2nd Annual El Dorado Bartender Challenge

On November 29th, deluxe | mixology attended the 2nd Annual El Dorado Bartender Challenge. In Iron Chef style, bartenders from all different venues in San Diego faced off against one another with only their skill and experience (plus a secret ingredient that was only revealed immediately before each round) to rely on. It was a friendly competition with an assortment of personalities, hats, and banter, but overall was a cool way to see the local talent in action. Among the contestants were last year’s winner Anthony Schmidt from Noble Experiment, Prohibition’s Tim Stevens, and Christian Siglin from Craft & Commerce.

4 of the 8 contestants competed in the first round and the next 4 followed in the second. The 5 featured judges were looking for originality, presentation, and balance of the concoctions. Each scored the three categories from 1-10. The “secret ingredient” for these two rounds was Kahlua, and bartenders used ingredients like gin, Campari, and mint, among other ingredients.

Sarah Ellis from Jayne’s Gastropub, Tim Stevens, Anthony Schmidt, and Dustin Haarstad, co-founder of Blind Tiger, were the winners of the first round.

For the next round, an herbal bitters liqueur called Becherovka from Czech Republic was decided for the “secret ingredient.” Tim and Dustin went first. Tim created a drink using mostly lemon, a hint of lime, Benedictine, and apricot. While Dustin took the round, Tim made it clear to me after the competition that his drink was still pretty tasty. “I tasted it. I didn’t know if it was gonna win but I was like ‘that’s a good fu#$ing drink! I’d drink the sh!@ outta that drink!'”

Anthony’s bourbon highball with bitters and ginger defeated Sarah’s “Swizzle My Nizzle” with gin and fresh lime juice in the following round putting last year’s winner and Dustin Haarstad in the finals.

The bartenders took a break before the last round so it was the opportune time to try a drink from El Dorado’s Fall Cocktail Menu. I went with a Honey Badger (rye, honey, bitters) while Kevin opted for a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice, ginger beer, bitters). Both were simple yet tasty and we appreciated the freshness of the beverages.

For the final round the “secret ingredient” was a Spanish sherry. Both Anthony and Dustin looked calm and ready and the TV screens  on either side of the bar showcased both mixologists fashioning their drinks. The 4 minute round ticked away and after the time ran out, judges started tasting. After a few minutes the judges turned in their score sheets and the points were tallied.

With the points added up the winner was announced: Noble Experiment’s Anthony Schmidt, the now two time El Dorado Bartender Challenge champion. We watched him take a celebratory chug from his trophy after being announced. For his drink Anthony went with Famous Grouse, lemon juice, and honey and it tipped the judges just the right way. Congrats to Anthony!

Definitely a cool event and it was fun to see the local talent competing against each other and doing what they do best: mixing drinks! Thanks to El Dorado for putting this on!

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