Café Trio bartender preps for Speed Rack competition (w/video)
Anna Thorn steps up to the speed bartending competition table, preps the glass and tinware and waits.
“Are you ready?” the judges ask.
“Yes,” she says. After all, she has been honing her skills for four years.
While the judges might be her friends and the competition is only practice, this is exactly what will happen during the speed bartending competition on Feb. 18.
Thorn, a bartender at Caf? Trio in Park City, recently got involved in the competitive sport. She is currently getting ready for her first competition, Speed Rack, which is scheduled to take place in Phoenix.
Speed Rack is an all-female bartending competition that takes place around the world and raises money for breast cancer research and prevention. Thorn is participating in the Southwest region competition.
The young bartender did not grow up thinking that she would be a bartender, let alone compete in it, but she has found a space where she can excel and tap into her competitive side. She loves bartending because she can get to know patrons and help craft their experience with the drinks she prepares for them.
Thorn grew up playing ultimate Frisbee competitively, traveling around the world for competitions. When she heard that she could compete in bartending last year, there was no hesitation to jump on board.
“I’ve always had a competitive drive in me, so when one of my friends was like, ‘Hey, there are competitions for this,’ I was like, ‘Yeah, obviously I want to participate,'” she said.
The friend who told Thorn about the competitions is another bartender named Jess Sandberg. Sandberg, who works at Under Current in Salt Lake City, has competed in Speed Rack for three years.
Sandberg has helped grow the sport of female speed bartending in Utah. She competed last year in Speed Rack and qualified to compete in nationals. This year, she helped gather 10 women bartenders who are going down to Phoenix to compete for a chance to go to nationals.
Although those women will be competing against each other in a few weeks time, for now they are working like a team. They meet once or twice a week to practice, drilling each other for hours on ingredients for cocktails or timing each other as they mix drinks. When they are not practicing with each other, they are timing themselves and testing their knowledge at work.
The Speed Rack preliminary competition requires the bartenders to know their drinks well and work quickly. When they go on stage, the judges tell them to make four cocktails from a list of eight and they set up glassware and tins before the timer starts counting down.
Once finished, the ladies must hit a buzzer and the fastest bartender without penalties wins. They are judged on accuracy for the drink, in ingredients, shake or stir time and presentation. It is a bracket-style competition. During the final rounds, judges select two cocktails from a list of 85 and two “bartender’s-choice” cocktails.
Thorn hopes to represent Utah well, but said, regardless, she has enjoyed the time practicing and improving her skills. She said that some customers have commented about how fast she makes drinks, particularly while she is stirring a drink in one hand and shaking with the other.
But one of the main things that has come from the competition is the community she has come to be a part of.
“It’s been so great,” she said. “What’s cool about the women we all practice with is that we’ve all sat at bars and been served by all of these women but we’ve never really become friends. It’s definitely creating this awesome sisterhood.”
They check in on each other, both to make sure they are keeping up on practicing but also checking on each other’s well-being, since working for 10 hours on one’s feet without a break can take its toll on the body.
“We’ve definitely come together as a group of women, which is cool,” she said.
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