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St. Germain

Features

SUPPORT THE RACK!

May 28, 2012

The Speed Rack Finals in New York City
By Amanda Schuster
Photos courtesy of Speed Rack

On Thursday, May 10th, Yael Vengroff (Miss Speed Rack NYC, and now a Houston, Texas resident) won the title of Miss Speed Rack 2012 to the collective rapture of what seemed like the entire US drinks community, all gathered at the Prince George Ballroom. In the final round, Vengroff narrowly beat fellow Texan Alba Huerta in a tense smackdown.

While the showing on the stage was great, so were the onlookers, other participants, competitors and the audience. Suffice it to say, if there had been some sort of unspeakable catasclysmic event there, much of the country would go awfully thirsty. The biggest names in the bar business were representing as judges, barbacks, and sponsors, not to mention those who attended simply to cheer on their friends and colleagues to support the cause.

The cause goes far beyond Speed Rack’s mission of showcasing some of the best talent possessing XX chromosomes in the country, it also raises significant funds for breast cancer prevention, education and research. To date, $68,500.00. This event, which was created and executed by Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix, two of the founding members of the New York chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), has built a nationwide community while doing an outstanding job of spotlighting the female bartenders who are pivotal forces behind our new golden era of cocktail culture. Without people like them, and pioneers such as bar owners and Speed Rack event judges Julie Reiner and Audrey Saunders, a lot of us would still be consuming syrupy neon sludge from a gun as our only option, and probably not having too much fun where we drink it either.

For decades, women have worked hard to achieve this level of respect in the bartending community. Physically seeing the culmination of this progress together in one place proves how integral women have been to this business. Said Reiner as the night began, “We’ve come a long way, baby! Now there’s so many of you and it’s so inspiring. [I’m] So proud of Ivy and Lynnette.”

In a relatively short amount of time, Marrero and Mix have done a tremendous job assembling this level of talent and garnering supporters. As judge Dale DeGroff pointed out during the intros, “This is the biggest thing [of its kind] in America right now.” Degroff, who is considered one of the most important mentors in the business, has often pointed out that women are key facets of creating successful bar communities with their instinctive talents for creating recipes and cultivating a welcoming atmosphere for guests.

The Speed Rack tour was a guest in 10 key cities around the country. In each town they visited local female bartenders were put to the test to determine which was the fastest and who would travel to New York to compete in the final showdown. Competitors raced head-to-head to prepare four cocktails, one for each of the judges.

Sponsored brands donated the ingredients, and also libations with which audience members sipped along with Speed Rack finale judges Reiner, Saunders, and DeGroff plus Chopped judge, and first time cocktail competition judge, Chef Amanda Freitag.

Top talents also contributed barbacking duties, including Sean Kenyon (Denver), Ricky Gomez (Portland), Jeff Bell (NYC), Dominic Venegas (NYC), Michael Neff (NYC), Toby Maloney (NYC), Steve Schneider-Hadzismajlovic and Daniel de Oliveira (Chicago) while industry instigators Simon Ford and Chris Patino, clad in all white suits, kept the proceedings, er, staying alive, as emcees.

The cocktails were randomly chosen by the judges from a list of fifty standard recipes. Speed counts, but so does flavor and technique. Saunders’ critique can be especially discerning (said of a garnish in Round One: “…it was like the sinking of the Titanic!”), which is why she announced that once the competition is over, she can revert to a more nurturing style of support and encouragement. “How this thing has grown! I’m looking forward to going easier on you. I want to see some of you ladies step up and own your own bars.”

Freitag, who originates from solely a culinary background, was a little concerned for her alcohol tolerance. “I’m honored to be here. If you see me later in the crowd and I’m tipsy, forgive me.” For the record, she was seen later in the crowd, and she held up just great.

The great were separated from the merely great in the preliminary rounds which narrowed the competition down from sixteen to eight. Even a simple Daiquiri, which is, as Degroff called it, a “naked drink,” can show certain flaws, and potentially knock someone out. There were then four qualifying rounds before the two semifinals.

