Caer Ferguson and Sharon Yeung, USBG Austin Chapter members
After hundreds of entries, dozens of fights in 13 U.S. cities, an educational field trip to the Espolòn distillery in Mexico, and a national final in New York City, Caer Ferguson and Sharon Yeung of Austin, Texas – aka The Fenghuang Fighters – recently earned the title of 2018 Espolòn Cocktail Fight champions. The Cocktail Fights are not your typical cocktail competition; they are high-spirited and fun, ranking personality, presentation, costumes, and audience engagement along with the quality of the cocktails mixed.
Anne Louise Marquis, National Brand Portfolio Manager for Campari America, calls the competition a party. “It’s loud and wild with a lot of shouting and audience participation. It’s meant to be as much for the competitors as the people who come to support them and also mimic the energy of a great night at work,” she says. “This competition challenges the competitors on a lot of levels, and they are judged for both their great drink making and the personas they bring to the stage. Storytelling and a sense of humor will get you far in this event if your drink is well balanced and creative. We want to celebrate the whole bartender – so great drinks are the key, but also the personas, the costumes, the entrances and teamwork of the duos.”
These two champs are no strangers to competition. Caer was the 2016 Cocktail Fights overall winner, and both of them have participated in several other competitions and are continually looking for opportunities to hone their skills. Preparing for the national final gave them a chance to do just that, as they were required to think on their feet and be ready to quickly prep any tequila cocktail that the judges threw their way.
“For the finals, each of our four judges ‘ordered’ a different, classic tequila cocktail from the teams, with minor tweaks based upon each judge’s personal preference. The teams then had six minutes to build the four custom drinks. Not only were they forced to think on their feet, but they also had to cater to the particulars of each judge, something a bartender experiences on a daily basis with customers in their home bars,” said Jon Brierly of BFG Communications, a marketing agency that works with Espolòn.
Jon also said that for the semi-finals a wheel was spun to determine two flavor profiles that the competing teams had to build. They had one minute to prepare and only four minutes to build the drinks. To make this challenge more complicated; only one teammate could mix at a time and had to tag their partner in every 60 seconds, lucha libre style.
The Fenghuang Fighters’ experience and preparation paid off, as did their ability to entertain their audience with a creative, well-thought out presentation. Their cocktail, named Ramon’s Revival, was intended to revive the spirit of Ramon, the rooster on the Espolòn bottle. Their performance even included a guest appearance of a rooster character on stage! Caer shared that FengHuang is the name of a mythical Chinese bird. She and Sharon wanted to play up the rooster motif, and they opted to use the Asian flavors they both grew up eating when they created their cocktail recipe.
“We’re beyond ecstatic that we won! But it’s that much better since we whipped something delicious up with flavors near and dear from our childhood,” said Sharon. “I’m extremely grateful we were able to share that with others. As a first generation Chinese American, orange chicken was the perfect inspiration for our cocktail.”
“We made a sesame horchata tequila by toasting brown rice in sesame and then blending it with anejo tequila. We strained it off, and the cloudy, rice-infused tequila was our base. We also made a no chicken orange chicken syrup. It had orange zest, okonomiyaki sauce, rice vinegar, Chinese five spices, etc. The cocktail uses both of those as well as citric acid and a little orange juice. We flame a little absinthe over the glass to bring out the spices we used in the syrup,” said Caer.
Caer shared that she and Sharon practiced their introduction speech at least 100 times before nationals! They also practiced their choreographed fan movements to step up their presentation.
“Caer and Sharon were very well prepared, they knew their plan, they rehearsed and went the extra mile to make their drink presentation amazing. They also had a really tight theme that was funny and intriguing. Plus, they know one another really well and worked as a team throughout the event,” said Anne Louise.
“Espolòn Cocktail Fights is a great opportunity for both veteran bartenders and those new to competing,” said Anne Louise. “It’s truly all about heart and passion. I loved that we had all different levels of experience participating in this event. We want everyone to apply and let’s make 2019 even more fun!”