February 13, 2019
I was invited by John Taylor, the driving force behind craft distiller Waypoint Spirits (@waypointspirits, @Drinkwaypoint), to be one of three judges for a bartender competition Waypoint Spirits was hosting at its distillery in Bloomfield (CT) this past Sunday.
It turned out to be quite an afternoon as four area bartenders -– Dustin from The Cook and the Bear (@thecookandthebear) in West Hartford, Khalid from Max Amore (@maxamore, @MaxAmoreCT) in Glastonbury, Stephanie from Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen (@zoharamediterraneankitchen, @zoharakitchen) in West Hartford, and Tony from Arch Street Tavern (@archst, @ArchStTavern) in Hartford – dazzled us with their creativity and skill in both parts of the competition!
The sky was the limit … seriously!
As with most occupations, there are different levels of artistry and skill in bartending. At the basic level, a good bartender can make the both typical and house specialty drinks efficiently and engage guests to make them feel welcome. The truly excellent bartenders are also mixologists and artists who truly appreciate that they are competing in the entertainment arena. It is a world where style meets substance. And it’s where the best creations appeal to as many of the senses as possible, starting with the visual presentation.
Since our first impression of a drink is what we see in front us, the artistry of the color, glass style and, particularly the garnishes, plays a huge role in our expectations. In this case, these bartenders were challenged with taking a Bloody Mary* to new heights of attraction with their imaginative garnishes. As you can see from the photos, they got very creative using the Waypoint supplied garnishes, but Stephanie thought outside the box, so to speak, and brought in a host of intriguing additions for her garnishes, including pita pockets, pomegranate stuffed olives and even duck legs! While all the garnish treatments were impressive, Stephanie’s outrageous works of art towered over the others. The other judges (@cheyney_b and Emily from @yelphartford) and I unanimously declared her the winner of the garnishing competition.
* (The Bloody Marys were all made with Waypoint Spirits Spicy XIII Vodka, which is made for with 13 herbs and spices – everything you’d put in a Bloody Mary but the juice, which in this case was V-8.)
What they whipped up
went down sooo good!
Next, the bartenders went up against each other to create drinks using Waypoint Spirits craft-distilled liquors and a variety of liqueurs and essential mixing ingredients, but with a devious twist. After the bartenders selected their ingredients, some of the choices were exchanged randomly with those of their competitors to truly challenge their ingenuity under fire. And the results were amazing. There wasn’t a single one I didn’t enjoy, which showed in how close they were in the judging with Khalid just edging out Stephanie for first place. In the end, with her close second place in this competition and her victory margin in the garnishing round, Stephanie won the overall competition.
We also had a couple of guest bartenders, Jeff (who works for a distributor) and Amelia (an actress and bartender from New York who recently moved to CT), mixed up some tasty drinks for us as well. Needless to say, the rest of my Sunday was kind of a wasted day, but so relaxing.
I do love my job!
As I like to tell people, I drink professionally because it’s my job as a mixologist and a reviewer! So, I truly appreciate and respect the incredible talent and commitment of those involved in crafting the highest quality spirits and those who create and serve the appealing drinks that make life just that more enjoyable.
That said, I have to compliment and congratulate all of the bartenders as well as John and his Waypoint Spirits staff, including Erin, who coordinates events plus Khalid, and Tony, who also work with Waypoint in addition to their regular bartending gigs. It was a fabulous afternoon of sampling drinks while getting to chat with the bartenders and those who came to observe the competition. It would be well worth going to visit Stephanie, Khalid, Dustin and Tony at their bars to enjoy their skills first hand for yourself. (In Stephanie’s case, I had previously seen her on the job when I reviewed the Friday Happy Hour at Zohara back in October. They both got a top rating.) Just tell them The Dark Diva sent you!
I was also quite impressed with Waypoint’s Spicy XIII Vodka, which I had sampled before, but never to the extent that I did on Sunday. If you like a spicy Bloody Mary or Bloody Caesar that’s simple to make, I highly recommend trying the Spicy XIII, because, with its 13 ingredients, it and the juice V-8/ tomato or Clamato) are all you need. Additionally, Waypoint also offers a Coffee Liqueur that is both smoother and lighter than many I’ve tried, which makes it an ideal choice for any bar.
Thanks for checking out my blog! As always, I welcome your questions, comments and suggestions.
And now I think I’ll go have what’s left of Bloody Mary batch that … er … followed me home Sunday! Haha