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Why Bartender Spirits Awards attracts the best judges

The top bar staff want to to help judge Bartender Spirits Awards. So we asked them why!

The best bar talent in the US is in high demand to take part in drinks competitions across the country, but here leading bar professionals explain why they are so keen to take part in the Bartender Spirits Awards and why it stands out from other events. If you want to take advantage of special entry pricing for the 2021 awards by March 31 then click here

Nora Furst, beverage director at Uma Casa and partner at West Beverage Consulting

Nora Furst, beverage director at Uma Casa and partner at West Beverage Consulting

Nora Furst, Judge at 2021 Bartender Spirits Awards

Nora's Profile

Tell us about yourself and how you got into the drinks and bar scene?

I grew up in Seattle, in a restaurant family, so essentially I got into bartending by way of the restaurant industry. I started out washing dishes at age 15 at a pizza joint and have moved into various positions in the hospitality industry since. I started bartending in my early 20's and really found my home in making drinks.  

What is your current role and your main responsibilities?

Currently, I am a partner in a new bar in San Francisco (Buddy- opening Summer 2021), I have a beverage consulting company with some lovely folks (West Beverage Consulting), I am working on a canned spritz line (Furst Beverage), and I am bartending at Teardrop Lounge in Portland. 

What do you think are the most important skills you need to be successful working in your role?

The ability to wear many hats is perhaps the obvious one. Beyond that, a deep sense of motivation and passion for what we do, a belief in the integrity and artistry of drinks and hospitality, and a yearning to give back to and support our communities. 

How have you found the last year in lockdown and what sort of things have you been doing to keep on top of your skills and knowledge?

My heart has been broken many times over, to see my industry struggle so hard. To see so many places close their doors for good and to see owners and managers have to restructure their businesses over and over, only to throw in the towel in the end. 

This business is hard. The margins are so narrow they're nearly invisible, and to succeed requires resilience, incredible work ethic, and a hefty dose of luck - and this was true before the global pandemic hit. This last year tested all of us, and it certainly didn't spare us bar and restaurant folks who essentially survive on human interaction. 

What did you when you were not able to work? 

During quarantine, to keep on top of my skills I basically rested for the first three months and slept. A lot. Regeneration is a crucial part of creativity and performance. Before shut-down, I had been working three bartending jobs and doing consulting and I was exhausted. Once I emerged from hibernation, I joined boozy book clubs, cooked a lot, hosted virtual open mics, moved to Portland, and started three businesses. 

What are you expecting when the on-trade does re-open in terms of how customers will respond?

I think folks will be stoked, and we are already seeing it. Once we can safely gather again, I not only believe our industry will come back in a full swing renaissance, I am betting my entire life savings on it.

Why did you want to be involved in the Bartender Spirits Awards?

I'm always eager to taste new and delicious liquids and to be amongst my peers for whom I have so much love and respect. 

What is it about the awards that make it stand out from other competitions?

That it is judged exclusively by bartenders, and bartenders have a much more intimate relationship with a wider swath of spirits than anyone else in the drinks world. Fight me on that. 

What sort of demand do you think there will be when the on-premise sector does fully re-open and what sort of drinks, spirits and cocktails are going to be most in demand?

I think folks will want well-crafted, quality drinks. I think we will simply sink into the joy of sitting at a bar and having a professional make us a balanced manhattan that we neither have to stir, nor pour, nor wash the glass once we have finished.

Eryn Reece, head bartender at Banzarbar, New York

Eryn Reece, head bartender at Banzarbar, New York

Eryn Reece, Judge at 2021 Bartender Spirits Awards

Eryn's Profile

Tell us about yourself and how you got into the drinks and bar scene?

I'm originally from Portland, Oregon, and went to school and got my first bar jobs in Seattle. After moving to New York, I was working at an art gallery, having studied art history, but eventually found I honestly didn't like it that much. My experience landed me back in bars and I started learning about cocktails. Once I got into that world, the rest is history. I've been working at cocktail bars in New York in several different capacities for over a decade now.

What are your current role and your main responsibilities?

