The Slane Cocktail Series gave bartenders a chance to develop and showcase recipes featuring triple-casked Irish whiskey. That has been great news for whiskey fans in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco who now have a long list of exciting bars and mouthwatering cocktails to discover.
But the biggest winners of the Slane Cocktail Series were the bartenders behind the nine top recipes. These innovative cocktail makers won an immersive trip to the Slane Castle in Ireland, in addition to being featured on their own city’s guide to great Irish whiskey.
Get to know the winners of the Slane Cocktail Series. This is how they earned a trip to Ireland and what they experienced while they were there.
Winner #1: Brendan Burke
Home bar: The Kerryman
The trip to Slane Castle illuminated just how much thought goes into every aspect of the Irish whiskey’s production. Brendan Burke identified this as the reason Slane remains in a category of its own.
The Chicago bartender’s cocktail, the Dark Side of the Moon, is a take on the Irish Coffee made with that same obsessive sense of craft. It uses cold-brew coffee to put a refreshing spin on the classic cocktail. That would have been enough for most bartenders looking to create an Irish Coffee perfect for summer. But Burke dug deeper by topping the cocktail with his homemade citrus whipped cream.
The only ingredient in his recipe that didn’t need to be adjusted and elevated was the Slane Irish whiskey. That was already done by the people at Slane Castle.
Winner #2: John Giuffre
Hometown: San Francisco
Home bar: John Colins
One of the biggest reasons John Giuffre stood out in the Slane Cocktail Series was the story behind his cocktail, the Geary Blvd. The street stretches from the historically Irish section of San Francisco through Japantown, and his recipe also connects the two cultures.
Giuffre did so by mixing Slane Irish whiskey and sake, along with coconut water, lightly muddled pickled ginger and a shiso leaf garnish. Of course, the cocktail isn’t just a clever name. He won a trip to the Slane Castle because it’s one of the best Irish whiskey cocktails you can find in San Francisco.
While his recipe showed an expert understanding of Slane Irish whiskey, the trip gave him an opportunity to go deeper with the spirit. “This experience challenged me and rewarded me with invaluable personalized knowledge of the whiskey-making process,” says Giuffre.
The trip was extra special for Giuffre since he was able to bring his wife. Together, they toured the castle and distillery, became friends with bartenders and distillers and enjoyed great food and drink.
Winner #3: Michael Hart
Hometown: San Francisco
Home bar: Lord George
Michael Hart has only been bartending for a few years, but he’s already making his mark on the bar scene in San Francisco. He’s doing it with cocktails like the Drams of the Kilburn High, which makes the inspired choice of complementing Slane Irish whiskey with banana liqueur.
Winning in the Slane Cocktail Series gave him the chance to grow his network and meet other bartenders and industry professionals. “Meeting so many talented people makes me want to be a better bartender,” says Hart.
If the San Francisco bartender improves any more, that’s incredible news for the regulars at Lord George.
He also gave a word of advice of advice to any bartender considering joining the Slane Cocktail Series in the future. “Drink the whiskey until you get inspired,” he says. “The best cocktails showcase the best aspects of their base spirits.”
You heard it here. Crack open a bottle of Slane Irish whiskey and get to work.
Winner #4: Natalie Lichtman
Hometown: San Francisco
Home bar: Elixir
Natalie Lichtman hasn’t had a conventional bartending career, if such a thing even exists. It started with her leading pub crawls for international guests at a San Francisco hostel. The way she handled the group impressed some local bartenders, who eventually hired her as a hostess.
From there, she worked her way to becoming a bartender at Elixir, San Francisco’s second-oldest cocktail bar. The Slane Cocktail Series is another new achievement for Lichtman. It’s the first cocktail competition she has won, as well as the first one she has entered.
Winning the trip to Ireland led to a role reversal for the San Francisco bartender. Now she was the tourist being guided through a foreign country, enjoying the offerings from the local distilleries and pubs. That’s a big reason why she appreciated the people she met during her time in Ireland.
“I'd never been to Ireland before,” says Lichtman. “And everyone we met, from the local cheesemaker to the band playing at the pub, was extremely generous and kind.”
The tour through the distillery proved to be the most memorable part of the trip. “With each passage to a new room or building, I became even more impressed with the strong ethics behind every mechanism and decision that goes into running the distillery,” she says.
