Meet the 2014 Arizona Last Slinger Standing Bartending Team
How quickly can you make a well-balanced cocktail off the cuff?
The results of last month's Last Slinger Standing tryouts are in and the five competitors have been announced. It's no easy task to get in the finals, as each bartender had just five minutes to craft a well balanced and tasty cocktail using a random spirit base and liqueur of the judge's choosing and no more than three other ingredients. During Arizona Cocktail Week, the five finalists from Arizona will go head to head with teams from Nevada and Colorado until one bartender remains.
Here's who you'll be cheering on:
Joshua James is no stranger to competitive bartending.
Joshua James, Clever Koi
Having competed in several high-profile and technically-focused cocktail competitions in the past year, Joshua James is looking forward to zoning out and doing what he does best behind the bar.
"I like that it's not a technical competition," he says. "It's more fun to make drinks off the cuff for me."
He says having the "Hey Bartender!" on his menu at Phoenix's Clever Koi, which is kind of like the choose your own adventure of imbibing, has put a variety of drink templates and flavor combinations in his arsenal and he thinks that will be both an asset to him and his teammates. James' day-to-day attention to simplicity and balanced flavors wins over guests at his bar, but it was his combination of rum, apricot liqueur, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and tiki bitters that won the judges over in the event's trial round.
Matthew Talavera is one of two Tucson-area bartenders competing on the Arizona team.
Matthew Talavera, Cup Café at Hotel Congress (Tucson)
One of two bartenders coming from Tucson, Talavera says he's excited to represent his city and state in the Last Slinger competition. With a little over two years behind the bar, he attributes his place in the competition to two things. First off, Talavera is used to slinging drinks and slinging them fast working in a volume-intensive environment that is the hotel-restaurant-bar-venue combo package of Hotel Congress. More importantly, though, he says his mentor David Clark has helped him to know how to "make drinks and please people." Though he says he was nervous at trials, his Sidecar-like concoction with cognac, apricot liqueur, basil, lemon juice, and honey put him through to the real competition. His plan now?
"I plan on attending all of the practice sessions and learning as much as possible," he says. "Really though, I'll just keep going to work, doing my job, and doing it well until then."
Tim Lafever says Last Slinger is anyone's game.
Tim Lafever, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
"I like Last Slinger because it's about the best bartender of that day," Tim Lafever explains. "Anyone can win if they bring their A-game."
According to him, working at Bitter & Twisted has helped him develop his palate most of all. Lafever attributes his success in the competition to working under Ross Simon, who he says has a unique style that you don't see stateside. His simple trial combination of aged cachaça, dry curaçao, crème de mure, and lemon juice put him through to the next round. Though he admits that he spent most of his five minutes looking for ingredients, he says that going into the finals he's just going to keep doing what he does behind the bar. After all, his favorite part of bartending is "figuring out guests' palates and then giving them what they like."
Although Erick Bornmann splits his time between Phoenix and Tucson, he says the contrast between the volume bar and the craft bar that he works at has helped him for this event. Flycatcher, as he puts it, taught him the importance of "efficient motion" whereas Crudo taught him precision. He says working behind the bar at Crudo is more focused on measuring to ensure the "well balanced and well thought out drinks" are consistent.
Despite his experience at Crudo, he says having the trial runs there wasn't exactly an edge because some of the elements (particularly the garnish) were moved around, which threw him off a little. However, he came up with a mezcal, crème de mure, Averna amaro, agave nectar, and grapefruit and lime juice cocktail that put him through to the finals. Until then, he has one plan: taste, taste, taste.
"The only way to prepare is to taste everything you can in the meantime," Bornmann explains. "You might get an ingredient you've never had before."
Third time is the charm for Brandon Casey this year.
Brandon Casey, Citizen Public House
After three years of trying to get into Last Slinger, Brandon Casey has made the team. Now the head of the bar at Citizen Public House, Casey gets to experiment as much as he wants and his drink in the trial run is proof. Crafting a cocktail that mixes aged cachaça, apricot liqueur, AZ Bitters Lab's Mas Mole bitters, Drambuie, and Montenegro amaro in five minutes is no simple feat, but he says he was focused on letting the spirits shine, without all of the modifiers. Not too shabby for a bartender at 9:30 in the morning.
Before the finals, he plans to drag as many friends into the bar to try out his drinks as possible--a process he calls "community spitballing."
"I've put the Flavor Bible behind the bar and I'm just going to be using a lot of weird things to make drinks that I don't typically use," he says.
Last Slinger Standing's 2015 competition will take place on February 16 at Bitter & Twisted as a part of Arizona Cocktail Week. The 16 competitors are vying for both the title and a $2,000 prize, $500 of which will be given to the winner's USBG chapter. Should one of the five finalists not be able to compete, The Gladly's Brian Goodwin is slotted as the alternate.
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