On Monday night at Grand Prize Bar, seven Houston bartenders competed in a throw-down sponsored by Don Q Rum and the Houston chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild. The three men and four women came from a mix of Houston restaurants, clubs and bars. The competitors were:
- Kehlen Selph--Coppa Ristorante Italiano
- Adrienne Byard--Grand Prize Bar
- Luis Villegas--Stella Sola
- Sheridan Fay--El Gran Malo/Underbelly
- Alan Barrera--Scott Gertner's
- Yael Vengroff--Fitzgerald's
- Alba Huerta--Anvil Bar & Refuge
The competition was judged by Tiffany Shelton and mixologist Catarina Miltenberger, both of Glazer's, a beverage distributor, and Don Q Regional Representative Steve Jurbala. Miltenberger is Glazer's first female mixologist and won Best of Show last year at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America "Iron Mixologist" Competition.
Adrienne started the ball rolling with her Puerto Rican Sunburn, a mixture of aloe vera, coconut juice, rum, simple syrup and ginger beer. "There IS such a thing as a healthy cocktail," she said, and the judges seemed to agree.
Kehlen, a finalist in the recent Speed Rack Houston competition, made the Puerto Rican Nightcap, a Tiki drink that went into highball glasses with half-sugared rims. "This would be a great before-bed cocktail after a day on the beach," she said.
Luis from Stella Sola carefully put short sprigs of mint through lime slices for his garnish before beginning his rum drink that included pineapple juice and egg white. His two-at-a-time shaking technique garnered him applause, but regrettably his drink didn't get enough points from the judges to win.
Yael Vengroff, winner of New York's local Speed Rack competition last year, was up next and stirred up a little controversy with her choice of green leaves of shiso, an herb frequently used in Japanese cuisine. She had planned to make three drinks and was asked to make a fourth for display. There wasn't enough shiso to go around for all four drinks. Competition judge Catarina jokingly advised Yael to skip putting in in fellow judge Steve's drink since his opinion didn't count as much as her's. While Yael scored in the top half, the innovative inclusion of the lightly scented shiso was not enough to steal the show.
Sheridan Fay, recently of RA Sushi and now with El Gran Malo and Underbelly, was up next. She was also a finalist at the Houston Speed Rack competition.
With Don Q anejo, a whole egg, Aperol, pumpkin spice syrup and a few other ingredients, she came up with a cocktail that tasted a whole lot like flan. She topped it off with a dark layer that included Guinness beer. It was a very attractive and delicious, decadent drink, which she named the Cochi Monster after the species of frogs in Puerto Rico. Sheridan even made a cochi frog garnish from orange squash and leaves.
Alan Berrera with Scott Gertner's was next and tried his Piña Q Lada on the judges, which included a healthy dose of cinnamon, as well cinnamon-dusted grilled pineapple for garnish.
Alba Huerta, who won the recent local Speed Rack competition and will soon be traveling to New York to represent Houston in the finals, was the last contender for this rum battle. Her drink was called the Calypso and included passion fruit syrup, key lime juice, Don Q anejo and Don Q Coco (coconut flavored rum).
Alba's competition experience showed; she was absolutely placid and could have been making drinks for regular customers instead of judges. Her grace under pressure garnered her second place; not bad for someone who wasn't going to compete and only did because someone didn't show up.
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In the end, Sheridan Fay's delicious, creamy drink that tasted like flan won first place. She didn't get to go to New York as a Speed Rack finalist, but as a Don Q winner, she now gets to go and compete in the Manhattan Cocktail Classic! Who says Fate doesn't give second chances?
Along with Hal Brock of Hearsay Gastro Lounge, who won the Campari competition a few weeks ago, Houston now has three bartenders who will go represent the city on a national level in New York. Considering that Houston has only had its own USBG chapter for less than two years, that is a remarkable achievement. Let's see how many national trophies they bring home.