How to Win a Speed-Bartending Competition

Speed Rack L.A. contenders share their strategies for Sunday’s event

One of the most exciting drink-making competitions around, Speed Rack, is in the midst of a global tour, pitting the best women bartenders from major cities against one another. And it’s all for breast cancer research charities. This Sunday, January 25, the fast-and-furious bar brawl lands at Hollywood Roosevelt. Cocktail enthusiasts will get to see 20 of their favorite L.A. lady bartenders mix and shake to be the last woman standing, who will then travel to New York for the national finals.

It’s going to be quite the spectacle as you can see from the video of a previous battle in San Diego between Jill Webster (Harvard & Stone) and Brittini Rae Peterson (Melrose Umbrella Co.). These bartenders are in it to win it. But how do you win something against the best of the best? Simply being fast isn’t going to cut it. The cocktails have to taste good, too, with cocktail luminaries Dushan Zaric (The 86 Co., Employees Only) and Alex Day (Death & Co.) judging this year’s competition.

So I asked some of the L.A. contenders for their tips on how they plan to win. Besides “practice, practice, practice” and “have fun,” here are their strategies for kicking ass at the speed-bartending competition.

1) Know your product. La Descarga’s Christine Wiseman (competing in her third Speed Rack): “Make and know the drinks. And know your product. The way you have made the drink before may taste different because you are using different vermouths and modifiers during the competition.”

2) Stay calm. Sassafras Saloon’s Karen Grill (competing in her second Speed Rack): “My strategy is to stay calm and realize that I do this every day, for a living! I try to plan ahead and anticipate every move I make before I have to make it. Four cocktails should ideally take me two minutes or less, but I try to think about the movements and not about the clock ticking.”

3) Stick to your routine. Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge’s Cari Hah (competing in her third Speed Rack): “Don’t do anything too out of your normal usual service (i.e. if you usually jigger, don’t all of a sudden free pour at the competition).”

4) No wasted movements. Bestia’s Kristina Howald (competing in her fourth Speed Rack): “You have to be on point, you have to be fast and no wasted movements. Every second counts! Practicing with bottle placement in your well, always pouring two bottles at a time and, if you just don’t care, hand-straining. First round, you can make a crappy cocktail but as long as you put every ingredient in the cocktail it doesn’t matter. Speed! They do taste it. Obviously, the better it tastes the better you’ll do. But it’s mostly about getting the ingredients in the cocktail and making great time.”

5) Bring your own bar tools. Jonathan Club’s Jen Len (competing in her second Speed Rack): “I’m bringing my own bar tools for comfort just in case. It’s all about making it feel like my own bar! I’ll go with the recipe specs that I’m most comfortable with and what I think makes the best drinks!”

6) Stay away from the shot stations. Melrose Umbrella Co.’s Brittini Rae Peterson (three-time Speed Rack vet): “It is really easy at these events to get a little too tipsy before the competition even begins. Drink plenty of water and your (alcoholic) reward will eventually come.”

Tickets, which are $20 online and $25 at the door, include cocktails and bites from local food vendors.