If you've ever participated or wondered what a cocktail competition was all about, this story is for you...
I started working at a craft cocktail bar in downtown Denver a few years back where I gained a ton of knowledge on how to be a great craft cocktail bartender. I started making bitters, tinctures, infusions, you name it, I tried it. The owner of my bar came up to me one day and said, "Hey, Rena. You need to enter this cocktail competition. It's a great way to get notoriety in the city and you've got that special something." He handed me a flyer from a liquor rep and I was really anxious like I had been accepted already. Now this just wasn't a local competition, but spanned all throughout the U.S, The Bartender of the Year competition sponsored by Heaven Hill. Nothing too intimidating. Sheesh. "You'll be fine," he said. "You'll have fun," he said.
I already had a few cocktails in mind to enter and made them, over, and over, and over until they were perfect. I think my boss was probably ready to throw up if I handed him one more version of this concoction. After a full 2 months of changing this and adding that, I had them ready for display and I hit enter on my submission. I also had a slew of liquor bottles at my house and I think my parents thought I had a problem.
Two months had passed and one morning I opened my email: "Congratulations, Rena. You have been selected out of 90 entries to be one of the 8 to compete in Denver for the regional finals." Holy sh... With all the stiff competition, I made it to the next step, and it was an amazing feeling. So amazing in fact that I almost threw up.
As I geared up for the other really stiff competition, I watch videos, asked other bartenders how to approach the judges and even studied the judges to gain any kind of insight to their personal taste since this was the first time I would rally with the best. I ordered 5 of these really funky digestif glasses online and only needed 4 for the competition. Why did I order 5? Somehow I knew I would break one as soon as I opened the package, which I did, almost immediately. Not even joking. Some of the videos I watched had bartenders pairing their cocktails with some sort of foodie item, using actual sea salt mist, and typically just being a bad ass behind their bar. I started to feel a bit overwhelmed and unsure of my skills to take on such a monster of a competition.
One more month had passed and I found myself in Downtown Denver an hour before the competition having a beer with my parents to calm my nerves. After all the videos I watched and advice I received from other people, my parents gave me the only piece of advice that I would take with me through those doors and down the steps of my destination, Ophelia's Electric Soapbox where I met my competitors. "You are not just a great bartender, but a charming, awesome person. Just be yourself." Thank you mom & dad.
Nerves stinging, heart pounding and sweaty palms. Yep, I had all of them.
Well, what happened??? I'll tell you next week :)