By Nick BeJeaux
Don’t let the name fool you — Olive or Twist’s new bartending competition “Bar Fight” will not involve slashing faces with broken beer bottles, breaking barstools over spines, or bar slides (yet). It will, however, separate the two-bit tapsters from the master mixologists.
Co-sponsored by DIG Magazine and conceived as a weekly competition, the first Bar Fight will be on Sunday, March 1, at Olive or Twist. Four bartenders will compete in three rounds using two secret ingredients; by the challenge’s end, only one will be crowned champion for the week — as voted by you, the audience. For Food Network watchers, the format may sound very similar to Chopped, a comparison that Olive or Twist co-owner Josh Duke says is not too off-base.
“That’s an apt description; I would say that its premise is very similar,” he said. “We will be having bartenders every Sunday night from various restaurants and bars across Baton Rouge, and maybe as far out as Lafayette, or Hammond, New Orleans, and maybe even St. Francisville. Hopefully it grows to that point.”
Like the show, for each round the contestants will be given two mystery ingredients that must be used to create a cocktail. Taking a look at the drinks usually mixed up at Olive or Twist, some of these ingredients make total sense while others will be pretty far out.
“It could be anything; seasonal fruit, spices, a spirit that they’re not used to, a different kind of mixer, or some kind of weird syrup of some sort,” said Duke. “Apart from the two ingredients, they will have the full range of the Olive or Twist bar. There’s over a thousand bottles behind the bar, 80 types of bitters, eight fresh juices we make every day, six different herbs — they can come up with whatever they like and that, I think, is where the fun comes in.”
The four bartenders competing on Sunday include Ken Milo of Baton Rouge Country Club (profiled in DIG last week as the president of BR’s Bartenders Guild), Dexter Klees of The Chimes East, Jourdan Dyer of Juban’s, and Lane Priemo of Bin 77.
A creative mixologist in his own right (last summer’s buzzed-about alcoholic snowballs at Olive of Twist were his innovation), Duke looks forward to the range of drinks these bartenders will churn out.
“Everybody’s mind works in different ways, so it will be interesting to see what sort of creativity people come up with and what directions they may take with weird ingredients,” Duke said. “Because of the vast array of things behind the bar, these four bartenders will most likely come up with four very different drinks. I think that especially will make it very fun — I know I’m excited and that this will be a lot of fun.”
Of course, the surprise secret ingredients could get very strange indeed. After all, this is the bar that served up a salmon roll cocktail.
“We do a lot of really out their stuff here just on a weekday, so things could get really interesting,” said Duke. “We’ve made a cocktail with straight wasabi in it; we had a salmon flavored spirit in here at one time. But we also play more simple things that are also outside the box like habeñero or jalapeño, or tarragon, cardamon, cumin. We treat making a cocktail here like a chef treats making a gourmet meal.”
Apart from creating weird and cutting-edge drinks, Duke hopes the competition will sharpen BR’s cocktail scene. With an emphasis on crowd involvement, a ticket to this throwdown buys a taste of each cocktail crafted by the contestants, Olive or Twist’s signature appetizers, and a vote for the Bar Fight champion of your choice.
“One of the elements I’m most interested in and excited about is growing interest in new cocktails in the city,” he said. “And a lot of bartenders will come in here from bars with drastically less things to play with behind the bar and hopefully they will go back to their own bar with better ideas on how to play around and experiment with flavors and ingredients. The more people we get here to experiment, the more overall the city’s interest in cocktails will grow.”
The contest will have a boxing theme and Duke will act as emcee, a la Michael Buffer. As of press time, there are no plans for ring girls, but expect plenty of Rocky references.
“Things like that are possible, but I don’t want the boxing to go overboard; I don’t want to make it silly because it’s all about the drinks,” said Duke. “I’m definitely going to have fun with it. We’re probably going to be playing Rocky music playing, but I don’t want to make a spectacle of it. This isn’t about a ring girl in a bikini — that wouldn’t be the worst thing ever, but you get my point.”
Besides bragging rights, the winner will receive a t-shirt, a trophy, and a write up in DIG Magazine. Duke says he thought about offering a cash prize to entice bartenders to compete, but he quickly found out all he needed was to offer a fun challenge.
“I’ve already talked to 20 or 30 bartenders that want to do it,” he said. “Just the fun, notoriety, and the trophy seem to be enough.”