Since August 2016, top bartenders from across the nation have been competing for the title of 2017 Bartender of the Year. Liquor.com and Heaven Hill Brands put out a call for entries for the second year of the competition. Bartenders responded with an overwhelming number of original cocktail recipes featuring Domaine de Canton French Ginger Liqueur, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur and Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey.
The 844 original recipes were whittled down to 64 bartenders, who went on to compete at eight regional competitions across the country. One bartender from San Francisco, Miami, New York, Nashville, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Los Angeles advanced to Puerto Rico to compete for $15,000. Each step in the competition required showcasing the skill and poise of an expert bartender.
Nathan O’Neill, of The NoMad Bar in New York City, ultimately claimed the prestigious title and grand prize.
The main challenge in Puerto Rico was creating an original cocktail for the St. Regis Bahia Beach resort, where the finals took place. Bartenders were required to create a cocktail fitting of the resort’s beverage program, while still being cost-effective, replicable and, most important, delicious. It was a high-wire act that the competitors pulled off with great style and skill. Bartenders were evaluated for selecting the ingredients, creating and developing the recipe and preparing the ingredients. Finalists also had to mix two classic cocktails—one shaken and one stirred—to show off their versatility.
Judges Jeffrey Morgenthaler (the bar manager at Clyde Common and Pépé le Moko), Lynn House (the national brand educator for Heaven Hill Brands), Joaquín Simó (a partner at Alchemy Consulting and the owner and head bartender at Pouring Ribbons) and Abigail Gullo (the 2016 Heaven Hill Bartender of the Year) did not have an easy decision. O’Neill eventually separated himself from the competition by forging a real connection with judges, showing all the skills of a seasoned hospitality professional.
There could only be one winner, but all the bartenders got a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Livermore’s Jesse Peterson, Tampa’s Brenda Terry, Nashville’s Mario Salas, Chicago’s Matty Eggleston, Denver’s McLain Hedges, Houston’s Chris Morris and Santa Monica, Calif.’s Adam George Fournier all created amazing drinks and friendships in Puerto Rico.
Bartenders from different years and cities are all part of the same Bartender of the Year family, as Gullo was present to hand off the title to O’Neill. It’s only going to get bigger and stronger in 2018.