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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Cocktail Quickfire: Q&As with the 2013 Speed Rack Finalists

Since launching in 2011, Speed Rack has raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research. And after months of prelims held across the country, the finalists are heading to NYC next Thursday, May 16, to shake up one last round. So who’s duking it out for the 2013 Miss Speed Rack crown? Here’s a peek at the competition.

KARAH CARMACK, Winner of Speed Rack San Antonio

Representing: The Esquire Tavern, San Antonio, Texas

Tending bar since: 2008.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: Jason Litrell told me so.

My mixing soundtrack includes: Mumford and Sons, Radiohead, Death Grips, The Kooks, The White Stripes.

Favorite cocktail to mix: The Last Word! Everyone gets weird after a Last Word.

Least favorite: Mojito, for no reason other than I just hate making the damn things.

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: The first time it included being intensely hung over and lots of pacing. This time it will include some time by the beach, a nice breakfast and a nice night’s rest the evening prior. 

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: The Hotel Nacional cocktail.

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: How big of an event it really is and how serious my competitors were! Everyone had flash cards and a good attitude, studying intensely over their recipes. I was just pacing around making everyone think I hated them when, really, I was just freaked out!

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Practice! These girls are good, the judges are legit people you do not want to disappoint—they will tear you up if you mess up! 

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: I practice every single day, every drink I make at work I imagine it’s a Speed Rack drink! 

My female bartending idol is: Ivy Mix! Holy smokes she’s a badass!



LIZ PEARCE, Winner of Speed Rack Chicago

Representing: The Drawing Room, Chi-city

Tending bar since: 2003.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: I made a Pisco Sour for Grant Achatz and he said it was "not too shabby." (HOLY SHIZZLES!!!!!)

My mixing soundtrack includes: Ideally? My get-pumped jams would include Mötley Crüe, Rihanna, the Bonedaddys, Budos Band, Dengue Fever and Bob Marley to even it all out. 

Favorite cocktail to mix: I actually love making Mojitos, cause I love to smash ice with the EO hammer! My second favorite (if it's not busy) is my Angostura Ramos. It's ridiculous. 

Least favorite: Dirty martinis. yuck.

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: Face paint, stretching, meditation and mezcal.   

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: The Chicago Fizz. How is that possible?

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: Wear water-proof makeup.

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Focus on quality equally to speed. One without the other is useless.

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: I make solid, consistent cocktails, fast. And I'm charming. And I want it. BAD.

My female bartending idol is: God, there's so many people I'm impressed by in Chicago alone! My boss Cristiana, Mea Leech, for her incredible persona behind the bar, Bridget Albert is just the sweetest person ever! Nationally? Yael is a total gangster, Jillian Vose, Pam the Wiz, Karen Fu, Logan Lavachek is a badass. I guess if I had to narrow it down to one, I'd say my former compadre from WAY back in the day, Heather Hans. She doesn't do mixology; she's an old-school volume bartender who's fast as hell and does it day in, day out, with a smile. She is sweet, generous and humble. She doesn't give a shit who you are, or where you come from—all she cares about is getting you a drink FAST and making sure you're happy. At the end of the day, it's just a drink, and she doesn't get caught up in all the nonsense that we every now and then are guilty of.  


PAIGE UNGER, Winner of Speed Rack St. Louis

Representing: Extra Virgin/Michael Smith, Kansas City, Missouri

Tending bar since: Does making Gin & Tonics for my grandma as a kid count? If not I've been bartending for four years. 

I knew I was a badass bartender when: I made it in the to the Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition after bartending for just six months. 

My mixing soundtrack includes: Lately I've been rocking some Wilson Phillips “Hold On” and Hall and Oats. 

Favorite cocktail to mix: I love making Negronis! It reminds me of being in Florence, Italy, and going to the Caffe Rivoire. Their head bartender, Lucca Picchi, is the Italian national historian on the Negroni cocktail. He let me come behind the bar and taught me how to make a proper Negroni. It was amazing!

Least favorite: I used to work brunches and have made more BloodyMarys than any one person should. 

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: Not drinking! I kind of keep to myself and wander around on competition days. I've been the same way since I was a little girl competing in gymnastics. 

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: The Hanky Panky.

