The bartending world can feel like a bit of a boys’ club at times. Some of its biggest talents, however, are women, and Speed Rack is a women-only bartending competition (yes, bartending can be a competitive sport) created to shine a spotlight on the best female mixologists. People of all genders think it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch, though.
Speed Rack was founded in 2011 by Ivy Mix and Lynette Marrero, two of the bar world’s biggest names, to support and celebrate women both in and outside of the spirits industry.
The competition is named after the part of a bar that holds the most commonly used liquors within easy reach of the bartenders (sometimes also known as the “well”). It’s a great pun because the bartenders in the competition are judged, in part, on their speed, and because they’re all women…yeah, it’s a boob joke too.
Speaking of, all profits from Speed Rack’s events go to breast cancer research and education; so far the competitions have raised close to $700,000 for breast cancer charities.
So what goes on at these events, you ask?
Up on a stage, competitors make a certain number of cocktails from a predetermined list and are judged both on their speed and the quality of their drink. (Yes, there are judges, and yes, each judge tastes each drink.) Even if one competitor is faster than another, if their drinks are sloppily made and they don’t taste great, the competitor with the slower time might win.
Meanwhile, the audience claps and cheers everyone on. These aren’t the staid and suspendered (and certainly not mustachioed) bartenders you have in mind when you think of a “serious cocktail bartender.” The vibe of the whole event leans more roller derby than speakeasy; these are badass women showing off their smarts and their strength, all in it to win it.
Sound fun? You can check out the Tri-State finals, which will be held in Queens in New York City, at the Melrose Ballroom, on Sunday, January 7. Watch the women compete, drink some booze yourself (the event’s sponsors will provide plenty of different types of punch), and hang out with some of the best cocktail makers in the area.
And you won’t want to miss the national finals, to be held in Chicago (venue TBD) on Tuesday, May 8. It’s the day after the prestigious James Beard Awards, also to be held in Chicago, so if you’re a food and drink fan, it’s a good time to book a trip to this city.