Speed Rack is a competition, and a tough one at that. Pitting the best female bartenders in each city against one another, the competition travels around to major cocktail markets before The Finals to determine Miss Speed Rack in May. Created by female bartenders for female bartenders, the best part has to even be mentioned: all proceeds from each event go to supporting breast cancer education, prevention and research. Follow along to find out who will win the coveted title of Miss Speed Rack.
Tucson winner Shel Bourdon considered herself an unlikely speed test winner: "I am not known for being the fastest at mixing drinks. I have learned, developed and still work in more craft-focused environments." Bad news for a contestant of a timed competition, right? "I actually placed fifth in the qualifying round," admits Shel. But that didn't rule her out completely. "I knew that what I lacked in speed, I made up for in accuracy and taste. I realized when I got to the competition that all of the other girls were used to clubs and high pressure situations, but I found comfort in my knowledge and understanding of the cocktails.
Tucson winner Shel Bourdon
PHOTO COURTESY OF SPEED RACK
That knowledge and understanding came from years of experience in those craft environments. "I think I just got really lucky," she explains. "It was 2008 when I started working in LA and the emphasis had just shifted to the really intricate, craft cocktails. I stayed there for about four years and worked at several places, just absorbing everything I could." Then she made her move. "I moved to Arizona about a year and a half ago and quickly got this opportunity with Hotel Palomar."
As the mixologist for Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails in Downtown Phoenix, Shel has been leaving her mark everywhere she goes. In addition to winning Speed Rack, she was also named Best Mixologist by Phoenix New Times. Not to mention the fact that she won the coveted title of 2011 Last Slinger Standing during the Arizona Cocktail Week competition. Whew! All of this success must have changed Shel, right?
Wrong. Her favorite part of her job is still her interaction with her guests. "I just love opening people's eyes and getting them to try new things. It is the best when you can get guests really excited about something that they have never tried before." Her adventurous attitude is evident in her cocktail, Midnight Punch. "I find inspiration from new brands and new spices. What I like about this cocktail is that it is scary at first with its exotic ingredients. But once you taste it, you find out how approachable it is."
Shel's love of opening people's eyes translates to the all-female bartending competition, as well. "There's a new accepting trend of female bartending and Speed Rack really highlights all of the hard work that all of these women are doing across the country. It's just such a great cause and a great way to meet these inspiring women."
¾ oz. lime juice
¾ oz. jasmine tea syrup
1 oz. ramazotti amaro
1 oz. Batavia arrack
When Naomi Levy got her first restaurant job at Ruby Tuesday at the age of 17, “it was instant love.” Drawn to the challenges, drama and pace of the food and beverage industry, Naomi kept with it and soon found herself behind the bar. Now, far from her Ruby Tuesday roots, one can find Naomi mixing the signature cocktails of Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks, a smart American Brasserie in Boston. Recognized across the country for its emphasis on well-crafted cocktails, the bar at Eastern Standard is intent on introducing classic cocktail recipes to the modern generation, which is right up Naomi’s alley. “We are really close to Fenway Park, so we get many different types of people. When I can introduce someone to something they might not normally try and they end up loving it, it makes my night.”
Naomi Levy, winner of Boston Speed Rack
PHOTO COURTESY OF SPEED RACK
Naomi was given the opportunity to really exhibit her skills, honed over lots of hard work over the years, at the 2012 Boston Speed Rack. Placing first, Naomi participated in a bracketed, all-women’s competition where each round four judges would chose four cocktails that the women had to make as fast and as precisely as possible. Naomi says, “It was a blast. All of the money they raise goes straight to breast cancer awareness so it is a really great cause. It was a great group of girls and it was just fun. It never felt competitive.” She goes on to explain, “I think what makes [Speed Rack] so special is that it’s the one event that really promotes and fosters women behind the bar. It’s for women, by women and it really gives us a chance to show what women can do.”
As far as where her inspiration comes from for her own concoctions, Naomi draws on seasonality and what she eats. “When something that I eat excites me, I try to translate those flavors, which tend to be more savory, into a drink.” These inspirations are perfectly exemplified in The Caledonian. Named after the famous hotel in Edinburgh, known for their high tea, Naomi’s creation combines rooiboos tea with Scotch and lots of spice for a wonderful fall sparkler.
2 oz. blended scotch
1 oz. rooibos syrup
½ oz. lemon juice
¼ oz. orange juice
6 drops Allspice Dram
Topped w/ 1.5 oz cava