Cocktail Competitions Suck. Here's Why.
The Imbiber offers some alternatives
Before we begin, a quick apology. Last time out I told you about my surprise encounter with Paul Goldman, owner of Kansas Spirit Whiskey, who confronted me a few weeks back at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America’s 69th annual convention at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Goldman was none too happy about some unflattering things I’d written about his whiskey, and pressed me to do a follow-up interview so that he might set me straight. I said sure. Gave him my number. He promised to call straight away, but never did. Apparently his PR people talked some sense into him. Or maybe he’s too busy working on some other ingenious idea, like peach schnapps flavored tequila. Oh, well. Moving on…
As my notoriety has risen in the world of spirits reportage, so too has the number of invitations I receive to judge cocktail competitions. What hasn’t risen at all, however, is the amount of money that the liquor brands who sponsor these events seem to be willing to pay for my time and effort. That amount remains zilch.
Well, unless you count “exposure” as currency. Hell, they’re more than happy to lavish me with that. As are the folks who aggregate my (and other piss-poor bloggers’) content on their for-profit websites. Alas, my tightwad landlord and those Scrooges over at Visa have been slow to embrace the complex economics of The Information Society, and as yet have refused to accept flattering Tweets and Facebook posts in lieu of cash. Those Luddites!
But lack of personal remuneration aside, what’s really begun to bug me of late about all these cocktail competitions is the competing part.
First off, when you pit bartenders against one another in a winner-take-all scenario, what you ultimately wind up with are a bunch of unhappy bartenders. And one who’s just another win or two away from getting a big head (if he/she isn’t already there). It’s a bad scene all around, particularly for those of us who rely upon these people for our own personal happiness and peace of mind.
And when bartenders get caught up in the competition cycle, they wind up tailoring their craft to appeal to industry professionals who know far too much about cocktails. With their eyes on that prize, they can easily lose sight of what the average bar patron wants. The deeper they get in, the more it all becomes about winning and prizes and building reputation and scoring brand ambassadorships and…oh, for fuck sake, can somebody just make me a goddamn drink!
Look, I get it. Competitions are good for liquor brands. They build excitement. They get consumers involved. But here’s an idea: Rather than bringing bartenders together so that doofuses like me can arbitrarily decide who makes the best Blood & Sand, and risk engendering bad blood between colleagues in the process, how about letting them compete against one another in disciplines that are only peripherally related to their profession, ala “Battle of the Network Stars.” That show was totally awesome, by the way, and not just because of this…
Of course, nobody needs to see a bunch of out-of-shape, pasty bartenders prancing around in swimsuits, so we’ll start with a challenge in which our competitors must deftly 86 a large and unruly drunk from the premises without any bloodshed. Follow that by giving them five minutes to cheer up a manic depressives who’s recently been dumped, lost his job and found out his cat has cancer.
Wrap things up with a pissing match. I don’t mean metaphorically either. I’m talking about an actual pissing match. Instead of making Blood & Sands, bartenders have to consume about five or six each. Then plop down on toilets (they’ll have to be seated so as to be fair to our female competitors) and let nature take its course. They’ll be judged on criteria such as duration, strength of stream, ability to carry on an intelligible non-creepy conversation mid-pee, and aroma.
Don’t laugh! I truly believe my “Battle of the Bartending Stars” idea has legs. All I need is someone with the right vision to bankroll it, and away we go.
Can somebody get me Paul Goldman’s contact info please?