Behind the Bar Stick People

What Happened at the Beluga Signature Creative US Finals

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All the bartenders poured beautiful vodka cocktails throughout the competition.

The U.S. finals for the Beluga Signature Creative competition recently took place at Otis in Brooklyn. Eight bartenders arrived from cities all over the country, having already proven they possess the sophistication and style to make a run in this global competition.

Because only bartenders with values and ambitions consistent with Beluga, a super-premium Russian vodka, were invited to the exclusive Beluga Signature Bartender School, which preceded the national finals.

At these educational pop-ups, leading bartenders were guided through all aspects of creating a luxurious experience. Philip Duff, Beluga’s director of education, stressed the importance of bottle aging, whether you’re making a premium spirit or bottled cocktail. Tasting nonrested Beluga vodka alongside the Noble, Transatlantic, Allure and Gold Line vodka illustrated what a difference a little aging can make.

These lessons would have a practical application, since the next stage of the Beluga Signature Creative competition tasked bartenders with creating two signature cocktails. These recipes—a bottled cocktail and a five-ingredient-or-less freestyle cocktail, called the Connoisseur’s Choice—would determine who would reach the finals in Brooklyn.

By June 11, the stage was set. The eight finalists gathered at the warm and inviting Brooklyn bar, where they poured and presented these two cocktails to the impressive trio of judges, including Duff. The judging panel was rounded out by author and spirits guru Dale DeGroff and Robb Report writer Tony Sachs.

The judges’ jobs were more difficult than finding the bartender who turned knowledge from the Beluga Signature Bartender School into delicious high-end cocktails. All eight of the finalists did that. The winner needed to convey a sense of luxury in their performance and presentation, in addition to their cocktails.

U.S. winner Gedeon Tsegaye poses with his inspired and luxurious Connoisseur’s Choice cocktail.

Gedeon Tsegaye did all of that and more. And that’s how he became the U.S. winner of the Beluga Signature Creative competition. Tsegaye, who works at Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco, brilliantly mixed Beluga Gold Line vodka with sherry, lemon juice and his own house-made rhubarb syrup. It showed that premium cocktails don’t have to be complicated. You just have to choose the best ingredients.

The San Francisco bartender’s bottled cocktail dazzled the judges as well. The Gold Line Express, featuring Beluga Gold Line, dry orange curaçao, sherry and velvet falernum, isn’t just a mouthwatering high-end cocktail. It’s practical enough to actually be featured on real-world cocktail menus at a reasonable price point.

The ability to make the extravagant accessible is one of the reasons why Tsegaye will be advancing to the global finals in Sochi, Russia, this September. There, he will face off against bartenders from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom, all of whom have also attended the Beluga Signature Bartender School and beat the competition from their respective countries.

Tsegaye reacts to the news that he will be representing the U.S. at the global finals.

Each one of these bartenders will be competing for the chance to become the 2019 Beluga Signature Global Brand Ambassador. That title comes with the opportunity to promote the brand in industry events around the globe, including, but not limited to, Bar Convent Berlin, Barra Mexico and Tales of the Cocktail. The winner will also receive a one-week internship at the bar of his or her choice, anywhere in the world.

A prize like that is sure to inspire some spectacular cocktails and heated competition. Will Tsegaye rise above the rest once again? You’ll have to wait until September to find out.