Currently, I am the head bartender at Freemans Restaurant and Banzarbar, although that title is a bit modest for the functions I perform. Freemans has been open for a long time, it's a bit of a Lower East Side Institution and some of the best bartenders the city has ever seen have contributed to its menu over the years.

In 2017, I was asked to come on as a consultant for their new upstairs cocktail bar, Banzarbar. I got so into the process that they ended up keeping me on to run the bar, eventually taking over the Freemans program as well. I now oversee both programs, curating two separate spirits lists (one of the main points was to have Freemans and Banzarbar be completely different experiences), maintain relationships with producers and vendors, hire staff, create cocktails, as well as consult on operations and design in both venues.

What do you think are the most important skills you need to be successful working in your role?

I can definitely say that making delicious cocktails is only a small fraction of the job. Especially with openings, you have to be endlessly adaptable, because things tend to change quickly. Deliveries can be late, equipment might not work properly when it's installed, etc. It's all about being able to use the circumstances to your advantage.

How have you found the last year in lockdown and what sort of things have you been doing to keep on top of your skills and knowledge?

I should mention that for myself and everyone I know in the industry, the transition from bustling restaurant and bar service to quarantine, and nearly all of us effectively losing our jobs overnight, has been one of the hardest things I've ever gone through personally. Not only did it obviously impact my financial life and my ability to pay my rent and my bills, but also doing this type of work, it's impossible not to get emotionally attached, to the place, to your co-workers, and sometimes even to the guests.

I did some virtual classes and events starting last spring and have kept going with that even as we re-opened. Going back to working behind an actual bar was jarring at first but, as the saying goes, it's like riding a bike.

What are you expecting when the on-trade does re-open in terms of how customers will respond?

In New York, we've actually already had a couple of rounds of re-opening. Last summer we were restricted to outdoor dining only, then in the fall we opened for indoor dining at 25%. Indoor dining was then closed from December 14-February 13, so that was another bout of unemployment for many of us. Now we're open for both indoor and outdoor, with indoor at 50% capacity as of today. 

How have people responded? Frankly, everyone's so excited to be out and about and seeing their friends again, they almost didn't miss a beat in terms of willingness to eat at restaurants. I'm also grateful that in New York, we almost never have to fight with people about wearing masks or following Covid protocols, I know that in some parts of the country that's a big problem.

Why did you want to be involved in the Bartender Spirits Awards?

It's always an honor to be asked to sit on a judging panel for events like this, and I always love doing it. I've been a part of this industry for a long time and I've had the good fortune to learn a lot from really amazing people in some incredible bars. It feels really positive to use that knowledge now and apply it to making the industry even better by ensuring the next generation of bartenders has delicious spirits to work with.

What is it about the awards that make it stand out from other competitions?

I really love the commitment Bartender Spirits Awards has to a comprehensive judging style, taking all facets of a spirit's proficiency into account. I like that there's a mixability part, to determine how the product would work in cocktails. I also like that the competition awards not only the spirits themselves but the producers.

Do you use awards to pick new trends and see what new drinks are coming into the market?

Sometimes, absolutely. If a spirit or liqueur has an accreditation, I always take a second look at it. Not everything is gold necessarily, but if a judging panel of professionals says it has value, I know what type of work goes into determining that so I take it into account.

What sort of demand do you think there will be when the on-trade does re-open and what sort of drinks, spirits, and cocktails are going to be most in demand?

Well, I can definitely say on my side of things, to cope with uneven demand and the financial setbacks that the restaurant has gone through due to Covid, a lot of what I've been doing is cleaning the house and using products that I have a surplus of. Making the most of what I have and finding creative uses for things that I wouldn't normally reach for is the name of the game right now, many of my friends who are operators have similar stories. I think (and hope) overall, that we'll witness bar programs returning to simpler approaches, realizing that the real value of a guest sitting at a bar or in a restaurant is hospitality, more so than very intricate cocktails.

Anything else you would like to say?

I'm so excited to be a part of the Bartenders Spirits Awards, thank you so much for having me!

