Behind the Bar Stick People

Annemarie Roberts Wins the Sandeman Bartender Competition

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Annemarie Roberts pours her award-winning cocktail, the Cape of Good Hope.

The Sandeman Bartender Competition reached new heights in 2018. The finals, taking place on May 21 at Wildhawk in San Francisco, showcased some of the best bartending talent in the Bay Area.

Guests at the event enjoyed Port cocktails created by the finalists, along with Portuguese-inspired bites made by chef Christopher Kiyuna. It was a good time for everyone gathered at the gorgeous and intimate bar, but no one had a better time than Annemarie Roberts.

Roberts celebrates her victory with a few high-fives.

The Pacific Cocktail Haven bartender separated herself from the other six competitors and won the 2018 Sandeman Bartender Competition. Roberts’ hard work has now paid off—with a free and educational trip to Portugal.

Roberts immediately caught the attention of the judges with her original cocktail, the Cape of Good Hope. Jonny Raglin (bar director of The Absinthe Group), Jacques Bezuidenhout (partner at Forgery and Wildhawk), Ian Adams (bartender at 15 Romolo and director of spirits and fortified wines at Merchants of Thirst) and Watson Barry (winner of the 2017 Sandeman Bartender Competition) were all impressed by her delicious Port cocktail, which was inspired by Portugal’s history of exploration.

The judges enjoy one of the fantastic Sandeman cocktails.

“I read up on Portugal spearheading the Age of Discovery and Bartolomeu Dias’ rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488,” said Roberts. “I also drew from the unique botanical kingdom of South Africa, my own family’s history, the story of Sandeman brands and the category of Port in general.”

Of course, the research was the easy part. Roberts had to turn all of this information and history into a cutting-edge cocktail. Finding this balance of tradition and innovation, after all, is one of the main goals of the Sandeman Bartender Competition.

It’s also what has defined Sandeman since 1790. Sandeman was the first Port house to brand casks with its initials to guarantee quality, and in the early 20th century commissioned paintings by some of the best artists of the day, introducing iconic posters, such as the Don in 1928, that later became a logo, and a worldwide recognized symbol of consistency, taste and world-class Port.

Sandeman still innovates with its design as well as its Port. It recently gave The Don a new cape to commemorate a new luxurious approach to Port. And Sandeman rewarded Roberts for using this philosophy to create a delicious cocktail with an unforgettable name, look and story.

A closer look at Roberts’ winning Port cocktail, the Cape of Good Hope.

Roberts accomplished this by mixing Sandeman 20-year-old Tawny Porto, Caperitif (a spirit that went extinct but was rediscovered and reinvented in the last decade) and gin to create an inspired take on the Negroni.

But Roberts was aware that having a great recipe isn’t enough to win. “I knew my cocktail was tasty and had a good story,” she said. “But I was still really nervous in the competition setting.” The nerves didn’t show. Her performance was as striking and flawless as her original recipe.

The finalists enjoy a Sandeman cocktail with Sandeman brand ambassador Anna Budarina (fourth from right) following an unforgettable competition.

Roberts’ victory wouldn’t mean nearly as much if it weren’t for the wildly talented group of bartenders she competed against. Judges and guests won’t be forgetting about Megan Abraham’s Tidal Eclipse, Adam Boots Brogan’s Seventh Bridge, Philip Kim’s Entwined Vine, Marguerite Regan’s Secret Beach, Ilya Romanov’s Skinny Dip and Seth Sandoval’s King’s Keep. These cocktails made something very clear: Great bartenders can do incredible things with Port.

Check out all the gorgeous, mouthwatering cocktails made by the finalists.

After Roberts was announced as the winner, she reflected back on what prompted her to enter the competition. “The opportunity to travel to Portugal, visit the Sandeman winery and learn more about the traditions of Port from the people who make it inspired me to participate in the competition,” she said. “I am a firm believer that traveling is the best way to learn about the world, the way other people live and traditions that differ from your own and grow as a human being.”

Soon she’ll be off to Portugal to do exactly that.