Speed Rack is a series of cocktail competitions that raise funds for cancer research. This year, proceeds are going to SHARE Cancer Support, a support organization for women with breast or ovarian cancer.
Last year, Houston's lady bartenders really shined in the competition. The high-speed cocktail contest was held on our home turf and out of eight finalists, six were from Houston: Alba Huerta (who, after winning Speed Rack Texas, went on to get second place in the national competition), Ornella Ashcraft (now at The Flying Saucer), Sheridan Fay (of El Gran Malo and Haven), Lainey Collum (now at The Hay Merchant), Kehlen Selph (of Coppa Ristorante Italiano) and Lindsey Heffron (of Liberty Station, who lost to Huerta and ended up in the second-place slot).
This year's competition was held this past Sunday night in San Antonio at the historic Saint Anthony Hotel and Houston's performance was disappointing. What happened?
Part of it may have been not having a home-field advantage. There were only three Houston entrants, which represented only 15 percent of the field of 20 competitors. Last year, Houston represented 75 percent. Other cities have, in the meantime, caught up and caught on.
So where were all the Houston competitors? Alba Huerta (of the upcoming Julep) was a judge this time around and couldn't compete. Heffron and Collum chose not to compete this year. Monik Lopes of The Original OKRA Charity Saloon was going to compete and then reportedly decided she wasn't ready. Kris Sowell, former bar manager at Coppa Ristorante Italiano, had car trouble in Austin and couldn't make it.
Selph did compete and was barely edged out of a finalist spot. She came in ninth in a field of 20. She took it with good grace, however.
"I'm totally cool with it," said Selph. "Now I can kick back and have fun watching the competition with the rest of the crowd instead of being nerve-wracked."
Ornella Ashcraft of Flying Saucer Draught Emporium competed, but also didn't make it into the finals. This was surprising, considering her stellar performance last year, until one takes into account that a mere minute separated the fastest time and slowest time during the preliminary round. Regarding her performance, Ashcraft said, "I just had a very messy prelim round. It's one of those hit-or-miss situations. Next year, I'll be more than prepared."
The eight finalists were:
- Karah Carmack, The Esquire Tavern, San Antonio
- Sheridan Fay, El Gran Malo & Haven, Houston
- Elisabeth Forsythe, The Esquire Tavern & Blue Box, San Antonio
- Madelyn Kay, Haddington's, Austin
- Whitney Hobbs, La Condesa, Austin
- Tacy Rowland, Drink Well, Austin
- Jessica Sanders, Drink Well, Austin
- Bonnie Wilson, Whiskey Cake, Dallas
Fay did the best of the three Houston competitors, but barely made her way into the finals by snagging eighth place in the preliminaries. She was beaten in the first round of the finals by Madelyn Kay from Haddington's in Austin on both speed and, as per the judges' assessments, drink quality. Temperature seemed to be an issue for both competitors. "Don't forget that you can fill your glasses with ice and chill them ahead of time," reminded judge Julie Reiner (of Clover Club and Pegu Club in New York City).
To her credit, Sheridan made one of the very few no-penalty drinks. (In Speed Rack, penalty time is added to real drink-making time for the final score.) Judge Chris Bostick declared her margarita as one he would order over and over again. But between finishing about 15 seconds after her competitor and suffering other penalties for issues with her drinks, Sheridan ultimately lost her round. Regarding one of her drinks, Sheridan said: "I thought I made the right decision for an orange zest garnish when the judge actually called for orange bitters. The time penalties really come down to the fine details."
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Sheridan actually still has a chance to go to the finals, but it's going to be up to you, Houston, as to whether she gets it. After the regional Speed Rack competitions are over, people will have a chance to vote for eight wild cards or "fan favorites." Watch for your chance to give Sheridan a second opportunity to win the Speed Rack crown.
For now, it's San Antonio's chance to be proud and catch a little Speed Rack fever. Karah Carmack, from Esquire Tavern, won the Miss Speed Rack Texas title. Congratulations to her, and better luck to our Houston lady bartenders next year.