The World Series and Election Day may have come and gone but November’s got one more fierce competition.
Speed Rack Season Six kicks off tonight with Speed Rack Midwest, at Thalia Hall in Chicago.
“I’m really excited about this year. I’m excited about all the new talent, and to see that cocktail culture is clearly growing across the U.S. in a positive way,” said Ivy Mix, head bartender and owner of Brooklyn’s Leyenda and co-founder of Speed Rack.
Mix and Lynnette Marrero, beverage director of the Llama Inn (also in Brooklyn) and Perrier brand ambassador, founded Speed Rack together in 2011 in response to the accessory-like roles assigned to women in the industry during New York cocktail competitions.
“We were this token kind of thing. Someone would hand you two shakers and the crowd would get a kick out of watching a woman double-shake cocktails, and that was [the extent of our participation],” said Marrero.
In the years following Speed Rack’s launch the number of applicants has steadily increased, motivating Marrero and Mix to hold regional competitions instead of focusing on particular popular cities like New York and San Francisco. “We’re seeing people apply from places we’ve never seen before,” Mix said.
The competition’s challenges, networking opportunities, and educational resources for contestants have grown, as well.
“We’re doing an event with The 86 Co. and Del Maguey Mezcal on women’s issues in the bar world, there’s going to be a big dinner and much more time spent together. Winners are going to go to Ireland with Jameson and to Mexico with Olmeca Altos Tequila,” Mix said.
“We were this token kind of thing. Someone would hand you two shakers and the crowd would get a kick out of watching a woman double-shake cocktails, and that was [the extent of our participation].”
This year contestants will also face mixed preliminaries-six to eight drinks will be selected and shared with contestants who will then be asked to make four drinks from that list as quickly and accurately as possible – a tougher initial challenge than in years past when preliminaries tested contestants on a list of just four drinks. “We’re trying to figure out a way to really make sure the best people are moving to the top,” Mix said.
The mixed preliminaries help ensure that contestants are fast, making any drink orders that come their way, not just the four drink list that was given them ahead of time. Season Six contestants will also be judged for style, a component added to scoring last year. “This is meant to demonstrate how good you are at your job,” Mix said.
Because while the women competing in Speed Rack may put on a good show, they’re there for a lot more than bragging rights.
“One of the key things we look for in applicants is passion,” Marero said. “You can sense that hunger, you can touch it, and that energy is what shines through on that stage.”
Competing in Speed Rack Midwest this year are:
- Katie Astrauskas – Moneygun; Chicago, IL
- Meredith Barry – Sable Kitchen and Bar; Chicago, IL
- Miranda Breedlove – Bad Hunter; Chicago, IL
- Mony Bunni – Boleo, The Kimpton Gray Hotel; Chicago, IL
- Sophia de Oliveira – Cold Storage; Chicago, IL
- Dorothy Elizabeth – Standby; Detroit, MI
- Carley Gaskin – Celeste, Bad Hunter; Chicago, IL
- Julia Gordon – Lost Lake, Milk Room; Chicago, IL
- Marissa Huth – Estereo, Sportsman’s Club; Chicago, IL
- Laura Kruming – Sable Kitchen and Bar, Sparrow; Chicago, IL
- Kelsey Lappa – Boleo, The Kimpton Gray Hotel; Chicago, IL
- Shelby Minnix – The Golden; Fort Wayne, IN
- Tina Mixtaj – Black Canyon Restaurant; Fort Wayne, IN
- Julia Momose – GreenRiver; Chicago, IL
- Sarah O’Malley – Nico Osteria; Chicago, IL
- Lisa Palmer – The Broken Shaker, Three Dots and a Dash; Chicago, IL
- Baylee Pruitt – Cardinal Spirits Distillery, Libertine Liquor Bar; IN
- Sarah Rothstein – Spoon and Stable; Minneapolis, MN
- Leah Schoenburg – The Loyalist, Spilt Milk; Chicago, IL
- Cameron Shaw – Steadfast; Chicago, IL
- Sarah Syman – Beacon Tavern; Chicago, IL
- Laura Wagner – SoT (South of Truman), The Rieger; Kansas City, MO
Contestants will be judged by Paul McGee, owner and head bartender, Lost Lake Chicago, Bridget Albert, director of mixology, SWS, Helen David Foundation, Stephanie Izard, executive chef, Girl & the Goat, and Mike Ryan, director of bars, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Beam Suntory’s National Brand Ambassador, Robin Nance, will emcee the proceedings.
Tickets cost $25 in advance and $30 at the door. For more information, visit Speed-Rack.com.