How Aqua Vitae Institute Student Mike Landis Won His First Cocktail Competition And A Trip To Vegas!

I'm taking part in a bartending competition here in Lancaster on June 17th and would love your input on a drink I have designed for the competition.  I'm sorry this request is last minute, as I need to submit my ingredient list by tomorrow Wednesday June 6th.  If you have time, I would love any suggestions.  I'm satisfied with the drink, but still feel it needs work.

Name: Not Determined

Glass: Collins

Mixing Method: Build and short shake before soda is added

Recipe: 2 oz. Faber Rum
.75 oz. mango raspberry shrub
.75 lime juice
3-4 oz. club soda

Garnish: mint sprig

             Shrub:  1:1:1 water, cane sugar, fruit (1/2 mango, 1/2 raspberry)
                          Bring to simmer, cool, strain
                          Add apple cider vinegar - 1/3 the amount of fruit/simple syrup 


I've been using the hot process in practice, but plan on using the cold process for competition.

Through a series of questions, I introduced him to a checklist that competition drinks need to have.  I told him that if he followed all of these principles, he has a very good chance of winning.  A lot of competitive bartending is knowing what to worry about.  


Every drink that went "viral" from a mojito, to a cosmo, to an aviation, has had something visual that sets it apart from other drinks.  It can be the copper mug of a Moscow mule, shredded and layered mint on top of an egg white like in this drink: 


A cocktail has to be simple for another bartender to recreate.  Clear directions, easily sourced ingredients, and simple processes are key here.  Complex cocktails usually don't win, because they are hard to reproduce.


A cocktail needs a story, something significant about what it is, where it's made, something unique about it that inspired you.  For example, Faber is made in Quakertown, and you can say that Quakertown has an Amish market.  You wanted to incorporate the spirit of Quakertown into the cocktail by using a traditional shrub.  


Keep in mind that competitions don't exist in a vacuum.  They are sponsored by brands, and you can show that you care and understand the brand by using their products and avoiding competing brands for your recipe.  Think of the liquor brands like the great houses from Game of Thrones.  You wouldn't walk into a Stark sponsored joust with a Lannister lance.  If you don't like the brand for whatever reason, I would skip that particular competition.  Is your drinks connection to the brand negative (competing product), neutral (using only the products listed), or positive (utilizing another spirit or cordial the aligned with that particular brand, or telling a story that dovetails with the brand's values).


Is this going to be a competition that's judged by a crowd, by a panel, or both?  In the case of crowds, I would err on the side of caution when using astringency.  If a cocktail is too bitter or sour for your audience, or if they're not used to that particular source of astringency, it can reflect poorly on your score.  The judge might love Fernet Branca, but the crowd may be unfamiliar with it.

Working The Crowd.JPG


The event titled Fill Up My Cup was held June 16 in Lancaster, PA, and included six bartenders from great Lancaster restaurants and country clubs.  My cocktail, The Sweet and Sour Mule, won the majority vote of over 150 participants.  The drink essentially is a Jamaican mule with a raspberry shrub.

I just wanted to thank you for your quick response and helpful suggestions!   I did change the name to The Sweet and Sour Mule - which appealed to the local crowd, as sweet-n-sour foods are quite popular here.  Additionally, Bartending Mastery's Chapter 17 section, Fundamental of Drink Design, proved quite helpful in directing me as I developed my first cocktail. 

Finally, I cannot wait to return to Aqua Vitae Institute to complete my exams; I hope to finish by the end of July.  I been bartending seven days a week for a stretch - but I can't complain, as it rarely feels like work!

Since returning to bartending two years ago,  I have been interested in entering competitions.  So when this local competition presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.  I'm still a little in shock over the win, though I really believed in myself and this cocktail.  The experience has been amazing, allowing me a chance to interact with other industry folks and cocktail enthusiasts.  The award, a trip to Las Vegas, isn't bad either!

Thank you so much for your help.  Here are a few pics from that day.  

Mike Landis

PS... My beautiful girlfriend and helper is Shannon Woolman

Congratulations Mike and have fun in Vegas!

The 5 Best Ways To Find Cocktail Competitions

It’s not very hard to find bartending competitions and cocktail competitions. Here are our five suggestions we tell our students if they want to be competitive bartenders!

The first and easiest way for a beginner bartender to break into the bartending competition scene is to check out They have constant updates and streamline the sign up process a great deal. There’s also a good deal of back and forth communication between the brand hosting the competition and yourself, so it’s fairly easy to keep track of all the rules!

A second way, is to join a local meetup or group of bartenders. Many times these groups will create grassroot contests between them and if the campaign gets big enough, it’s very possible for liquor companies to pay attention to them. These competitions, while not necessarily prestigious, tend to be a good opportunity to break nerves in a casual setting. Also, since it’s not focused on pleasing a brand, but rather pleasing their community, they tend to be a lot of fun for all attendees!

A third option is to join a bartending school. Some bartending schools like our own, are great places for getting information about these local communities and organizers. They can connect you directly with them if they hear something. Many times, speakers from brands or with industry know-how will come in and give lectures about future events that students can apply for or tips on how to be selected for an appearance at one.

A fourth option is to join the USBG, or United States Bartending Guild. Many brands will host small “USBG” exclusive competitions in local communities. These tend to be centralized competitions!

A fifth way, is to be so good at bartending and branding, that brand ambassadors will actively approach you to compete for a contest that they’ll be hosting. While this way has the least amount of red tape, you’ll have to be pretty good at networking to get to this point! By being a damn good bartender, using a combination of the above four points and by engaging with industry contacts, there's no doubt that you will get to this last one!