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: Bring a change of clothes! I looked like a wet poodle after I got doused in Perrier. 

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Practice, practice, practice!

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: I have an insanely accurate free pour. You can save so much time by using both hands to pour and not just one and a jigger. 

My female bartending idol is: Ada Coleman. Any time I don't know a cocktail, I research it. After reading the story behind the Hanky Panky I was in love with the woman! She held her own in a man's world and she rocked it! If she were here today I'd bet shed enter Speed Rack and shake cocktails for boobies!


JAKI WINKLES, Winner of Speed Rack Tampa

Representing: Alambiq Mixology and Levy Restaurants (at the Miami Heat's American Airlines Arena)

Tending bar since: 2003.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: I broke the record for highest sales at a nightclub in Hollywood's Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

My mixing soundtrack includes: Fastest Girl in Town by Miranda Lambert.

Favorite cocktail to mix: Anything with gin. I usually make a Bee’s Knees, Corpse Reviver #2, or Negroni when I have guests over.

Least favorite: Jolly Rancher shots. Even though it may be the most improvised mix around—any bartender can throw the closest flavored liqueur in a shaker and call it a Jolly Rancher. Makes me nauseous when I think about it.

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: A cup of coffee, a light lunch, a shot of Chartreuse, a shot of mezcal, a deep breath and go. I can't really run through drink recipes or practice the day of the event—i­t'll psych me out. My mind goes blank while I'm up there anyway.

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: The Airmail Punch, Antrim, Brain Storm, Chicago Fizz … there were a lot [of cocktails] I hadn't heard of.

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: To prepare an outfit. I had to start borrowing pink paraphernalia from other girls.

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Make sure you rinse your jigger after using raspberry syrup. I was so focused on moving fast that I didn't wash my jigger out and it caused my next drink to have a pink tint and, of course, taste like raspberry. Having your drinks taste right is just as important as being fast.

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: Fast is what I do! I'm used to my bar being 10 deep at halftime. I have to imagine that it's just another day at work.

My female bartending idol is: Kate Gerwin. Not only does she have a great palate for cocktails, she is also one of the fastest bartenders that I know. She is a blast to work with and a genuine friend. Not to mention she's also a mom, like me, and it's motivating to see another successful working mom in this industry.


SHEL BOURDON, Winner of Speed Rack Tucson

Representing: The Southwest (Phoenix, Arizona) *Now tending bar at The Dead Rabbit in NYC

Tending bar since: 2009.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: I beat all the boys in the AZ Bourbon Battle.

My mixing soundtrack includes: Anything indie pop that reminds me of Coachella.

Favorite cocktail to mix: Daiquiris for days.

Least favorite: Singapore Sling.

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: Not drinking and trying to avoid talking about cocktails to not psyche myself out! 

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: The Irish cocktail.
  
My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Don't freak out. There are four guests sitting at your bar—just make drinks! 

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: I'm a (wo)man with a plan!

My female bartending idol is: Miss Layla Linn of Phoenix, Arizona. She is one of the founders of Arizona Cocktail Week and is a radiating light of inspiration, class and grace. She is above all a badass bartender. 


NAOMI LEVY, Winner of Speed Rack Boston 

Representing: Eastern Standard, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tending bar since: 2004.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: The first time the bar was 4 deep, the tickets from the printer hit the floor, and I felt in complete control.

My mixing soundtrack includes: Eclectic mix, everything from the Ramones, to Stevie Wonder to Damien Marley … anything I can sing along to or dance to.

Favorite cocktail to mix: The right drink for the right person and the right time.

Least favorite: A Bloody Mary after 4 p.m.

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: Focus, clearing my head, stretch.

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: The Brainstorm.

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: Time slows down when you try to move that fast.

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Don't jigger for the preliminaries … jigger once you make it to the final eight.

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: It's just another day of doing what I do every day. Making great drinks at top speeds.

My female bartending idol is: Misty Kalkofen.


ERYN REECE, Winner of Speed Rack New York City

Representing: New York City! By way of Mayahuel and Death & Company

Tending bar since: 2004.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: I finally won Speed Rack!

My mixing soundtrack includes: "I Want Action" by Poison.

