Houston-area bartenders Patrick Abalos (Sidebar) and Justin Ware (Johnny’s Gold Brick) have been named as one of 12 Southwest Regional finalists for the USBG (United States Bartenders' Guild) World Class Competition. The competition, sponsored by Diageo, consists of five stages starting with the initial application of three essays and a mock menu of five cocktails.
Finalists were notified in February if they had advanced to the Regional finals and were supplied with a toolkit that outlined the rules of the live competition to take place on May 2 in Oklahoma City. Each bartender had three weeks to come up with seven recipes to be submitted by March 20.
The Regional finals are composed of three sections: Sense and Nonsense, Apertif and Digestif, and the Speed Round. The first two sections allow eight minutes for preparation and eight minutes for presentation of the cocktails. The Speed Round allows for ten minutes of preparation and six minutes to present.
Sense and Nonsense calls for bartenders to either enhance or diminish one of the five senses using two variations of a classic cocktail. For this round, Abalos chose to make two variations of an old-fashioned. The first, a Taste of Home, will appeal to the sight and smell with a grapefruit-enhanced rye cocktail. The second, the Transatlantic Trip, will diminish sight with the use of squid ink syrup. “I am taking away sight on this cocktail and having them eat a buzz button,” says Abalos. “It changes their taste perception and they will pick up the different flavors.”
An aperitif is served prior to your meal to stimulate the appetite, and a digestif is sipped after your meal to aid in digestion. This round requires finalists to create two cocktails inspired by a restaurant of their choice. Using Uchi as his inspiration, Ware took a culinary approach to creating his two cocktails. The Habuti is a brilliant green and herbaceous drink with bright red drops of Thai chile strawberry oil on top. The Rakkasei combines tequila with miso and peanut-infused Pineau des Charentes and is topped with a homemade miso peanut brittle.
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The speed round challenges bartenders to create three cocktails of their choosing using provided items from a stock list. It will also include a wild card cocktail from one of 25 classics. The objective in this round is for the
bartender to accurately execute the drink while engaging the judges.
Practice makes perfect, which is why both Abalos and Ware are holding training sessions at their respective bars in order to prepare for the upcoming competition. Ware will be practicing on April 19 and April 26 at Johnny’s Gold Brick from 7 to 10 p.m. Abalos will be shaking and stirring on April 20 and April 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Sidebar in The Woodlands.
The top three bartenders from each of the five regional competitions will move on to compete for the national title in San Diego. Good luck to both our Houston-area finalists.