Last night at School of Rock in Tempe, seven local bartenders competed for a chance to fly to New York for the national Tuaca Drinks & Ink competition and win a spread in Inked magazine.
Their mission? Make the most original shot that includes Tuaca, and show off their best tattoo.
I was one of three judges at the Tempe competition, along with Alex Empty from Golden Rule Tattoo and Aaron DeFeo, an award-winning mixologist from Hotel Congress in Tucson.
Our mission? Drink seven shots in a short time span without falling over, ogle people's tattoos, and pick a winner. We managed. Barely.
Tuaca is an Italian liqueur that tastes heavily of vanilla with some citrus overtones. The flavor reminded me of Amaretto. It was interesting to see the kinds of shots local bartenders invented around it. The first shot of the night came courtesy of
, who frankly put way too much hot sauce in the shot. I couldn't really taste anything else, and my lips were burning for five minutes after downing the shot. Horton's tattoo -- a tribal design with peonies on his bicep -- was cool, but his shot was way too hot.
The next competitor, Chelsea Wood, made a shot she called the "Dirty Bean." She worked with the natural vanilla and citrus flavors of Tuaca, grinding up orange and lemon in the shaker, and added an orange wedge and raw vanilla garnish to her shot. It was tasty, but maybe a little too sweet. The flower tattoo on her shoulder was colorful, but not the most intricate ink we saw in the competition.
Daniel Whitlock of Dirty Pretty also made a sweet shot, which he called "Sweet Hell." He added a dash of hot sauce, but not so much that it dominated the shot. His bicep tattoo, a tribute to a family member with breast cancer, was an elaborate black-and-white nature scene featuring an eagle as its focal point.
By the time we got to the fourth competitor, Hannah Fletcher from Apollo's Lounge, I was feeling a little tipsy and all three judges were chugging water. Fletcher's presentation was the most energetic; we could tell she really enjoyed making her shot, which she called "A Night in Paris." She said the shot was something you could make in any bar anywhere in the world, and she played up the vanilla flavor of Tuaca, adding a French vanilla cookie stick for garnish. It was delicious. Her tattoo -- a colorful, winged female creature rising from the water -- particularly impressed Alex Empty, who noted the bold lines and color in the design.
Hannah Fletcher prepares "A Night in Paris."
Barb Trujillo from Hotel Congress made the next shot, which I honestly don't remember much about, except that I couldn't taste the Tuaca in it and it was garnished with beef jerky. But I remember her tattoo. Trujillo competes in Tucson Rollerderby, and her tattoo depicted two busty roller girls grappling on skates. She was followed by Jason Majors, who took a really long time to prepare a very intricate shot that was garnished with orange peel and hibiscus flower (he also used a hibiscus liqueur). The general consensus was that the shot started off okay, but ended tasting like anti-septic. Mixologist Aaron DeFeo said that flavor was because of the combination of hibiscus and ginger in the shot.
Amanda Larsen used fire and marshmallows in her Tuaca shots.
The last competitor, Amanda Larsen, made a shot that involved roasting marshmallows over flaming alcohol. Her tattoo -- an elephant hauling a chained grim reaper behind it -- was among the most original ink we saw all night.
As judges, we were given sheets with elaborate scoring criteria. The shots were awarded points based on appearance, taste, creativity, performance, and garnish. The tattoos were awarded points based on overall theme, body placement, cohesion, intricacy, and description.
By the end of the night, when all our points were tallied, the three winners of the Phoenix Tuaca Drinks were announced. Chelsea Wood's "Dirty Bean" took third, Daniel Whitlock's "Sweet Hell" took second, and Hannah Fletcher's "A Night in Paris" was the big winner.
Fletcher will head to New York for the national competition and a chance to win a spread in Inked. The Tuaca Drinks & Ink Competition takes places in ten cities total, and Phoenix was only the second contest to date, so it's hard to say what Fletcher will be up against at nationals.
We just hope they find some judges with livers of steel.
For more information on the Tuaca Drinks & Ink competition, visit www.tuaca.com.