So many cocktails! So little time! Such is the nature of Speed Rack–a bartender-organized charity competition, now in its sixth year. It pits an all-female set of contestants in head-to-head competitions to make four drinks at once, called for at random by a panel of judges. Thanks to sponsorship by some of biggest names in the spirits world, one hundred percent of the event’s proceeds go to breast cancer research.
Battling side-by-side in a bracket format, pairs of contestants race to make all four drinks in the shortest time possible while keeping their creations up to the highest craft cocktail standards. Each contestant is timed as they make their drinks, and afterwards the four judges evaluate the cocktail they called for, as made by the two contestants. The judges may add additional seconds to the contestant’s timings based on how well the cocktail meets their standards. A perfectly executed drink yields no time added, while a disastrous showing can add up to thirty seconds.
The Pacific Northwest Speed Rack finals, held this past Sunday at Washington Hall in Seattle, pitted contestants from Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii, with the winner and a runner up going to the national Speed Rack final in New York City later this year.
Hosting the event was Simon Ford of The 86 Company, the company behind Ford’s Gin, Aylesbury Duck Vodka, Tequila Cabeza, and Caña Brava rum. Also a constant presence on stage were Speed Rack co-founders Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero, delivering drinks, conducting interviews, and generally keeping the event rolling.
While dozens of bartenders competed in various local competitions over the past few months, by the we filled Washington Hall on a chilly, rainy Sunday evening, the list had been whittled down to just eight: Aubry Robinson, Mindy Kucan, Natasha Mesa, Megan Radke, Renee Valencia, Jacyara de Oliveira, Brianna Wilske, and Halley Connelly. Assisting the competitors behind the scenes were well-known Seattle bartenders Seth Sempre and Erik Hakkinen among a slew of familiar faces.
Judging the Seattle competition were Paul Clarke, local author and executive editor of Imbibe Magazine; Kathy Casey, of Seattle’s Liquid Kitchen; Tan Vinh, cocktail writer for the Seattle Times, and Charlotte Voisey, director of brand advocacy for William Grant & Sons.
Attendees, nearly all bartenders cheering on their compatriots, are kept well-lubricated by seemingly endless supply of sponsor-provided punches and other libations, along with plenty of vendor swag.
Working through the four quarterfinal rounds, two semifinal rounds, and a finals round took up every bit of the four hours allotted. When all was said and done, Jacyara de Oliveira, a relatively recent Seattle transplant from Chicago (she rode her bike cross-country to move here) was the winner. Jacyara currently works at Rob Roy and is slated to take over the bar manager position at their soon to be opening sister bar, Navy Strength. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with her a few times at Rob Roy, and I expect I’ll see a whole lot more of her when Navy Strength opens.
Congratulations to Jacyara and the soon-to-be-named wild card contestant, who will represent in New York! Now on to more photos!