge and raffle tickets. We add our huge thanks to all who donated, including to the great brands lending their support to this cause.
Standing by each other in good times and bad—something we all need, but especially those facing cancer—resonates strongly with this crowd. The mutual support among barfolk shows itself when, after racing furiously against each other, two contestants support each other through the nervous wait for results and cheer on their former foe in subsequent rounds.
Four tight quarterfinal rounds narrowed the field and showed everyone the toughness of the judges. Only a few drinks succeeded in passing their critique without the penalty of seconds being added to the contestant's finishing speed. Work too fast and loose and that cheetah-like result could be slowed to tortoise speed by unbalanced flavors, an undersized serving, a missing garnish, or failure to evoke the traditional character of that cocktail. The judges weren't just waiting for the finished glass to reach their table either; they watched each drink's creation and more than one bartender was caught out for a problem revealed as much by observation as by taste.
Four women entered the semi-finals: Alicia Walton, Karri Cormican, Shirley Brooks, and Jacquelyn Goldstein. The pressure was on and once again these fantastic bartenders wowed us with their skill.
Alicia and Jacquelyn advanced to the finals and the room shook to the cheers of their supporters as they faced off. We confess to being distracted and not getting any good pictures. It was a hell of a battle and we highly recommend attending future Speed Rack events.
She'll be joined in the national competition in New York City, on Sunday June 14th, by the winner of the wildcard Facebook voting round, Karri Cormican.
Great video coverage from LeJit: