all began with a single event back in 2007: the bartending competition.
It showcased local bartenders’ professionalism and talent and laid the foundation for what is now a week’s worth of cocktail-focused education, exploration and celebration.
Still, the contest remains at Popfest’s core, and bartenders will again return the Uptown Theater on Aug. 25 to vie for the title.
It’s no easy task. Finalists must prepare their original cocktails onstage for a panel of judges, as well as make a big enough batch for the public tasting room. Judges will compare the two versions, pick a classic drink at random for each contestant to make and quiz them industry knowledge.
While that’s a lot of pressure, this year’s slate is a familiar one.
Mark Church ofGrünauer won the competition in 2010, while Justin Richardson of Manifesto placed second in 2011 and Ryan Rama of Waldo Pizza Tap Room
was a finalist in 2007.
Jenn Tosatto, bar manager ofThe Rieger Hotel Grill Exchange
, has been in the top tier of in every contest since 2008, when she placed third. Last year, Tosatto earned second place at Popfest and was a finalist in the Diageo World Class U.S. competition in New York.
Beau Williams of HawthorneJulep Cocktail Club
, a bartending catering and consulting company, placed third in 2007, was a finalist a year later and placed second in 2009. Williams is also bar manager of Manifesto.
Tony Beyer ofMilano competed in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 events and was voted Fan Favorite all three years. Paige Unger of Extra Virgin
made the finals in 2010, 2011 and 2010; she also competed in the Speed Rack national finals in New York earlier this year.
But even the Popfest Bartending Competition newbies are an experienced lot. Caitlin Corcoran ofPort Fonda represented Parisi Artisan Coffee in the 2012 U.S. Barista Championship. Ryan Miller of Voltaire
placed in a regional Four Roses Bourbon contest earlier this year and is organizing a Small’s American Dry Gin cocktail competition on Aug. 18.
Scott Tipton worked at R Bar and opened Gram Dun as its bar manager before moving toThe Kill Devil Club
; he also earned a coveted spot as a cocktail apprentice at the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail.
Kyle Mathis is bar manager ofTaste in St. Louis and winner of that city’s Iron Fork mixology competition in March. Mandi Kowalski of Sanctuaria
is another St. Louis favorite on the Popfest line-up.
Want to see them in action? Tickets are available online atParis of the Plains Cocktail Festival
and also include food from local restaurants, live music and burlesque.
Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com .