Despite a long, boozy night that lasted over five hours, the crowd kept its enthusiasm burning strong, with snacks from local businesses Viktor and Spoils, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, Clover Club and Steve’s Ice Cream, and the palpable energy re-fueled by those working the sidelines. The Ladies of Lillet in particular, among them brand ambassadors Amanda Boccato and Charlotte Voisey, should get some sort of Speed Goddess achievement award for maintaining their roller derby finest (and big smiles to match) throughout the night.

The night ended with a champagne toast (of sorts) to Yael. Congratulations, Yael! And congratulations to every last person who was involved in Speed Rack nationwide. Every last one of you is a winner as it seems impossible that any other industry measures up to the bartending community’s commitment to celebrate the hearts, minds and breasts of so many.

Features

FRONT LINE REPORT FROM THE CASH REGISTER

August 2, 2010

What’s Actually Selling Out There On The Streets And In The Stores
By John Henry

I hope we can all raise a toast that the worst is behind us. The last year and a half has served the whole wine and spirits industry a Suffering Cocktail with an ROI twist.

Value to coast ratio is now king. Look no further than Svedka, up over forty percent the past two years. Consistency is the queen. And craft beer has played the merry court jester, all the way to the king’s bank. Any upscale brand smart enough to stay the course during this turbulent storm in the spirits business, and even invest more in brand loyalty and support without slashing, dashing or trashing prices, will emerge a new monarch at the point of purchase when the cocktail sun shines again. Think Jameson’s, not the Grey Goose. But what of the emerging brands? The proof is off-premise where today’s real brands are being built, not on the bottle service list at places like 1OAK.

Since I visit about twenty liquor stores a week, and touch about fifty retail outlets, tri-state, I figured it is time to assess who is breaking through in the market sales headwinds we all face daily.

There are three brands I see with particular traction and buzz. My tests are such, across the board: How close is a brand to the store cash register? Which brands have the displays and POS closest to the door? Does this brand a hit a sweet spot price point? And, who has the floor stacks and pricing amongst the top selling brands?

The brands best passing muster are Nuvo, Skinny Girl Margarita and ChocoVine. Not exactly the stuff of Rob Cooper St. Germain shooting star legend or of the ultra boutique Haus Alpenz portfolio buzz. But Continue Reading…

Events

ARCTIC CIRCLE COCKTAIL CHALLENGE

June 16, 2010

Patricia Richards’ Finlandia Cup Entries Bring Home Bragging Rights For The USA
By Jenny Adams

Our boots made soft crunching noises as we headed for the entrance to a hotel made entirely of ice and snow. Bound together in small clusters, we had spent the previous night partying as a group in a normal hotel on the top of a ski slope in Kittilä, a tiny town in the Lapland territory of Finland. Considered part of the Arctic Circle, this remote segment of the planet receives some of civilization’s most brutal temperatures – and each winter, some of bartending’s most noteworthy. Someone playfully offered me the Union Jack British flag to wave. I smirked and replied, “Not on your life. I’m part of Team America bitches.”

The International Finlandia Vodka Cup has been going on for 12 years, enticing contestants from all over the world to enter, without so much as a dime in prize money; the lure is bragging rights and a trip to one of the world’s most remote destinations. Set in early February – this year it took place on the 2nd – the competition is held in a snow dome constructed off an ice hotel, where each competitor comes face-to-face with things that cannot be bested from mixology skills alone. Questions of how long it takes for your hands to begin to cramp in -15 degree temperatures while holding a tin of ice. At what point simple syrup freezes and how – with only ten minutes remaining – you can move it from bottle to Continue Reading…

Events

COCKTAILS FOR A COUNTRY

February 13, 2010

Spirited sipping leads to $5,800 raised at the Hearts & Cocktails for Haiti Benefit

By Francine Cohen

Photo courtesy of Lush Life Productions

Who said people drink just for pleasure? Sometimes they drink to help those in pain. At least that’s what was going on at Bar Celona in Brooklyn on Sunday, January 31st when hundreds of spirits industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts gathered to raise a glass and some much needed funds for Haiti.

Haitian American Ray Raymond of Leblon Cachaça and Dave Catania of Chairman’s Reserve organized this important evening and welcomed their industry friends and cocktail lovers to join them for cocktails created especially for the evening by some of New York’s best mixologists. Continue Reading…