Warren Column: Rematch Beeyatch

Jan Warren has a crush on the cocktail competition that appeals to his baser bartending instincts

Rematch!!! Beeyatch!!! just happened. Again. In all its magnificently sloppy glass breaking, Zombie swizzling, blender spewing, Daiquiri spilling glory. What started out as a dick measuring contest between two drunken Brits has spread to at least four of the seven continents. Giuseppe Gonzalez of Suffolk Arms in New York City has been instrumental in it’s  growth. Paul Mant and Tim Stones were the original brains behind this competition, and laid out a framework that has proven to be one of the most entertaining tests of bartending speed and skill and, in my view, one of the purest measures of a bartender’s abilities, as far as competitions go. Ten drinks. Two Daiquiris, one Piña Colada, Cuba Libre, Zombie, Caipirinha, Mojito, Planter’s Punch, Mai-Tai and, finally, a beer. Points are deducted for things like missing straws and garnishes, and obviously for drinks that just don’t taste good.

I’ll likely never enter Rematch, as I am too old, and my skills behind the bar tend more towards dad jokes, sardonic wit, and excellent Manhattan cocktails.

Tiki bartending was incredibly fun when I did it at Painkiller, more legally known as PKNY, and I worked alongside a true monster and Rematch winner Yael Vengroff. I’ll unashamedly say she was a faster bartender than I’ll probably ever be. Watching her bang out 10 delicious drinks in under two minutes is a sight to behold, as was watching her manhandle two blenders and a crowd of drunks on Friday nights.

Competitions such as Bacardi Legacy and Diageo’s World Class are important, and definitely have their place in the world of professional bartending, but for me there is something about a contest unsullied by commercial interests, thrown together by a bunch of savages, whose only real appeal is to other degenerate bartender types, that seriously tickles my fancy. I’ve heard it described, around it’s inception, as sort of a fight club type experience. Word of mouth. No sponsorship. Trade only. This contest highlights two of the most useful tools a bartender has: fast hands and a big mouth.

I talked to Karin Stanley, veteran New York City bartender and Rematch competitor, about why she loves Rematch. She says highlights are “the camaraderie of it. Like, everyone is cheering everyone on. It’s not like some sponsored comp where you have to entice people to show up and you’re only rooting for your friends because they want to win a trip to France or something”. Then there’s the fact that: “Every round is potentially magic, everyone wants to see it, they’re all on your team.”

Stanley’s advice to new competitors is to just “get up there, make 10 good drinks as fast as you can, like you do at work, and enjoy the shit out of it and walk away. The cards will fall wherever.” She calls Rematch “inclusive, elevating, supportive, and unique”. It is a quote I love, but if Rematch is unique in its inclusion, elevation, and support, doesn’t that point to a problem with other competitions?

It is a testament to our industry and to this test of skills that so many of us want to be involved. I’ve encountered almost universal love for this concept. I think next time it comes around, I’ll take the night off work, lay down my entry fee, pour the crowd a bunch of shots instead of making any of the drinks, blow a 151 Fireball and walk off stage.