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Women shake it up at first all-female bartending competition

The first all-female bartending competition Speed Rack Asia will be held here next Sunday with 14 out of 20 participants from Singapore

In an industry dominated by men, it is time for female bartenders in the region to shine at the inaugural edition of all-female bartending competition Speed Rack Asia.

Out of the 20 participants, 14 are from Singapore. Coming from established bars such as 28 Hong Kong Street and anti:dote as well as new kids on the block such as Highball and Crackerjack, they will be competing next Sunday at rooftop bar The Great Escape for the title of Miss Speed Rack Asia 2017 .

The competition, which tests the speed and aptitude of bartenders in making classic cocktails, was started in the United States in 2011 by Ms Lynnette Marrerro, 39, and fellow mixologist Ivy Mix, 31. It has now made its way to Asia after editions in Canada and the United Kingdom.

The other contestants are from Sydney, Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking to The Sunday Times via e-mail, Ms Marrero says the Singapore contestants "showed strong classic cocktail knowledge with a lot of personal character".

Ms Mix says: "The reason we are going to Singapore to host Speed Rack Asia is because the cocktail culture there is so strong."

  • SPEED RACK ASIA 2017

    The Great Escape, 05-00 Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road

    When: Next Sunday, 11am to 5pm (competition from 2 to 5pm)

    Admission: Free

She is the owner and head bartender of Leyenda in New York, while Ms Marrero, who was given the James Beard Foundation award as one of America's Leading Female Mixologists in 2009, runs bar consultancy Drinksat6 out of New York.

Singapore's strong showing in last year's edition of the World's 50 Best Bars list was also a pull factor. Three bars - Manhattan, Operation Dagger and 28 Hong Kong Street - were placed 11th, 14th and 21st respectively.

"We had been seeing the expansion of Asian cocktail bars in notable lists such as 50 Best Bars and were hoping that women were helping with this growth," says Ms Marrero.

Because bartending is dominated by men globally, they started the competition to create a platform for women.

"Frequently, we noticed that women were requested to be cocktail waitresses on the floor rather than be behind the bar or they were just working in clubs rather than higher-end bars," says Ms Mix. "We wanted to create a stage so they could literally stand on it and be like, 'Here I am! You should hire me! I've been hiding behind that guy with the moustache'." 

Contestants will take part in a qualifying round from 11am to 1pm, where they make four cocktails using the sponsors' spirits, liqueurs and syrups.

The eight with the fastest times will move on to the live competition where they will go head to head in elimination rounds, making cocktails from a list of 50 classic recipes such as negroni, old fashioned and margarita.

The judges, who will be a mix of industry experts as well as the two founders, will evaluate the cocktails on accuracy, taste and presentation.

Ms Marrero says the skills that the participants will need to display include a knowledge of classic cocktails, an understanding of the ingredients and spirit brands used, knowing how to adjust recipes to suit them as well as being able to adjust the taste to the palate of the judges.

Ms Mix says: "We like to say Speed Rack is like working a huge bar on a Saturday night when you're at your busiest and four of your mentors (the judges) walk in and order four drinks off-menu and you have to make them as beautifully, deliciously and quickly as possible."

One of the participants is Ms Bannie Kang, assistant head bartender at anti:dote at Fairmont Singapore. The 27-year-old South Korean was the only woman to make it to the top three in the prestigious Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore finals in 2014.

She is taking the competition next Sunday seriously.

"I have been practising every day after my shift, timing myself to make four cocktails in the fastest time possible," she says. "The catch here is to not only make the cocktails fast, but they need to be well-executed also."

Multi-concept restaurant, bar and coffee spot Crackerjack's representative is Ms Luc Yong, 28, who says she has been preparing both physically and mentally by "learning new techniques to make cocktails at a faster speed".

"Planning a strategy in making different cocktails simultaneously with the most efficiency is also important," she says.

While she admits that memorising 50 cocktail recipes is challenging, it is also important for her to incorporate a personal touch in the classics.

"It's about understanding the classic cocktails and putting a personal touch to the recipes because I find that by making something your own, it makes everything easier."

Speed Rack also helps to raise money for breast cancer research, education and prevention. More than US$500,000 (S$707,000) has been raised since the first edition.

All proceeds from Speed Rack Asia, which will sell cocktails at $10 a pop and food from sandwich spot Park Bench Deli, will go to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

The founders hope that the Asia chapter of Speed Rack will be "the first of a yearly programme".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Women shake it up'. Print Edition | Subscribe