Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bartenders Are Gods, Round II

Finlandia Vodka Cup Arizona Winner, Jason Magers

Last week, I mentioned that I’m an ‘official judge’ for Finlandia’s 9th Annual Vodka Cup. The winner from the Tempe competition (where I judged) has been selected and will be attending the finals in Lapland, Finland. Who is this talented “bar star?” If the suspense is killing you, keep reading!

But, first, a little background on the vodka cup: Finlandia’s cocktail competitions take place across the US in Tempe, Denver, Miami, Chicago and Detroit. The winner of each of those events then faces the European winners at the Vodka Cup Finals on January 31, 2007, in Finland. Previous winners include Jan Lindgren from Finland in 2006, Cevat Yildirim from Turkey in 2005, and Stojan Crizman from Slovenia in 2004. World renown Mixologist and Finlandia judge Dale DeGroff says, “It’s an exciting time to be in the cocktail business and this competition undoubtedly brings some new and unique recipes to the world.”

The cocktail competition in Tempe last Monday featured 17 bartenders, each presenting 3 drinks: an aperitif, a long drink and a dessert drink. We nine judges were split into three groups, tasting 17 cocktails (versus sampling all 51). I was in the “long drink” group. We had half an hour to score the cocktails based on appearance, aroma and taste, along with an ‘overall impression’ rating. (To maintain sobriety during judging -and survive the 2-hour drive back to Tucson- I took just a few sips from each cocktail, and drank water before, during and after!)

Other Arizona judges came from local media and related industries. A few I chatted with include: The Edge (103.9) radio personality, Robin Nash. (btw - if you’re in the Phoenix area, you may already know about the competition to name her 90’s music lunch hour), Don Farrell of The New Times and Jonathan Sacks of Scottsdale Models.

After all drinks were tasted and all scores tallied, anticipation built as we waited to see who won. Finally, it was announced that Jason Magers will participate in the international “shake off” in Finland! His three drinks for the Tempe competition were:

Apertif: Starlight Margarita, incorporating Finlandia vodka and blended with mango puree.
Long Drink: Helsinkian Nuclear Wombat built from the glass using blue curaco, Finlandia Wildberries, Bacardi Razz, pineapple cocktail, sprite and a splash of cranberry.
Dessert Drink: Wildberry Joe, a coffee drink featuring Baileys, Frangelico, Finlandia Wildberries, and chocolate berry mocha.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Jason moved to Phoenix to attend ASU and quickly found his way into the bar industry due to the flexible work schedule and “fast money.” Now 29, he has been tending bar for almost eight years. Currently wowing guests at Margarita Rocks, Jason says he maintains the highest volume of sales ($3000 – 5000 per shift) while “providing a quality product every time.” Magen also considers himself a performance bartender, noting, “I incorporate fire shows, tandem acts, and good working flair, along with a bit of crowd participation.”

Jason, who would like to own a bar of his own one day, explains his philosophy on being a successful bartender this way, “Bartending is 20% fundamentals, drink recipe knowledge and pours, and 80% personality. Almost anyone can memorize recipes and, with practice, pour a quality drink, consistently. However, it takes a special person to stay positive and energetic through the course of a bar shift, not to mention being personable and interactive with the clients.”

Jason says he is excited to go to Finland and sees the trip as, “a great opportunity to experience another country and see how cultural influences impact bartending. I visited Costa Rica last summer for a Flair competition. It was awesome to watch bartenders, from all over the world, communicate their bar knowledge.”

Markku Raittinen, a Finlandia Brand Ambassador says, “The bartenders that create these unique cocktails deserve to be celebrated and there’s no better place to do it than the birthplace of Finlandia Vodka.”

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