The Volstead in downtown Jacksonville is a dope little craft cocktail bar known to put on one of the most pressure filled mixology competitions in the State…. The quarterly Volstead Bartender’s Brawl! This unique competition takes 16 Bartenders across the state and puts them head to head in a bracket-style, on the fly mixology battle to duke it out for the $1,000 cash and a chance to compete at the end of the year in the final tournament for the ultimate title of “Bartender’s Brawl Champion” And guess who took home the win at the 2nd quarter brawl this year for New Smyrna’s Bounty Bar.. that ‘s right, your Bounty girl Cocktails with Katie! Let me give ya’ll the run down of how it all went down.
Each round of the Brawl begins with each bartender dropping a coin into the Volstead’s homemade Pinko Board. Each spot along the bottom of the board corresponds with a different mystery ingredient which both bartenders must employ in their drink for the round. There are four rounds in total. You can bring whatever other ingredients you like to the competition but you must use the two mystery curveballs when they are thrown your way. The concept of the brawl is super similar to the show Chopped on food network, so you can imagine how intense it was.
The Judges for the Bartender’s Brawl were some heavy hitters in the F&B industry. First, a female rockstar by the name of Gabby Saul who is the Beverage Director and Proprietor of Restaurant in Jacksonville. Next up, Paul Skiera the divisional Vice President of St. George Spirit for FL, TX, CO and LA. Last but most certainly not least one of the most badass, talented, award wining and hysterical guys in the bar industry, Mr. Robert Mercier. I wanted to personally impress them just as badly as I wanted the win. Playing behind Bounty bar with an array of ingredients for three years was certainly coming in clutch.
The first round I went up against Evan Geske representing the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. The spirit to mix with was Ron Zacapa 12 yr old rum. Evan and I shook hands, dropped our coins and crossed our fingers. The first two mystery ingredients, Screwball Peanut Butter Whiskey and Sesame Syrup! After a deep breath my wheels started turning and the idea came about. I had brought a special concoction of Borgetti espresso liquor, mocha syrup and black walnut bitters plus a chilled mini mason jar filled with heavy cream. So I made a peanut butter sesame espresso libation that I shook wicked hard for a frothy head served up in a chilled coupe glass. I finished it off with a simple mocha syrup swirl design, finished off with freshly grated nutmeg. The judges gave me the thumbs up and I made my way to the second round with half the Bounty Bar crew in the crowd chanting my name.
The second round I came head to head with another badass award winning bartender by the name of Kelley Fitzsimonds representing the nationally acclaimed and super creative craft cocktail bar, Odd Birds in St. Augustine. This round we were mixing with Cenote Reposado Tequila. Our mystery ingredients were cayenne pepper powder and Bartlett pear. This time thanks to my handy tool box filled with special ingredients I took out fresh jalapeño and tiny jar of amber agave. Then from my cooler on wheels some St. Germain Elderflower liquor foam that I had made that earlier that morning at Bounty Bar. So I muddled a slice of jalapeño and Bartlett pear with a pinch of cayenne powder then added amber agave and fresh lemon juice with the Cenote Reposado Tequila. I shook it all up, fine strained it and served it over rocks in a rocks glass then topped it with my subtly sweet and floral elderflower foam sprinkled that with cayenne power and edible gold flakes. Looked like a drinkable cupcake. With a Smile and nod from the judges I made it on to the round 3.
Round 3 I came face to face with the talented award winning Michael Doyle, the Bar Manger of the nationally esteemed Ice Plant Bar placed on top of St. Augustine Distillery. This round we had to mix with Treaty Oak Distilling Red-Handed Rye Whiskey. Our secret ingredients consisted of guava puree and Malta India from Puerto Rico. It was my first time touching malta which is a non alcoholic carbonated malt beverage which is extremely dark in color with a medicinal honey notes. With two parts of the spicy Treaty Oak Distilling Red-Handed Rye plus equal parts guava purée and lemon juice, kiss of honey syrup, slice of fresh ginger and three shredded basil leaves I filled up my Koriko Cocktail tins. I shook it wicked hard then strained the goodness over fresh ice in a retro collins glass. I topped it all off with the Malta then a made an lemon peel rose with basil leaf petals then a mini honey dipper drench in orange blossom honey. Then I got by to the last and final round…
During my outer body experience basically the entire event, I found myself grinning ear to ear, walking into the final “battle”. I stood up against another talented Mixer, Mr. Nolan Jones representing Dos Gatos in downtown Jacksonville. With luck, chance and the grace of the brawl gods, we got delicious fresh figs and sesame syrup for the last round with St. George Botanivore Gin. I pulled a ripe Gala Apple from my bag of tricks then with a twirl of my blade, diced away. In my trusty Koriko tin I tossed in sliced figs and gala apple pieces then muddled them into a flavor packed pulp. Next I poured over fresh citrus with sesame syrup followed by St George’s wonderfully Botanical Botanivore gin. Shaken hard and served over fresh ice in a slender collins glass I knew i had to come hard with the garnish. I took the long peel of orange and cut out a crown that i wrapped around the top of my concoction because quite literally I wanted the crown to the competition. I made sure to mention that when I presented my cocktail. The judges asked Nolan and I a bunch of questions then had us step back as they whispered amongst each other. Called forward once more then asked to step back again I felt my heart race. Then they called my name and the Bounty Crew went wild. I grabbed my face like Macaulay Culkin in home alone and started screaming. I freakin’ did it! The whole Bounty crew threw their arms around me and we all had a bit of a mental breakdown together. Like we all won the world cup. It was Bounty’s win as much as it was mine. Thinking of that moment now I smile with pride.
A tip to those fellow industry friends looking to put themselves out there and challenge themselves in competitions- I had some advice from my Dad that made all the difference and that I accredit to my win- To never say I was nervous, instead say I was excited because those positive words would effect my mental state. Thanks again Daddio for the words of wisdom. Also I had a whole lot of love and support from the love of my life and fiancé Juliano Ciampaglia Rosa who took a ton of photos and videos and also got me the tool box that was filled with my own special secret ingredients. Shout out to my bounty crew/family Chase, Kiana, Gabby, Sarah, Neil, Terry, Aaron, David and Angela who drove all the way from NSB to cheer me on! Big shout out to my friend, colleague and fellow competitor Jay Pouilet for all the advice and support. Thanks to the Flagler Tavern owners Sherman, Theo and Mike who support me always. And thank you to the Flagler Tavern/ Bounty Crew that signed and handmade a good luck card that brought tears of joy to my eyes. The love and support everyone gave felt better then any win ever could. I can’t wait to fight for the title at the end of the year… and don’t forget, Win or Loose we still Booze! Cheers ya’ll.
xoxo Cocktails with Katie
Good Luck to Bounty’s to Jay Pouliot in the next battle! Catch this talented man behind Bounty Bar on Monday Nights!!