Chandler bartender drinking in contest success SanTan Sun News

Chandler bartender drinking in contest success

Chandler bartender drinking in contest success
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By Kayla Rutledge

Contributor

 

The community is raising a glass to Henry Whittaker, whose skills behind the bar lead him to win various state and regional cocktail competitions. 

The international World Class Competition brings bartenders from around the world together to compete, admire cocktail concocting skills from every corner of the globe and pour knowledge about the craft into each other’s cups.

Hosted by the United States Bartenders Guild, members of the association are the only bartenders permitted to participate in the national levels of the contest. 

After entering the competition through an online application, Whittaker’s first skills tournament was held in San Diego, California, where 100 competitors was reduced to the top 50.

After making the cut, Whittaker emerged as the sole winner for Arizona and was one of three southwest regional finalists. 

“It gave me a chance to test my metal against everyone in the country. It was so eye-opening to see what different styles we have across the map. You don’t have to go far to experience an entirely different culture in this industry,” said Whittaker.

Not long after securing a spot as a regional winner, Whittaker competed against the best in the nation at the country’s competition in Lexington, Kentucky. 

Though he did not win the competition that would have advanced him to the world competition, he said the experience was one he will never forget.

“I was humbled and excited just to be there. It was so great to be around others that see this craft as something more than just drinking to get drunk. This really is art, and you get to play with styles and colors and flavors and smells, and I think sometimes people overlook that as part of what a bartender does,” said Whittaker.

The national competition was filled to the brim with tasks competitors could plan for, and some rounds where bartenders had to showcase on-the-fly creativity.

From a Great Kentucky Bake Off theme, a cocktail inspired by food from around the world, a lightning round to make six drinks in eight minutes, and an intergalactic space theme, at times the competition laid more in the overarching concepts and time for each round rather than in fellow contestants. 

Though the themes of each round determined the general direction of the drinks, the national competitor said most of his inspiration throughout the competition dripped from his beloved bar back home — The Brickyard. 

“The Brickyard really helped me learn a lot about how to mesh my style with things varying pallets might like. I also got a lot of confidence in my ability to create drinks, but that took a lot of trial and error and a lot of taste testing,” Whittaker laughed.

After exiting active duty military service for the Marine Corps in 2015, Whittaker said he was looking for a “quieter and slower paced lifestyle,” so naturally he became a barback for a bustling joint in downtown Phoenix. 

“I didn’t really want to go back to school, but I knew I wanted to decompress from all of that service and do something with my hands and for myself and with other people,” said Whittaker.

Eight months into the job, the barback was drinking up the positivity the profession offered, and was curious to see what more the field could provide.

That is when a high school friend, Bobby Kramer, who is the beverage director at The Brickyard, offered Whittaker an interview for a job at the bar, “and the rest is history.”

Whittaker’s been called everything from mixologist to bar manager at The Brickyard, but when he’s behind the counter he knows himself as a professional socializer. 

Picking up on everything to what a customer is wearing to the things they like to talk about indicates what sort of flavor profile they might take interest in, “and sometimes it’s not what they’d expect to like, but they love it,” Whittaker said.

Over the years Kramer and Whittaker have worked together to make craft cocktails more approachable and original. 

With a rotating specialty cocktail menu every six months, Whittaker said he has been exposed to working with fresh ingredients in limitless ways, expanding upon his creativity and knowledge of alcohol and craft beverage culture. 

“We all study this stuff outside of work. This is our passion; this is who we are and what we do. We want our customers, our guests, to know they’re getting the absolute best we can give them,” Whittaker said. 

Whittaker said it has been as refreshing as a cold drink on a hot day to see the resurgence of popularity for craft cocktails over the years, adding his own taste has developed from “cheap beer to bitter cocktails and stronger whiskeys.”

And while he claims to throw bubbling cocktail parties at home from time to time, Whittaker said the real party is at the bar, and it looks much different from the, “sad, dark, lonely corner people go to after a long day at work.”

“Alcohol in general has been so bastardized for the past 80 years. It’s been how fast can I get drunk and how drunk can I get, but inebriation is a not a focus here,” he added, noting:

“It’s the conversation, how you feel applying all of these senses to elevate your experience, and it’s a pivotal movement that’s changing the way everyone sees the personality of these cocktails,” said Whittaker.

Whittaker said the community’s ever-growing interest in playing with flavors and styles at the bar continues to push the limits of his creativity with the menu. 

He added that very drive to find the next best combination at the Brickyard is what helped him advance so far in The World Class Competition.

“World Class gives us a chance to celebrate how far alcohol has come and where it’s going. I don’t think placing in the National competition or even getting that far to begin with would have been possible without the knowledge I’ve attained through Brickyard,” Whittaker added.

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