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Becoming America’s Ultimate Bartender is not for Wusses

May 22, 2017 – The old movie image of the crusty middle-aged bartender slamming down drinks with a sage nod of agreement to his customer’s tale of woe has given way to a new breed of multi talented men and women deserving a great deal of respect and big tips.

Bartending has morphed into a physical workout while concocting complex drinks to perfection and being entertaining all at the same time.

The demands of the Third Annual Ultimate Bartender Championship sponsored by Tales of the Cocktail* and Monkey Shoulder Whisky make it clear that bartending is not for wusses.  Starting March 23 in Miami, followed by New York June 27, Chicago August 8, Austin September 26 and California in October, contestants will vie to win bragging rights for their city and the chance to join Tales of the Cocktail on Tour in Edinburgh next year.

Here’s what they have to do in the space of a couple of hours:

•   Quiz Show: Participants will answer 50 multiple choice questions in ten minutes
Mixiodic Table: Contestants must determine the cocktail based on a molecular-style formula, using the mixiodic table to identify the ingredients
Round Building: Build five cocktails in under five minutes
Nosing Tray Service: Take an order of ten drinks, identify ten serves by scent, taste and then properly serve
Championship Round: Mystery Box Cocktail Whisperer – Participants have five minutes to create a cocktail for the judges while telling a tale about the drink and its origin.

We spoke with Sebastien Derbomez, Monkey Shoulder’s Brand Ambassador, himself a winner of many bartending awards, about the rigors of the profession in the new era of cocktail popularity.  A good mixologist needs a profound knowledge of the flavor subtleties of dozens and dozens of spirits.  The choice of a certain whisky, or gin, for example, is key to the success of a particular recipe, as are precise measurements.  He explained why Monkey Shoulder Whisky is so versatile for cocktails.  It is pure barley malt – no grains – and a careful blend of three Speyside single malts from Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie.  Hence the three monkeys on the label.  Aging in ex-bourbon casks imparts a mellow vanilla flavor and a touch of sweetness.

In considering subtleties of flavor, check on the Mixiodic Table, a creation of Dean Callen, Monkey Shoulder’s global brand ambassador.  At first glance it looks like the product of a demented joke but study it closely and it is quite brilliant.  It also demonstrates very clearly just how complicated it is to build a winning cocktail, a term used in the industry.  A bartender needs to know his or her stuff in order to mix a drink based on the patron’s preferred flavor profile.

Monkey Shoulder’s name is something all bartenders can relate to.  It came from the malt men who in years gone by worked long hours turning the barley by hand using a shovel.  Often one arm would end up being longer than the other and monkey-like.  Today we’d call it repetitive stress injury which eventually afflicts many bartenders’ shoulders, elbows and wrists from hefting heavy bottles, shaking cocktails like a maniac, moving cases of booze and doing it all at warp speed.  Not to mention being on their feet for hours, smiling all the while.

Be nice; appreciate your mixologist/bartender and enjoy their dedication to their calling.

*Tales of the Cocktail founded in New Orleans 2002 is the industry’s annual meeting place for the exchanging of new ideas, products and techniques.