Female Bartenders Square Off — and Raise Money for Breast Cancer Research — in San Francisco

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A founder and a winner of the Speed Rack competition talk motivation and creativity

Cheers to the Speed Rack competitors.

Watch out, San Francisco: lean, mean bartending machines are on the loose. Speed Rack is an international all-female bartending battle. The event, pitting female bartender against female bartender, is held in six cities across the country. For the sixth season, the San Francisco rally was held at Gray Area.

Speed Rack — which is the largest network of female bartenders, and has raised more than half a million dollars worldwide for breast cancer charities — was created by nationally acclaimed bartenders and industry ambassadors Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix, who received Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Wine Star Award as Mixologists of the Year. The dream duo were also named two of the Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink by Food & Wine and Fortune magazines in 2015.

The Daily Meal had the chance to catch up with co-founder Marrero and sixth-season San Francisco winner Helen Diaz about Speed Rack, their favorite cocktails, and what’s yet to come for them in the word of bartending.

First, we spoke with Marrero about the founding and evolution of Speed Rack.

 

The Daily Meal: How did you come up with the Speed Rack concept?

Lynette Marrero: When we started Speed Rack, there was a noticeable lack of prominent young women in the industry being highlighted. Through my work with LUPEC [Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails], I had a strong network of women and got Ivy involved. She came up with the idea for some competition featuring these women and raising money for breast cancer charities. With that goal we crafted the competition and format of it today.

What piqued your interest in the bartending industry?

I came from a theater background. As a performer I loved presenting my creativity for audiences. When I finally gave into being the cliché waiter-actor, I discovered my passion for making cocktails. In a way, a cocktail and being a bartender is performance art. You put your creativity out into the world, and see how it's received.
 

What are some of your favorite seasonal cocktails and all-time go-to's?

Negroni variations, daiquiris, a really good margarita, sherry
 

How was it receiving the awards you've received recently from Forbes, Wine Enthusiast, and Food & Wine? Did you ever expect to get this far?

Accepting Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Wine Star Award for Mixologists of the Year was really incredible. Overall, it was a tremendous honor to be recognized by the larger beverage community for our work with Speed Rack.
 

What do you want contestants and attendees to ultimately gain from their Speed Rack experience?

A supportive community and network of women to have throughout their career. To make the most of every opportunity that Speed Rack can offer

What trends are up and coming in 2017 in the beverage industry?

Rise of brandy, pisco, and unique spirits from interesting global markets.
 

What is it about a particular drink that makes it stand out from the rest?

Balance. You can give a drink bells and whistles but without balance it's a failed cocktail.
 

What other exciting initiatives do you have in the works?

Expanding Speed Rack globally – working on the launch of Asia, a return to Canada – in Toronto, and to Edinburgh for the U.K. finals. This will all happen in March and April 2017.

 

We then spoke with Helen Diaz, winner of San Francisco’s sixth season.

 

The Daily Meal: How did you feel once the winner was announced? Did you expect it at all?

Helen Diaz: I felt good. Confidant. I knew I made the drinks the way I intended to make them, so I knew I had a good chance of winning. Ultimately, it came down to the judges, and luckily they favored my drinks.

How did you prepare for Speed Rack?

I didn't have a lot of time, but I did manage to squeeze in a few practice rounds for prelims. I worked on specs, to make the drinks the way I liked, and studied flash cards whenever I had downtime.

What are some of your favorite cocktails, and how do you like to create a spin-off of some classic ones?

Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of spicy drinks — because I'm Latina and almost everything I eat is spicy. The margarita is one of my all-time favorite drinks. I like to make it Tommy's style, and add a half ounce of Chareau Aloe Vera liqueur, a few dashes of a spicy tincture, and sub out the tequila for mezcal. I love mezcal. I'll have a lot of fun playing with classics using mezcal and Chareau.

What do you want to ultimately achieve in the beverage industry?

I want to own my own bar. My fiancé and I are very passionate about what we do. We also have very different styles and techniques behind the bar, but ultimately, we'd love to own a bar together. I'm also a brand ambassador for Chareau Aloe Vera Liqueur. I plan on continuing with this brand and learning more about this side of the industry. Chareau is an incredible liqueur, and it's been really cool watching it take off the way it has.

Where do you see the trends in drinks going in 2017 and onward?

I’m not sure about trends, but I will say that I think hospitality will continue to improve. Long gone are the days when a guest would walk into a bar and hear the word no repeatedly because bartenders refused to make certain classics. I think the cocktail scene has evolved, so have the people behind the bar and therefore hospitality has improved. I see a lot more neighborhood bars opening up.

Despite the fact that you won the competition, what would you have done differently?

Pay more attention to my dilutions. No one likes an under- or over-stirred cocktail. It has to be perfect. Cold, with proper dilution.

What was your most favorite part about the competition?

Seeing and hearing my family and friends cheering as loud as they possibly could. And obviously hitting that damn buzzer! I couldn't wait to be done.

What's next for you?

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Ireland and Mexico with the rest of the Speed Rack finalists! Also, more travels, gigs, and being a mom. I'm not much of a planner, but I do know there’s a lot more fun coming my way! I'm always excited about the future. There are always new opportunities, and I've got my eye on the Miss Speed Rack USA 2017 championship title in May. My main goal is to continue to challenge myself and not hesitate to go after what I want as a mother, partner, and career woman.