Speed Rack Canada: Ladies sling drinks for a cause in fun competition

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Bartending is still considered a man’s turf, but kickass women are taking charge behind the stick and are increasingly part of the country’s evolving cocktail culture. A group of high-profile female bartenders are bringing the popular Speed Rack event to Canada, pitting the fast-hands and mad mixing skills of cocktail-making ladies against each other in a competition that benefits a great cause.

Speed Rack began in the States in 2011, when founders Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero got together to put on a cocktail competition fundraiser focused on the ladies of the biz. The event has been a rousing success, and thanks to the efforts of Vancouver bartenders Lauren Mote (UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar/Bittered Sling Bitters) and Danielle Tatarin (The Keefer Bar/Designer Cocktail Company), the inaugural Canadian edition will be taking place in Vancouver on May 2.

Details about the location of and ticketing for the event will be revealed soon (it’s pretty exciting!) but in the meantime, to get cocktail fans in the know about Speed Rack, we reached out to the organizers to find out more about the competition, the cause, and why Speed Rack is so important to the female bartending community.

Vancity Buzz: For someone not familiar with the event, can you summarize what it’s about and what goes on?

Lauren Mote, Danielle Tatarin, Lynnette Marrero, and Ivy Mix: Speed Rack is a competition and social event developed by female bartenders for female bartenders. It’s an important way to raise the profile of female bartenders in the hospitality industry, which has been dominated by men for as long as drinks have been poured.

Speed Rack’s partnership with the BC/Yukon region’s Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation in Canada mirrors the efforts in the USA who’s beneficiary is breast cancer research, prevention and awareness programming. We bring the best of the best together in a friendly, dynamic and super fun competition of speed bartending, using classic cocktails and a host of generous and dedicated sponsors, co-ed bar backs and volunteers to boot.

Speed Rack competition in Los Angeles (Photo via Speed Rack/Facebook)

Speed Rack competition in Los Angeles (Photo via Speed Rack/Facebook)

In each city, using sponsors’ products, participating bartenders are required to make a round of cocktails selected at random, culled from a list of 50 spirit industry-standard recipes. In front of a panel of food & beverage luminaries the ladies go head to head in round robin style instant elimination rounds. The judges request and evaluate each drink based on accuracy, taste and presentation. After surviving time and judging penalties, only the swiftest and most skilled women under pressure move forward to the next round until our bracket is down to two. There is only one winner, and she will be crowned Miss Speed Rack.

Speed Rack is also an opportunity to taste new spirits and engage directly with brands about their products. It’s a festival celebrating the bartending community and emphasizing charity.

How did you learn about Speed Rack, and had you been to any of the competitions before? As organizers, are you able to compete?

It’s best for those organizing to demonstrate how the event works in practice tournaments, but the very aspect of organizing put you in a position of running and executing a successful event, rather than competing. Speed Rack just loves to see how passionate and excited the girls are to practice and compete.

Both Danielle and Lauren have attended Speed Rack in other cities, and Danielle has also competed as a competitor.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGfR5jiRdp8

What did it take to bring the event to Canada?

Expanding Speed Rack to new International markets is always a challenge. BC bartenders from Canadian Professional Bartenders Association approached Speed Rack USA last year to bring the competition to Canada. The first year in a new market is always complicated because aspects of the market are unknown. Specifically the need to find the right charitable partner, the right Speed Rack brand ambassadors/event organizers and also navigate liquor laws in foreign markets. All of this takes time. Getting the bartending community and the ladies involved is the easy part. With Lauren and Danielle pioneering the inaugural Canadian event, and aligning the brand with a high-profile food and beverage festival, Speed Rack Canada will undoubtedly be a great success.

What are the hardest drinks, in your opinion, on the list of cocktails used in the competition?

The hardest drinks are the ones you don’t make that often during service – they can be challenging to remember, and challenging to balance if you haven’t made them before (that’s just theoretical).

This is a bit of a broad question (pun semi-intended) but what do you think is the status of women in the contemporary bartending scene?

[The status of women in bartending is] getting better. Some of the greatest bartenders in the world are female, and it’s their duty and obligation to nurture the younger generations of bartender (co-ed); it’s equally important to remove stigma and stereotype from young male bartenders/hospitality professionals, as it is to develop the skill-set in women. Either way, education is the key to success in the beverage industry.

Speed Rack is a pun as well, so cute!

Ivy and Lynette demonstrate how the rounds go in San Francisco (Photo via Speed Rack/Facebook)

Ivy and Lynette demonstrate how the rounds go in San Francisco (Photo via Speed Rack/Facebook)

Why is an event like Speed Rack important in Canada and in bartending?

It’s important to bring the bartending community together for a common goal – a heinous disease that affects so many of us – 1 in 3 Canadians will suffer cancer themselves, and the ones that aren’t, their lives will be affected by others living with the disease – these are really scary statistics.

The spirits industry can breed bad health habits, so using this as a vehicle to 1) get people thinking about their health 2) nurturing the growing female talent-pool in the bar and beverage industry 3) putting our efforts towards a cause like Breast Cancer research and prevention 4) bringing the bartending community together from coast-to-coast.

Speed Rack Canada

When: Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 1 p.m.
Where: EAT! Vancouver festival
Website: www.speed-rack.com / Facebook event page

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Lindsay William-Ross Lindsay is a Senior Editor at Vancity Buzz, and currently runs the site's Food section. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she spent the last two decades in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her MA, attended culinary school, and was an English professor (among other things). Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancitybuzz.com
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