Asheville bartenders competed for top honors in the Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Beat It Rummy craft cocktail competition held at Tiger Mountain Friday, June 10. Six bartenders from local establishments took their best shot at a chance to win accommodations for three nights at the 2016 Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Using Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum as the base, the competitors were paired off against each other, randomly given a time period and location as inspiration for their drinks and just six minutes to put it all together.
“It’s to allow the bartenders from all the cities we visit to showcase the versatility of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, how it mixes well with different flavors, how rum was so prominent in drinking history,” says Paul Monahan, brand ambassador for Sailor Jerry. “Exploring the versatility and showcasing the liquid that you’re mixing with is important to the education of the bartenders.”
Asheville is the last of six stops in the competition, which has also been to Asbury Park, New Jersey; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Milwaukee and Dallas.
Serving as judges were Monahan and fellow Sailor Jerry Brand Ambassador Daniel “Gravy” Thomas, along with food and drink writer Tim Rutherford of Hungry Man’s Guide. “A huge part of the criteria was authenticity to the period they presented, how the rum was used in that period of history,” Rutherford says.
With DJ Kipper Schauer spinning jams ranging from Talking Heads and Wilson Phillips to ‘90s hip-hop, Tiger Mountain was filled with energy and anticipation. Acting as masters of ceremonies, Monahan and Thomas provided plenty of expletive-laden commentary. Monahan jokingly referred to Thomas and himself as “two maniacs in jumpsuits that smell like my old hockey equipment.”
Round one saw Donnie Pratt of Cucina 24 facing off against Frank Wright of Tiger Mountain. Pratt says he tends to have a preference for classic cocktails, and “rum’s an interesting category because there’s a really wide range of things that happen with it.”
The setting of Los Angeles in the spring of 1960 determined the cocktails that would result, with Pratt pulling out the win by wowing the judges with a tiki-inspired beverage he says was perfect for summer.
Between rounds, Paul Adler, an Asheville transplant originally from Chicago, walked into the bar with his dog Flaca to enjoy the bartending spectacle. “I love rum. You can do anything with it, as far as food. Dark rums are wonderful,” says Adler, who mentions Sailor Jerry as one of this favorites.
Next up, Malcom Knighten, from Sovereign Remedies, squared off against Ned Keith, also from Tiger Mountain. “I have a better chance of beating Michael Jordan than this guy,” Keith says of his rival. Although in the chance of an overall victory, he would be too busy to enjoy the spoils anyway. “I can’t go out of town, I have no time. I’d probably give it to somebody else,” says Keith.
Miami in the ‘90s inspired the cocktails for round two, won by Knighten with a mix of Chambord, Grand Marnier, grenadine and Sailor Jerry finished with a lime garnish. “Dude made the best drink. I loved it,” says Monahan.
The third qualifying round pitted a bartender named simply Buck representing Asheville Yacht Club against Katey Ryder, also of Sovereign Remedies, with Puerto Rico, summer 1965 as the setting.
After the scores were all tallied, Ryder, Buck and Knighten stood at the top three positions, respectively. The championship round, coincidentally, had Ryder and Buck facing off once again.
Ryder ultimately came out on top after concocting a throwback to New York City in the 1780s. “It’s a riff on a classic cocktail called an Airmail … and I changed a couple things around. I put a little bit of ginger in there,” says Ryder. “It was pretty simple — Sailor Jerry and lime, honey, angostura bitters and Champagne.”
According to Rutherford, the concept of a craft cocktail has been around for generations based on the desire of bartenders to be the best. “It’s about being a purist, about being the best in your industry,” Rutherford says. “That 1780s category was a real surprise to me. Katey, man, she pulled that from the gut. That was an awesome cocktail. That was the one I drank top to bottom, actually finished it.”
Reiterating the idea and message behind the competition, Monahan says it’s an homage to the bartending days of the past. The addition of historical cocktail periods to the mix emphasizes how bartenders’ knowledge of the history behind the drinks they are creating bartenders are creating is especially important. Modern bartenders, he says, have technical skills and can use their smart phones to instantly look up any recipe imaginable, but they often don’t know the history behind the cocktail.
Monahan says he hopes “to make everybody realize that it is so important in this day and age to showcase some kind of education for the drinks you are making — that style of old-school bartending where you go to see a bartender at a bar because of who they are as a person. The experience you get when you see them, that is the idea behind this whole style of competition.”