As the 2020 Bourbon Takeover of Texas season draws nearer, we’re catching up with 2019 winner Terance Robson to get his top 5 tips and tricks for future competitors.
Tip #1: Prep
If you’ve seen the footage from the 2019 Brawls, you can probably tell that this was no one’s first rodeo. Every bartender brought their A-game and the competition was fierce. Luck has nothing to do with it—the standout cocktails were always the result of a lot of trial and error.
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“Try your drink on different people and make sure it’s completely balance [sic]. Learn everything about the product you’re using.”
Tip #2: Arrive Early
Treat it like game day. The earlier you get there, the more time you have to get your bearings, feel out the space, scope out the competition, make friends, and get everything prepared for the first round without having to rush. Terance was the first to arrive at both the semi-finals and the finals, and that caught judges’ attention. Having a bit of extra time to get comfortable and get ready can make a huge difference come showtime.
Tip #3: Find a Way to Stand Out
Terance jokingly credits his accent for helping set him apart, and it’s true that as the only Irishman in the bunch, he stood out before he’d poured a thing. However, it was his approach, techniques, and flavors inspired by home that made his cocktails so memorable.
“My drinks were very different and I had a different way of doing it. Using leather and serving my drink hot was something I didn’t see anyone do!”
Using your own unique experiences, palate, and background to influence your drinks is a sure-fire way to catch the judges’ attention.
Tip #4: Don’t Forget About the Presentation
Terance brought in unique glassware and garnishes and used as a number of techniques that we’d never seen before in every aspect of the competition. Others drew attention with flaming garnishes, lightbulbs used as glassware, and one bartender even showed up in a costume coordinated to his drink. With so many delicious cocktails from some of the best bartenders in the state, it helps to remember that we drink with our eyes.
Tip #5: Find Your Why
Prizes are great, and $10,000 is a hell of a trophy. However, Terance argues that it’s about more than that.
“It’s only money. Winning the competition is more important than anything. Don’t just do it for the cash. But it definitely is nice to have won.”
At the end of the day, everyone’s reasons for competing are different. Whether they took home the grand prize or not, every bartender left a little more accomplished, a little more skilled, and a lot more inspired to keep honing their craft.
Not sure where to start?
There are plenty of examples of past recipes in our blog archive here on Texas Monthly if you’re looking for inspiration. You can also learn a lot more about Garrison Brothers Bourbon by reading the tasting notes on our website, or chatting with the makers themselves on a tour of our distillery in Hye, Texas.