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Bartenders compete to represent Halifax at national event

Local bartenders say the event is about building community within the industry

4 min read
caption It was all about craft cocktails at the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market on Monday night.
Stacey Seward

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, best known for its offerings of local produce and products during the day, was filled with artisans of a different sort on Monday night.

Eighteen of Halifax’s top bartenders competed against each other in hopes of winning the opportunity to represent the region at a national competition. The event was organized by Made With Love, a Quebec-based organization that also holds events in Spain, as well as running a bar school in Montreal.

caption Competitors turned stalls into mini bars to make and serve their drinks.
Stacey Seward

As part of the competition, participants used as many locally sourced ingredients as they could find. Chelsea Rose of Piatto described her creation, which included Nova Scotian honey and apples, sea salt and smoked pine, as a homage to her province.

“I wanted to pay tribute to those hard-working farmers that support us every day,” she said.

caption Chelsea Rose used local ingredients for her bourbon-based cocktail called Farmers Accolade.

The CUT Steakhouse’s Matt Dash, who has competed in similar bartending competitions, said events like Made With Love bring much-need exposure to Halifax’s bar scene.

“Halifax bartenders are first-class bartenders and the community is so tight and inspired because we are so small,” he said. “We all strive to push each other at events like this and gain as much exposure because we are a pretty heavy hitter.”

caption Keegan McGregor, representing Field Guide, made a brown butter bourbon cocktail. In order to serve it chilled instead of warm, like most butter-based drinks, McGregor uses an emulsifier, since butter won’t bond to liquid.

Patrons were given dog tag-style necklaces upon entry, which they were encouraged to give to the bartender who made their favourite drink. At the end of the night, two first place awards were handed out: judge’s choice, awarded by a panel of industry experts, and public’s choice for the bartender who received the most dog tags.

Thomas Yeo of The Highwayman was the judges’ top pick. He also scored third in the public vote. He’ll be heading to Montreal next spring, along with people’s choice winner Andrew Keyes of Lot Six, to compete at nationals. The winner will get the prestige of being named the country’s best bartender and will go on one of 10 trips awarded to all regional winners.

caption Thomas Yeo took home the judges’ choice award and earned enough dog tags to place third for the public’s choice award.
Stacey Seward

Yeo called his drink La Chichera and was inspired by the flavours of Nicaragua. It included ingredients like Nicaraguan rum, lime, guava juice, chicha morada syrup (a beverage made from blue corn harvested near the Andes) and a coffee and coconut infused garnish.

This was his third time competing at the event.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to win it.’ That was my goal; that’s what I came in to do, and I did it,” Yeo said. “I’m so stoked.”

Many of the bartenders spent weeks — or months — perfecting their recipes. The homemade syrups, reductions and garnishes required hours of preparation. Ryan MacDonald of the Middle Spoon estimates he spent 20 hours over two days preparing the components of his Newfoundland-inspired drink, which included a rhubarb reduction and rose hip tea syrup.

caption Shown are a few of the ingredients that went into Kaitlin Takaoka’s cocktail for the Exchange on Hollis.

For the participants, though, these events are about much more than just winning.

“Even before I participated in them, I liked coming to them because there’s a sense of community,” said Rose.

“The creativity, the juices get flowing and you’re surrounded by your peers supporting you. It doesn’t even feel like a competition.”

Dash said patrons can learn from the event as well.

“I encourage people to get out and dry different cocktails other than rum and cokes. You’re missing out on so many depths of flavours and textures,” he said.

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