Favorite cocktail to mix: An Old Fashioned. A drink that can get people to really appreciate a well-made spirit.

Least favorite: A Ramos Gin Fizz. For multiple reasons.

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: Figuring out the best way to cut up my Speed Rack shirt. 

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: Pisco Punch.

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: How seriously intense that this was going to be.

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Don't drink that much, if at all. It’s such a fun competition where all your friends are, so it would be easy to do, but you really need to be on your A -game.

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: I have a game plan and I’m not telling any of you about it.

My female bartending idol is: Lynnette Marrero. Because she is the shit.


JILL WEBSTER, Winner of Speed Rack San Diego

Representing: Harvard & Stone, Los Angeles

Tending bar since: 2002.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: Badass since birth.

My mixing soundtrack includes: Mark Morrison, Mötley Crüe and Yacht Rock for days.

Favorite cocktail to mix: Americano.

Least favorite: “Something fun.”

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: Coffee and cigarettes.
  
Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: I’d have to give video interviews.

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Relax.

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: Seeee YA!

My female bartending idol is: Brooke Arthur from HouseSpirits. BOOM!


VICTORIA GEORGE, Winner of Speed Rack San Francisco

Representing: Rickhouse, San Francisco

Tending bar since: 2010.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: I split a bottle of green Chartreuse with three other bartenders during a 5k event one morning from 7 to 11 a.m., and then worked a busy shift that night after unexpectedly being called in to cover a co-worker. And slept only three hours the night before.

My mixing soundtrack includes: Santigold, 1960s classic rock and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" 

Favorite cocktail to mix: The Sazerac.

Least favorite: The repeat cocktail order, made by the same customer in the same transaction, immediately after the first is complete. ("I need one more of THAT one.")

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: A long walk with headphones, three bites of a breakfast sandwich and a shot of mezcal.

Before Speed Rack, I’d never made: A Godfather Cocktail.

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: To bring a change of clothes in case a Champagne shower occurs.

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Practice your prelim strategy before the day of the competition. And remember to breathe.

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: If I successfully keep my hair out of my face, I might do alright.

My female bartending idol is: The entire SF female bartending community constantly inspires me. I've learned so much from so many other females, and I'm thankful to be a part of this industry.


LACY (LADY HAWK) HAWKINS, Winner of Speed Rack Seattle

Representing: Luc Lac, Portland, Oregon

Tending bar since: 2007.

I knew I was a badass bartender when: A patron told me I had a real gift for saying inappropriate and offensive things but still coming across as witty and charming. 

My mixing soundtrack includes: Have you heard the new Justin Timberlake album? Addictive. But, my pre-Speed Rack mix is packed full of delicious jams to make your body move. I'm a complete wreck before the competition, but once I'm listening to music that matches my energy level, everything becomes a little bit clearer. And then I kinda feel like Eminem in 8 Mile

Favorite cocktail to mix: I take pride in what I do, and my favorite drinks are always the show stoppers—the ones where everyone starts asking what I'm making and if they can have one too. 

Least favorite: The Bloody Mary. Bloody Marys belong on a Sunday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.  It's the Lord’s Day and a sacred time for Bloody Marys.

My day-of Speed Rack prep includes: Pedialyte, Tums, failed attempts at eating or drinking anything, inevitably followed by mezcal with pals, dance parties with myself anywhere I can be alone, flash cards stuffed into my boots, and, of course, a heavy dose of flirting. 

Before Speed Rack, I’d never heard of: The Weeski Cocktail. I still have a hard time remembering that damn thing!

Before signing up for Speed Rack I wish someone had told me: "Don't forget, you're still a little fish in a big pond." That type of underdog mentality always brings out the fiercest competitor in me. 

My one piece of advice for next year’s competitors is: Have fun and do what you do best. You'll nail it. 

I’m going to smoke the competition at the NYC finals because: I jigger my toothpaste, I'm on a high-proof diet, daily jogs on the waterfront with bottles in my hands, the Harlem Shake before bed … and I twerk once a week.

My female bartending idol is: You mean aside from the ladies I'll be sharing the stage with? Ada Coleman. I mean, come on—she made one of the first Fernet-Branca cocktails. Her Fernet coin would trump everyone. 

All photos courtesy Speed Rack.