Sixteen talented competitors from around the Southwest gathered at Bitter & Twisted in downtown Phoenix last night for the Iron Chef-style bartending competition Last Slinger Standing.
And though Phoenix bartender Tim LaFavre of Bitter & Twisted made it to the final round of the competition, it's Denver bartender Brittany Wangsness who walked away with the big win. That makes this the first time in the competition's four year history that a Phoenix-based bartender hasn't taken the win. Wangsness tends bar at Denver's TAG restaurant.
Starting at 7 p.m. a limited number of attendees watched as pairs of bartenders went head-to-head in six minute battles. In each round, organizers assigned two secret ingredients (one base spirit and one modifier) and challenged competitors to make three cocktails for a panel of judges.
This year's competition featured three teams of five USBG bartenders from Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, as well as one wild card competitor from Utah.
In the first round of the competition, Phoenix's Brandon Casey of Citizen Public House lost to Chris Clewell of Acorn in Denver. Challenged to use pisco and a basket of tropical fruit, Casey put on an entertaining performance (that including swallowing a raw egg yolk), but ultimately the judges favored the out-of-towner's drink.
Round two, which narrowed the field to eight players, proved difficult for Erick Bornmann of Crudo in Phoenix and Flycatcher in Tucson and Joshua James of Clever Koi. In a battle using tequila reposado and sweet vermouth, judges favored Wangsness' creation over Bornmann's unanimously. James' second round drink made with whiskey, Patrón XO Cafe, and black walnut and Angostura bitters also failed to win over the judges.
For the final match up, organizers offered a new kind of challenge: punch service for ten people. In a matter of minutes, LaFavre and Wangsness created punch bowls that had to use both vodka and cardamom bitters.
LaFavre chose muddled berries and champagne to create a fruity drink for the judges, but it was Wangsness' shaken punch that helped her take the win.
Next year we'll hope to see one of our hometown slingers get the title -- we also hope we'll be able to see the competition at all. Though Bitter & Twisted provided a stylish venue for the competition, the layout of the bar made it nearly impossible for most attendees to see the action. The bar's high ceilings and sub-par sound system also made it impossible to hear just about everything the emcees, judges, and competitors said. If organizers can address these production issues or chose a venue that's makes for a better viewing experience, we can only see this event attracting more and more viewers.