Earlier this year, Gra’it Grappa launched the Grappa Challenge across the United States with some of the best bartenders competing and showing alchemy inspired cocktails. The Miami round at Beaker & Gray did not disappoint with Hector Acevedo (Cocktail Cartel Co.), Philip Khandehrish (AlambiQ, The Betsy Hotel) and Giorgia Crea (Cocktail Cartel Co., Zucca) landing a spot in the finals.
This time bartenders from each city including: Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, New York, and Miami made one last stop in Byblos where 7 winners were chosen to travel to Italy for 10 days to discover the most alchemical sites and inspiring places as well as learn about the traditions behind real Italian grappa and the Bonollo family. The finale was held at the beautiful bar at Byblos where it was streamed live through Facebook.
The goal, like the regional, was to create a cocktail that combines spirit, soul, knowledge and pleasure. All bartenders were judged on taste, alchemy, presentation, technique, and WOW factor. The five judges included Julie Reiner (considered a legend in the industry including the openings of Flatiron, Pegu, and Clover Club), Cesar Diaz (owner of Odd Birds, Milagro and Damiana Elixirs & Love Potions), Ben Potts (bar owner and co-owner of Beaker & Gray), Camper English ( international cocktails and spirits writer, speaker, and consultant.) and Fabio Raffaelli (US Brand Ambassador, Italicus Liqueur).
The bartenders came from some of the top bars in each respective city (in no particular order):
Ryan Wainwright (The Ponte, Los Angeles)
Aaron Kolitz (The Townsend, Austin)
Aaron Pollack (The Dawson, Chicago)
David Bonatesta (The NoMad, Manhattan)
Giorgia Crea (Cocktail Cartel Co., Zucca, Miami)
Jeremy Williams (Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Grand Rapids)
Will Benedetto (Drexler’s, NYC)
Ms. Franky (Le Boudoir, Brooklyn)
Gary Matthews (Drum Bar, Chicago)
Una Green (Faith & Flower, Los Angeles)
Hector Acevedo (Cocktail Cartel Co., Miami)
Zach Barnhill (Juniper Tar, San Antonio)
Philip Khandehrish (AlambiQ, The Betsy Hotel, Miami Beach)
Meredith Barry (Vol. 39, Chicago)
Jayson Black (Garage Cocktail Bar, Austin)
The 15 bartenders each had an opportunity to present cocktails to the judges as well as the wonderful crowd. They did not disappoint as the crowd and judges appreciated the preparation and creativity of the cocktails. A special shout out to Meredith Barry from Vol. 39, who competed in her first competition and had an extraordinary presentation.
At the end, the presentations of each bartender shined as the judges were engaged with each story. We were also in attendance and we had to say the presentations and cocktails were incredible.
We loved the camaraderie between all the bartenders who, through this experience, have become lifelong friends. This is the essence of a bartending competition. Congratulations to all competitors and congratulations to Giorgia Crea, Hector Acevedo, MsFranky Franky, David Bonatesta, Meredith Barry, Ryan Wainwright, and Will Benedetto who will be joining the Bonollo family traveling through Italy! Safe travels!