FIVE LOCALS. ONE WINNNER.
Five local bartenders competed in a statewide bartending competition. Find out who took home top honors and where you can try one of his concoctions for yourself.
Written by Daniel Gonzales
Photography by Donicio Madrid, Cheryl Fallstead, and courtesy ABQ-Live the Magazine
This past April, the tumble of ice falling into glass and the clink of stirring spoons was heard loud and clear at the Library Bar and Grill in downtown Albuquerque as 22 bartenders from around the state gathered to compete in New Mixico, a statewide bartending tournament sponsored by ABQ-Live the Magazine and Beam Suntory.
For five rounds, the competitors’ skills were rated in terms of craft, creativity, and speed. Eight technical judges sat across the bar watching technique and neatness, while six tasting judges looked at both presentation and flavor balance.
Of the 22 contestants, five were from Las Cruces and Mesilla. These drink slingers got together for weeks before New Mixico to practice their cocktails, experiment with different flavors, and fine tune their speed and efficiency. Read on to meet these talented competitors, find out where you can see them in action, and learn how to mix up their favorite concoctions.
1 Eric Owens, Hilton Garden Inn
“I found it interesting how all these bartenders created what they created when confronted with competition,” he says. “I was really happy to see the cocktail culture in New Mexico. I hope there are many more events like this to come that truly show the talent in our great state.”
Eric’s Favorite Drink
1.5 oz. Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
1 oz. Passion fruit puree
.5 oz. morita chile and lime simple syrup
Prickly pear ice sphere
Cherrywood smoked sea salt
In mixing glass, combine Hornitos, simple syrup, and puree. Add ice and shake vigorously. Rim rocks glass with salt. Place ice sphere in glass, and pour cocktail over.
2 Daniel Neil, Pecan Grill
Daniel, bar manager and head mixologist at Pecan Grill & Brewery, was the first Las Cruces bartender invited to New Mixico by Jim Beam. This restaurant brews its own beers, offers a great wine selection, and has one of the hottest night scenes in the area. With all these gears grinding, Daniel is crucial in keeping order as well as delivering on the creative aspect of this high volume establishment. He is at the restaurant hours before it opens, checking inventories, preparing their famous PVT (Pineapple Vanilla Tequila), and coming up with the Cocktail of the Day.
He says the pre-training was his favorite part of his New Mixico journey: “Training with the guys has really given me a perspective on what’s out there and what competition there is. All the guys were great!”
Daniel’s Favorite Drink
Effen Vodka Martini
2 oz. Effen Vodka
1 oz. Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
Olives and/or lemon twist
In mixing glass, add Effen Vodka and Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth. Add ice and stir until cocktail is chilled. Empty contents of mixing glass into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with either an olive or lemon twist, or both!
3 Andy Chamberlin, Double Eagle
Andy, a highly skilled and passionate bartender, was more than excited to carry the torch for the acclaimed Double Eagle restaurant. A towering figure behind the bar, he’s nimble and careful, taking the time to make his libations to his guests’ tastes. As a born and bred Mesillero, Andy says he was excited to represent his hometown with pride, and he plans on winning the whole competition next year. “My favorite part of this whole experience was meeting all the other bartenders,” he adds. “I really liked learning from everyone.”
Andy’s Favorite Drink
Basil Hayden’s Old Fashioned
2 oz. Basil Hayden’s bourbon
1 bar spoon simple syrup or sugar cube
2 dashes Fee Brother’s Old Fashioned bitters
In rocks glass, soak sugar cube with bitters. Add a bar spoon of water and stir. Add cherry and orange and muddle if desired. Add Basil Hayden’s, then stir. Add ice and stir again, garnish with cherry and orange.
4 Jon Johnson, Si Señor
This 11-year staple at Si Señor Restaurant caught the bartending bug about three years ago. Born and raised in Silver City, Jon’s excitement and passion for bartending offers up an experience for his guests that’s difficult to recreate making cocktails at home. He hones his craft at food and spirits education shows where he develops his sense of how flavors pair together, and how they can make a more explosive moment of consumption for anyone belly up to the bar.
Want a tailor-made cocktail? Jon invites and welcomes any guest to stop in to Si Señor and test out his skills. “The worst part of New Mixico was not winning,” he admits, “but the best part was meeting and networking with all the bartenders from across the state.”
Jon’s Favorite Drink
Effen Cucumber Bloody Mary
2 oz. Effen Cucumber Vodka
3 oz. bloody mary mix
In mixing glass, combine Effen Cucumber Vodka, bloody mary mix, and ice. Slowly shake or roll until emulsified. Pour into salt rimmed pint glass, and garnish with celery, olives, lime wedge, and jalapeno slices.
5 Chance Miller, La Posta de Mesilla
The big winner, the one that brought the trophy home to the Mesilla Valley: Chance Miller! Chance has been behind the stick for a total of five years, the last two at the historic and legendary La Posta, one of the best margarita bars in town.
Chance spent time every day tweaking his cocktails up until the day of the actual competition. “New Mixico was my first competition, so I knew I had a lot to learn. I hope I get to continue to compete, and of course, that the result is the same,” he says with a smile.
In the fifth and final round of competition, the competitors were presented with a secret ingredient just moments before the clock started: Laphoig Single Malt Islay scotch, one of the toughest spirits to use in a cocktail. Chance had accumulated more points than anyone throughout the tournament, and was announced the 2016 New Mixico Champion. Congratulations!
Chance’s Favorite Drink
2 oz. Cruzan Light Rum
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. soda water
5-10 mint leaves
1 mint sprig
In Collins glass, add lime juice, sugar, and mint, then muddle gently. Fill glass with crushed ice, then add rum. With bar spoon, retrieve mint leaves from bottom, and stir cocktail completely, then add soda, and garnish with mint sprig next to straw.