Given Lichtman’s curiosity and passion for the business, it’s likely that this will be the first of many cocktail competitions she wins.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Winner #5: Jarek Mountain
Home bar: Lion’s Tale
Jarek Mountain may be a veteran of the Boston bar scene, but the Slane Cocktail Series led to a major first for him: The trip to the Slane Castle was the first time Mountain traveled to Europe.
The Boston bartender spoke about how the trip opened his eyes to the importance of travel. Of course, it’s difficult to imagine many other vacations could live up to his experience at the castle. And that’s mainly because of the people he met there.
“I will forever love this brand after meeting the people behind the whiskey,” says Mountain. What really struck him was the emphasis Slane Irish whiskey places on running an environmentally friendly distillery. “The thought and care that goes into giving back to the land really impressed me.”
It’s no surprise that he would notice others putting thought and care into their work, since he took a similarly meticulous approach when making his Lion’s Tale cocktail. The recipe features an innovative and perfectly balanced mix of herbal liqueurs.
Winner #6: Luke Nevin-Gattle
Home Bar: Room 13
It didn’t take long for Luke Nevin-Gattle to fall for the culture of Ireland and the charm of Slane. Simply walking around the town and distillery was enough to see what made the place—and by extension, the whiskey—so distinct.
What struck Nevin-Gattle in particular is Slane’s ties to the music scene. “Not only are they connected with Irish artists, they have done shows with folks from all over the globe,” he says.
The music really was great, but the people were what made it an unforgettable trip. The Chicago bartender talked with bartenders from Ireland, along with other winners from the Slane Cocktail Series, about trends happening in their cities.
“This has me thinking on things I’d like to work on for future projects,” says Nevin-Gattle. This exchange of ideas and broadening of the mind, he understands, is why trips and competitions like this are so vital.
Winner #7: Kimberly Nobrega
Home Bar: O’Connor’s Restaurant & Bar
Kimberly Nobrega has been working in restaurants for nearly 20 years. After being everything from a dishwasher to a cook and a bartender, she’s currently the manager at O’Connor’s Restaurant & Bar. And this position is ultimately what led to her winning a trip to the Slane Castle in Ireland.
“When we brought Slane Irish whiskey into our bar, we crafted the Slane Irish Whiskey Smash to promote it,” says Nobrega. “When we saw the competition, it seemed pretty natural to enter it to see how it would do. We were thrilled to be finalists, but to win was a bit surreal.”
The win wouldn’t surprise any customer who had ordered the cocktail.
It earned Nobrega the opportunity to tour the Slane distillery in Ireland, where she learned all about the production process and business model of the iconic triple-casked whiskey. In addition to the whiskey education, she also got to enjoy an exceptional Irish Coffee. Hopefully, a version of that drink will find its way onto the menu at O’Connor’s.
Winner #8: Eli Shapiro
Home Bar: Railstop
Eli Shapiro has worked at more than 20 different bars, nightclubs, restaurants and lounges in New England and New York. He started as a door guy and eventually worked his way behind the bar, thanks to his insatiable curiosity and passion for hospitality.
That attitude is obvious when you take a look at his submission to the Slane Cocktail Series. Shapiro’s Whiskey in a Castle cocktail not only made expert use of triple-casked whiskey and his house-made plum-vanilla syrup, he served it in an ice castle he constructed himself.
It was more than enough to earn him a trip to the actual Slane Castle in Ireland, where he made the most of his visit. The Boston bartender enjoyed whiskey at the castle, talked shop with industry professionals from around the globe and even sang Irish songs with locals at a pub.
But between the drinking and singing, Shapiro picked up on quite a bit about Slane Irish whiskey. “I really loved the distillery tour,” says Shapiro. “The brand-new equipment in an ancient castle provided a crazy contrast that I dig.”Continue to 9 of 9 below.
Winner #9: Rory Toolan
Home Bar: The Heavy Feather
Rory Toolan started his career at a shot-and-beer spot on the South Side of Chicago. He has gone on to work at some of the city’s most acclaimed cocktail bars, currently serving as the beverage director at The Heavy Feather and Slippery Slope.
After winning the Slane Cocktail Series, his next stop was the Slane Castle. He punched his ticket to Ireland with his subtle and delicious recipe, the Festival at the Gates. The cocktail, as the name would suggest, is perfect for sipping at a festival concert.
Even as someone well versed in Irish whiskey, there was a lot about Slane that surprised Toolan. “Learning that Slane was interested and invested in sustainability was news to me,” he says.
It’s surprising that a distillery at an ancient-looking castle would be on the forefront of sustainability. But it’s this mix of history and innovation that makes Slane stand out from other Irish whiskey brands.