Bartender mixes $5,000 ‘Cointreauversial’ cocktail
By Melissa Arseniuk
Las Vegas Sun
April 6, 2009
The newly-crowned “Most Cointreauversial Bartender” in Las Vegas, Raymond Speight, squeezes some fresh lemon into his award-winning cocktail creation.
By Melissa Arseniuk
Thu, Apr 2, 2009 (3:45 p.m.)
• 1 ounce Cointreau
• 3/4 ounce Plymouth gin
• 4 blackberries
• 1 ounce sour mix
• 1/2 ounce raw agave nectar
• 1/2 bar spoon pomegranate molasses
Raymond Speight is officially Las Vegas’ most Cointreauversial bartender, and he has the big fat check to prove it.
Speight was given the title, along with a trip for two to France and $5,000, on Wednesday after winning a Cointreau-sponsored mix-off at Southern Wine and Spirits.
The award-winning mixologist, who most days can be found behind the bar at Encore’s Eastside Lounge, beat out three competitors – Dante Capazolli of Slice at Caesars Palace, Jonathan Forbes of the Palazzo’s Opulenza Bar and Tara De Soto from Tryst – for the prize.
Vegas' Cointreauversial Bartender
Awarding Speight the honor were judges Erin Williams, Cointreau’s U.S. brand ambassador and mixologist; the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild national president, Livio Llauro (who, in interest of full disclosure, also works for Southern Wine and Spirits); and Vegas’ resident “Modern Mixologist,” Tony Abou-Ganim.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Williams said, noting Capazolli missed the first place spot by just three points.
The evening began at 7 p.m. with a cocktail reception where the four competitors mixed up a signature cocktail for a crowd of about 60 invited guests drawn from the local beverage industry.
After sipping what the competitors had shaken, stirred, muddled and otherwise mixed to perfection, the crowd voted for its favorite. The judges, meanwhile, also selected their top pick.
Capazolli’s drink, which he called “Cointreau Americano,” won that round. The $1,500-winning drink was made up of a combination of Cointreau, Campari, vermouth and Champagne mixed with sours and a lemon twist.
Llauro called Capazolli’s cocktail “unbelievable.”
“It blew me away,” he said.
The competition didn’t truly get underway until later in the evening, however, when the crowd and competing bartenders made their way downstairs for an “Iron Chef”-style round of mixology.
The hopefuls took their places at identical bar stations stocked with Cointreau, ginger ale, tonic water, club soda and cans of Coca-Cola and 7-Up. They then had 15 minutes to select ingredients from a “bartender’s pantry” table, and mix up a perfect-yet-completely-original cocktail for judging.
The pantry table contained a range of potential ingredients: An array of spirits (everything from Champagne and triple sec to Bailey’s Irish Cream and Wild Turkey); mixers (cream, pomegranate juice); fresh produce (blood oranges, raw eggs, berries, cucumbers and pineapple); and herbs and spices (paprika, cilantro, cloves, cayenne and white pepper) were at the competitors’ disposal.
The rules for the final round were simple: The bartenders had to use Cointreau in their drink; they had to serve four glasses of the cocktail (three for judging and one for photos); and they had to incorporate a surprise ingredient, too.
The secret ingredient, which was revealed just before the clock started ticking was Lebanese pomegranate molasses.
“It’s so powerful, you can’t use too much or it’ll kill the cocktail,” Speight said of the exotic and sweet syrup.
After 15 minutes of mixology, four cocktails emerged but it was Speight’s that emerged victorious.
He created his winning cocktail using both Cointreau and gin, along with the mandatory pomegranate molasses, some blackberries, sour mix and agave nectar.
Before entering the competition, Speight said he and a co-worker made a pact.
“I have a friend of mine who works with me at Encore and we made a deal in that if either of us win, we’d take each other,” he said, regarding to the all-expenses paid trip for two to France that he had just won.
After being crowned Vegas’ most “Cointreauversial Bartender,” Speight said he’s going to make good on his promise.
The consultants’ fee purse of $5,000, however, is all his – and Speight already knows how he’s going to spend it.
“I’m going to pay my mortgage,” he said.