Oregonian Wins World Class Bartending Title

The Portland, Ore., bar manager shares his nerves in competing in Brazil, plus his secrets to the perfect cocktail

It's not every day you're named to be one of the best bartenders of the U.S., much less the world. So when Ricky Gomez was named the first-ever Diageo World Class United States Ambassador this Tuesday, after competing for the title against 20 highly skilled bartenders, he knew he would carry a big responsibility from here on out. 

Gomez and other bartenders from the U.S. Bartenders Guild competed Tuesday in a four-part competition, creating some seriously fancy cocktails — some on the spot — for some of the industry's very best: Jim Meehan, Tony Abou-Ganim, Julie Reiner, Steve Olson, and more. In two weeks, Gomez will head to Brazil to compete against bartenders from 47 other countries in a worldwide cocktail competition — no pressure, or anything. Gomez spoke to The Daily Meal about the big win, the reaction from his friends and family back home, and how he stole the crown. (And don't worry, we've got his recipe for his Two Cities Skirmish cocktail). 

The Daily Meal: How does it feel to be the first ever World Class champion?

Ricky Gomez: I feel deeply honored. The judges [were] industry luminaries; to be selected out of those amazing bartenders, it really is truly an honor. Now I have the task of representing the U.S. well; it’s a little bit of responsibility on my shoulders now. It’s a little bit of excitement, and a little bit of pressure. I’m just hoping I do well, and I want to do well.

TDM: Describe to me your day at the competition. How were you feeling when you first got there? Did you ever feel intimidated or nervous in the moment?

RG: A lot of anxiety. I’ve done many competitions before, but I don’t think it gets easier as you go along. I was definitely feeling nervous, and some anxiety — some of these judges are tough, you want to impress them because they’re your mentors. And these young bartenders are making great drinks and doing well. So there was a little bit of anxiety when we first got there, but being able to sit down and relax — it was a long day, and there was bit of waiting around — it actually calmed my nerves a little bit. I got to go over my notes, look over the cocktails I had prepared.

TDM: What were the prepared cocktail recipes you came into the competition with?

RG: There were two prepared parts of the cocktail competition and two on the fly. For the prepared part there was a Classic with a Twist portion, judged by Jim Meehan. We were given a list of classic cocktails, and told to make a twist on that cocktail. I chose the Mai Tai, a classic American tiki cocktail, and made a twist on it. It’s a traditional rum tiki cocktail; my variation was taking out the rum and using tequila and gin. It’s a combination a lot of people don’t think about, but when I did a blind tasting of the spirits separately, there’s a lot of flavor descriptors that overlap. There’s a layering in the drink; a tiki cocktail has a lot of flavor in the beginning, middle, and end. So it worked well in bringing out the predominant flavors of the tequila and gin out first, and then a lighter, and dryer finish than a traditional Mai Tai made with rum. (Try his Two Cities Skirmish cocktail at home.)

The second prepared part was the Theater Presentation; we come out with a presentation based on American icon. I chose Mark Twain as my American icon; he was the first great American author out there. So we had to we had to present either Johnnie Walker Blue or rom ?? around this icon. I began reading and diving more into Mark Twain, [and learned] he grew up in Missouri, he was a river boat captain at one point. And I’m from New Orleans, so that had a real personal connection to me. And the entire time I was reading about Mark Twain and thinking about ideas of what to pair scotch with, and when Mark Twain was in the Northeast, he frequented a bar that’s famous for their oysters, and famous in New Orleans as well. So I used real Kumamoto oysters as a complement to the scotch; I used a granulated salt on one, a malted balsamic salt on one, and a mushroom salt on one. When I blind-taste scotch, those are what I identify with scotch, salt and earth. They paired really well with the oysters and with the Johnnie Walker. During the presentation I was shucking oysters and talking about Mark Twain; he has such amazing quotes and so many. He was probably America’s first stand-up comedian.

TDM: Were you nervous at all during the presentation?

RG: I was nervous before, absolutely. But once you get in there, you become relaxed. I felt prepared; once you start talking, it all flows from there.

TDM: And tell me about the on-the-fly portions of the competition.

RG: Those were some you try not to worry about because there’s nothing you can do to prepare.
The first was the food pairing; the judges gave us three dishes, two savory and one sweet, and we got to sample them all. Then, after sampling, we had to pick one and prepare a cocktail for that dish. I picked the sweet dish; it was a malt chocolate dish with a candied orange and with salt on top. I instantly grabed the ?? rum, because I think they make an amazing marriage together. When I think dessert I think really a rich cocktail, so I made a Flip: [it’s made with] Zacapa Rum, port, Canton ginger liqueur, egg yolk, a little bit of sugar, and a pinch of salt. I shook it all together, strained it into a lowball glass, and grated fresh cinnamon on top. That paired really well with the chocolate, and gave balance to the dessert. I was really happy with that one. I walked out with that feeling like I had made a really good cocktail.

The last one was with two mystery boxes; we had to select one box, which was filled with Asian-inspired ingredients. Mine had lychee, pear, lemongrass, and tea that I couldn’t identify. We had to pick at least one of the ingredients to make a cocktail. I chose the pear, and grabbed some Don Julio tequila. When I blind-tasted the tequila I could taste some apple, so it was a really easy match to make. I took two pears and muddled them, and added lemon juice to that, Don Julio blanco tequila, dry vermouth, Saint-Germain, simple syrup, and shook that all together and then strained in to a Collins glass and topped with tonic. It’s basically a tequila and tonic — an Asian tequila and tonic. It’s summertime, I wanted to make a drink that someone would want to drink now.