Zachary Faden, lead bartender & manager at Brasserie Liberté, Washington DC

Zachary Faden, lead bartender & manager at Brasserie Liberté, Washington DC

Zachary Faden, Judge at 2021 Bartender Spirits Awards

Zachary's Profile

Tell us about yourself and how you got into the drinks and bar scene?

I originally intended to be a professor.  After grad school, as I was applying to Ph.D. programs, I returned to DC and as you can only do there, accidentally became a defense contractor. It was supposed to only be a summer job but ended up being a five-and-a-half-year career. However, I frequently found myself reading about the history and culture of cocktails, visiting cocktail bars, and drinking cocktails.  

When my favorite bartender called offering a chance to bartend at his recently James Beard Award-nominated program, I jumped at the opportunity.  For seven months, I bartended in the evenings after working my full-time day job, then committed to focusing solely on the drinks and bar scene. I enjoy creating original cocktails and since my introduction to the industry has been fortunate enough to have my recipes published, win various awards, and have gained valuable experience opening multiple restaurants, curating spirits lists, and creating craft cocktail programs throughout the DC area.

What is your current role and your main responsibilities?

My current role is the director of spirits curation and education for the Museum of Distilled Spirits. It is dedicated to the cultural heritage of distilled spirits through the storytelling method of integrating content created by industry experts with the experiences of our audience resulting in compelling event programming. The programming structure corresponds to the TTB’s six designated distilled spirits: Brandy, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vodka, and Whiskey. My particular specialization and forte is curating content regarding nonconformist spirits which do not fit quite well in the TTB’s taxonomy.

What do you think are the most important skills you need to be successful working in your role?

I am greatly influenced by Daniel Meyer’s Setting the Table and his philosophy of “enlightened hospitality”. I am not in the food and drink business, I am in the people business. I am ultimately trying to make experiences and to make people happy. As valuable as food and drink knowledge is, listening and empathy are even more important.

How have you found the last year in lockdown and what sort of things have you been doing to keep on top of your skills and knowledge?

This past year has been a strange and trying time. To keep on top of my skills and knowledge, I routinely practice the habits which first helped prepare me for the industry: I read and I drink.

What are you expecting when the on-premise sector does fully re-open in terms of how customers will respond?

As on-premise business re-opens, I think customers will respond quite positively. Bars have consistently been third spaces; an environment separates from home and the workplace. These institutions are essential to building community, and I think that customers will be very welcoming of their return.

Why did you want to be involved in the Bartender Spirits Awards?

I am honored and humbled to be involved in the Bartender Spirits Awards. The BSA’s evaluations of spirits both reflect and direct industry trends. To be recognized by peers to help in this process is very meaningful.

What is it about the awards that make it stand out from other competitions?

I love the BSA’s tagline, “Judged By Bartenders, Bar Managers and Off-Premise Managers For The On-Premise Industry”. Essentially, what makes the BSA stand out from other competitions is that is by bartenders for bartenders.

Do you use awards to pick new trends and see what new drinks are coming into the market?

Yes, I think that spirits awards and competitions are a valuable means of identifying new spirits and trends.

What sort of demand do you think there will be when the on-trade does re-open and what sort of drinks, spirits and cocktails are going to be most in demand?

I think that there will be a robust demand when the on-trade does re-open.  I think one of the most impactful developments for bars in the past year has been the legalization for to-go cocktails. I think this trend will continue even after the on-premise re-opens.

Act now for special pricing 

Anyone entering their products and brands by March 31 can take advantage of special pricing. See below for pricing rates and the key dates for this year’s competition.

To enter and full details click here

*Special pricing of $145 per spirit ends: March 31, 2021

*Regular pricing of $165 per spirit ends: April 20, 2021

3 to 9 entries: 10% discount
10 to 14 entries: 15% discount
15 or more entries: 20% discount

* Warehouse Closes: April 23, 2021

* Judging: May 17, 2021

* Winners Announced: May 31, 2021. 

2023 Bartender Spirits Awards Submissions Are Now Open! Enter Your Spirits Here.