Does quantity win out over quality when it comes to mixed drinks? No, but bartenders at Denver's top bars must excel at both to serve the growing number of cocktail aficionados who want the best drinks — and want them right now. Bartender CC Chaput knows this, and she's honing her skill both on the job and in competition.
Chaput is one of a team of beverage professionals at Lady Jane (2021 West 32nd Avenue) creating classic and house cocktails, and she's also representing Denver (and the entire Southwestern region) in the upcoming Speed Rack US National Finals in Chicago in May. She earned that right by winning the competition's regional round, held at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom on Monday, February 11.
While speed is the name of the game with Speed Rack, a women's bartending competition now in its eighth year, finished drinks are also judged on quality. And we're not just talking gin and tonics here; Chaput says she had to make two dealer's choice cocktails requested by the judges (one had to be a dessert cocktail and the other had to include vermouth or sherry) as well as a Corpse Reviver No. 2 and a Maximillian Affair, two multi-ingredient cocktails from the lexicon of vintage and modern mixology. Contestants are given a list of possible cocktails ahead of time, so Chaput says she practiced every possible combination of four cocktails to shave off time. This was her third time competing in a regional Speed Rack, and the second time she's advanced to the championship.
The bartender just moved to Denver from Boston last year after getting a job offer from Lady Jane (which opened last August), but she says it's great to get a win for the city. "The Denver bar community, especially the women, have been so incredibly warm and welcoming," she explains, "so I'm extremely proud to represent them."
Previous jobs at high-volume Boston watering holes the Franklin Cafe and the Highball Lounge helped Chaput become proficient at turning out craft cocktails efficiently. At Lady Jane, her favorite drinks to make are dealer's choice cocktails, "especially when someone wants to try something outside their standard range and they know what flavors they like." On her own time, she prefers simple classics like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
Speed Rack's goal is to "highlight the up-and-coming generation of strong women in the spirits industry," and the money it makes from ticket sales goes toward breast cancer prevention and research. Chaput explains that the competition is a great way to showcase the growing number of women in the field, which has been historically male-dominated. "It's still not the easiest," she says of earning respect and recognition as a female bartender, "but it's getting better...for women who are bartenders, and also bar managers and bar owners."
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