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Mixing It Up

Competition seeks to stir growing cocktail community

Friday, January 9, 2015

Just a few years ago, finding cocktail artists in Northwest Arkansas would have been tough. They existed, but they weren't readily accessible.

"You'd have to seek out the people who were serious about cocktails," says Emily Lawson, owner of Pink House Alchemy. "Now, we have entities that employ and empower people to be creative."

FAQ

Mixology Competition

WHEN — 6 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville

COST — Free, but guests must be at least 21 years old

INFO — facebook.com/nwamixology

And many of them will gather for the debut of a mixology competition this weekend at Greenhouse Grille in Fayetteville. Eight bartenders from various clubs and restaurants in the region will compete at Sunday's event, which is open to the drinking-age public.

Jeremey Brown, a bartender at several locations in Northwest Arkansas over the past few years, has noted the growth of the craft cocktail scene, although he admits not all bar patrons know "it's not just Vegas bombs and Jello shots now."

Instead of a service industry night like many restaurants and bars offer, Brown, now general manager at Greenhouse, opted for something he thought local drink slingers would go for -- competition.

"There's nothing for bartenders to get excited about," he says.

So he and Lawson jointly created Sunday night's event, both as an introduction to mixology competitions and as a preview of a larger event the two hope to establish in the fall. The Fayetteville Advertising and Promotions Commission has already awarded some starter money for the project.

The competition works like similar events in other cocktail crazy cities. Contestants come into the first round of competition working with a choice of two liquors: 12-year rum or botanical gin. Participants can bring in their own garnishes and mixes, and there will also be some simple syrups and shrubs -- also known as drinking vinegar -- from Pink House Alchemy. The resulting drinks will be handed out as 1-ounce samples, and for $1, members of the public will cast a vote for their favorite. The top three bartenders after the initial round will advance to the finals, which will include a surprise liquor base the contestants haven't prepared for or don't often use.

But instead of giant trophies, the organizers hope the event expands the already growing cocktail culture in Northwest Arkansas. Brown hopes excitement generated by the competition leads to enough potential members to request a charter from the United States Bartenders' Guild. And Lawson believes this casual introduction to cocktail culture will be educational and accessible.

The two hope to pair up this fall to launch the Ozarks Mixology Conference, which would draw in out-of-town guests and speakers for educational programming. And both are taking their practice elsewhere soon. Brown says he will open Nomad's Music Lounge in February in the former Tanglewood Branch Beer Co. location in south Fayetteville. Lawson plans to debut a bar called Foxhole just south of the Bentonville square sometime in March.

NAN What's Up on 01/09/2015