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!

Our Three Famous Punch Recipes for Cocktail Events

Punch is a classic drink with five ingredients. It has spirit, citrus, sweet, spice and water. Use our three Punch Recipes to impress for your next cocktail and mixology event!

Opening Punch

Serves 8
8 oz Jamaican Rum
4 oz Triple Sec (or other orange flavored liqueur)
4 oz Lemon Juice
12 oz fresh apple cider
8 oz Ginger Ale
8 cinnamon sticks (optional)

Shake Rum, Triple Sec & Lemon juice with Ice.  Strain into punch bowl.  Add Cider and soda. Chill.
Serve 5oz per guest.  Add cinnamon stick to garnish.

Mulled Wine

Serves 6
1 cup apple cider
1 cup Cabernet Sauvignon wine
2 oz honey
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 orange, zested and juiced
4 whole cloves
3 pieces of star anise
1 oranges, sliced, for garnish

Combine the cider, wine, honey, cinnamon sticks, zest, juice, cloves and star anise in a large saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Pour into mugs, add an orange peel to each and serve.


Serves 6
2 large egg yolks
2 oz sugar
1/4 cup half-n-half
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Jamaican rum or cognac or bourbon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg (plus more for serving)
Pinch kosher salt

Add yolks, sugar, and nutmeg in a large shaker.  Stir with a barspoon or whisker and then shake.
Combine dairy, booze and salt to shaker.  Shake.
Add Ice.  Shake until glass is chilled (around a minute of full shaking).
Serve in cups topped with a little extra nutmeg grated right on top.