drinks on you
The world of competitive cocktail making.
WRITTEN BY MICHAEL C. MOBERLY
PHOTOS BY TY O'NEIL
Trevor Leppek, co-owner of Pignic Pub & Patio in Reno, competes for cocktail mastery in the Good Spirits competition
The clock is ticking; your time is running out. You place your finishing move with a flourish, smile, and throw your hands up. The crowd goes wild. By the time you can wipe the sweat from your brow, the cocktail you have spent months planning to make has been drunk and is gone. This is the world of cocktail competitions.
They are by no means a new idea, but the level of sophistication they now have is unprecedented. Bartenders can change their careers, travel the world, and receive worldwide press for the libations they create for these competitions. I sat down with two award-winning bartenders for their insights into what makes a champion.
Splash of personality
Too often people think the drinks you enjoy on a menu at your local cocktail bar are just thrown together. The reality is that someone spent weeks or even months in research and development to get that signature cocktail just right. Because that’s what it truly is: the signature of the person who created it. When it comes to cocktails created for competition, Anna Vetter, bartender at Beer NV in Reno, is no stranger to the challenge.
“It’s a bartender stepping outside of his or her comfort zone to make something he or she wouldn’t normally make behind the bar,” Vetter says. “I like to do two to three competitions a year because it gives me the opportunity to showcase my talents as an individual.”
The exciting part of most competitions, for bartenders and the crowd, is watching people create something new and getting the chance to give it a taste.
Dash of ambition
Ilona Smith Stromer, bartender at The Eddy in Reno and Atomic Bootlegger Lounge in Sparks and co-owner of Liquid Gold Cocktail Catering, was the winner of the 2018 Good Spirits cocktail competition
“I love competing, That’s how I got into this game,” says Ilona Martinez, 2018 winner of the edible Reno-Tahoe Good Spirits event, which features a cocktail-and-food-pairing competition. “I learned a lot, but for sure I learned that going over the top is how you win. Competitions are my time to go crazy and do things I would never do.”
However, there’s never a guarantee of winning. Some bartenders spend hundreds of dollars just to lose.
“When I have a crazy idea, I pay to execute it because I believe in my vision for the drink,” Smith Stromer says, adding that we drink as much with our eyes as our mouths, so that presentation is a large part of what competing is all about. “For many competitions, I start with a set piece or story. I learned a while ago that sometimes a simple, palatable cocktail with a crazy story behind it will win.”
In Good Spirits
The folks at edible Reno-Tahoe and I are excited for another year of the Good Spirits event, to be held this year 2 – 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 1 at The Elm Estate in Reno. Not only is this a showcase of the region’s best and brightest behind the bar, but it also is a competition judged by you, the guest. We ask each participating bartender to push him or herself to create a one-of-a-kind experience at its booth by making a brand-new cocktail for more than 300 guests at the event. We throw in a twist: Bartenders will not know the base spirit for their cocktails until it is drawn blindly three weeks beforehand. We hope to see you there so you can help us crown this year’s winner and celebrate another year of Good Spirits.
Michael C. Moberly is the national brand ambassador and distillery general manager for Ferino Distillery in Reno and a local spirits educator. His 12 years in the industry have been spent learning, loving, and imbibing with some of its best minds, both locally and nationally. He also is good at wearing hats.
edible Reno-Tahoe’s 2019 Good Spirits
2 – 5 p.m. Sat., June 1, $35 per person
The Elm Estate, 1401 W. Second St., Reno
775-746-3299 • Ediblerenotahoe.com
Anna Vetter, bartender at Beer NV in Reno, shows off her cocktail creation in the edible Reno-Tahoe 2018 Good Spirits cocktail competition event