What makes a good bartender?
Well, that depends on whom you're asking. Most patrons want someone fast, generous and consistent. Designated drivers want someone who won't balk at slinging soda, while connoisseurs are looking for someone with talent who's attentive to details.
But for the local celebrity contestants competing in Tommy Africa's Bartender Challenge — which has been running once a month throughout the season — it gets a little more complicated.
"Basically they go head-to-head with three competitors and their judging is based on three competitions throughout the night," explains Shannen Carlson, lead bartender at Tommy's who also helps with the bar's promotions.
The categories are broken down: 40 per cent of the score is based on how many people the bartenders bring in, another 40 per cent is total sales at the end of the night and the final 20 per cent goes towards how many of their unique shooters they sell.
The prize is $500 in cash.
"Everybody always has such a great time. It's an amazing night," Carlson says. "It's nice to get everybody from all around town at our club."
The Bartender Challenge is on hiatus through May after a successful winter, but it will return in June, she adds. Throughout the season, organizers have recruited everyone from snowboarders to doormen and DJs, anyone with a bit of a profile in the local club scene. They have also brought in bartenders from other bars around town to represent their establishment and test their chops.
"Typically, (bartenders in Whistler) stick to one establishment. That's their (bar) that they're well known at," Carlson says. "They represent their brand and homebase."
To that end, a big part of the competition is promotion. Each contestant is given a stack of wristbands to hand out before the event. When patrons get to the bar they have to identify which contestant they're there to support. The celebrity bartender can't begin work until 20 of their guests arrive, explains Jeff Cockle, Tommy's general manager, who helped spearhead the event.
"It's very exciting and usually they create a costume theme for added points," he says. "We did four events throughout the winter season and they were all extremely successful and entertaining."
The most recent event took place April 10 and paired up guest bartenders from different Whistler venues. The winners were Brenna and Jody from Cinnamon Bear and Tapley's, respectively.
Not all the contestants are experienced at slinging pints. For those cases, regular Tommy's staff acts as shadow bartenders to help out if they get in over their heads. "If we need to step in a bit more we're happy to do it," Carlson says. "It's exciting for them and fun for their friends to see them in action."
Since starting the contest back in the fall Tommy's has had interested potential competitors approach them about participating, she adds. "It's wonderful when you've got people saying, 'How do I get involved?' It's a little bit exciting and a little different. The staff loves it as well. We love having our guests and rivals, so to speak, here," she says.
Another interesting aspect of the competition is discovering the signature shots contestants create. Some have been more basic — like a Jack Daniel's shot simply renamed — while other bartenders have come with their own ingredients in tow. Scott Barber, the vodka room director at the Bearfoot Bistro for example came prepared with his own simple syrup when he was a contestant in the fall. "Every local bartender has a signature shot," Carlson says. "People can get a little bit creative."
The most popular shots as of late? Bomb shots, she says. Those shooters, essentially, pair up any kind of liquor with red bull for a jolt and a buzz.
With May being Whistler's dedicated month of rest after a busy season, the Bartender Challenge won't be back into full swing until June when organizers will host around three or four nights throughout the summer. Stay tuned for more.
Scott Barber's Easyrider shot
Polish flavoured vodka (a.k.a. Bison grass vodka)
When Scott Barber competed in the Bartender's Challenge he brought a mix of cucumber, lime, apple and simple syrup with him. Blend all these ingredients to taste.
Simply add a one-ounce shot of vodka with a three quarter ounce shot of the mix.