Five bartenders will soon arrive in Tennessee to compete for a trip to Bar Convent Berlin. And if the previous rounds of the Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic are any indication, choosing between these bartenders will be almost as hard as creating a timeless take on the Whiskey Sour.
It’s a good thing Gentleman Jack has recruited three of the brightest minds in cocktails to judge the finals. Why are these judges uniquely qualified to choose the next classic Whiskey Sour? And what will they be looking for in the Tennessee finals?
Listen to what these spirit and cocktail pros have to say about the competition.
Judge #1: Dale Degroff
Who he is: King Cocktail; winner of two James Beard Awards for Wine & Spirits Professional; author of “The Craft of the Cocktail” and “The Essential Cocktail”
An essential experience: “Competitions like the Gentleman Jack Whiskey Sour Classic give bartenders an opportunity to experiment and engage the judges in ways that can build confidence. Bartenders need to tap into multiple skill sets that can build confidence when dealing with the job.”
Mastering the fundamentals: “Serious chefs need to master the basic French sauces: béchamel, espagnole and hollandaise, among others. The variation on these mother sauces is where creativity lies. The cocktail world also has basic ‘sauces,’ and the sour is one of the most important and difficult to master.”
More than a recipe: “Competitions can’t be won without a brilliant drink, but they can be lost if that’s all you have. Flawless execution and an element of surprise are also necessary. The judges are looking for a drink to take us to a new place.”
Judge #2: Caitlin Laman
Who she is: Beverage director of Ace Hotel Chicago
The right approach: “Bartenders should be thinking about approachability in how the cocktail reads on a menu, palatability in terms of how many people will appreciate its flavor (aka don’t get too weird) and efficiency as far as preparation of the ingredients and how the drink would be made in a bar.”
Setting the stage: “I’m always looking for someone to recreate a bar experience in an otherwise tense and high-stress competition environment. If someone can come in and make the panel of judges feel like we are sitting at a bar, they’ve already succeeded.”
Why classics matter: Knowing classic cocktails inside and out is integral to becoming a successful bartender. It’s the first thing we all learn and perfect and also the first step toward making our own original cocktails. Classic cocktails and slight riffs on classic cocktails are still the best cocktails around.”
Judge #3: Eric Tecosky
Who he is: Founder and owner of Dirty Sue and U.S. Brand Ambassador for Jack Daniel’s
Looking the part: “Some people always do well in competitions because they think about what is being asked of them and check every box with their own style. If presentation is part of the criteria, take the opportunity to dial up your garnish. Every part is being looked at, not just the cocktail itself.”
The secret to sours: “Balance is the key ingredient in any great cocktail. Too much or not enough of one flavor can really make the distinction between an ‘interesting’ cocktail and one that will be ordered again and again.”
What Gentleman Jack brings: “A cocktail can only be as good as the ingredients you are using. Starting with Gentleman Jack gives a bartender a giant step in the right direction when it comes to quality and flavor. The double charcoal mellowing process results in smoother, lighter, slightly sweeter whiskey. That allows a bartender to complement or contrast those flavors in a way to create something special.”