Competing bartenders shake it up at Mohawk House

Part of statewide Iron Shaker contest

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  • Iron Shaker competitors, from left: Alejandro Hernandez, Alexis Morgan, Claudineia Bock, Veronica Dziadyk, Chris Alvarez, Peter Gorzelnik and Kasey Councilor Photos by Amy Shewchuk

  • Claudineia Bock of the Bernards Inn pours a Manhattan, one of the required stirred cocktails


— Local bartenders showcased their skills under some pressure this past Monday night at the Mohawk House, as part of Allied Beverage’s Iron Shaker Competition.

The competition is an annual event for charity, with 100% of the proceeds from the final competition’s ticket sales going to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and its affiliate, Fulfill.

This year, 40 contestants in New Jersey participated. Bartenders signed up for the competition either through Instagram, Facebook or through Allied’s sales representatives. The competition Monday night at the Mohawk House was the second to last of the “Playoffs.” The last playoff will be held on September 24 at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown.

The finals will be held at The House of Independents in Asbury Park on Oct. 8. Bartenders with the top eight times will compete. Tickets are $20 each. For every $20 raised 60 meals are provided to the Food Bank.

Contestants are given a study packet that includes 36 classic cocktails and are tested on 6 random selections determined on the spot by the judges. The judges for Monday night’s playoffs were Jonas Koep, an independent beverage consultant and Robby Seibert, bartender at the Gladstone Tavern in Gladstone and Cassidy Bar & Kitchen in Maplewood. Judges differ for each playoff as well as the final event. None of the contestants will know if they qualify for the final until the last playoff when the final 8 competitors are announced.

Each bartender is given 2 minutes to set up their station and is then timed on how long it takes them to make the drinks. The 6 different cocktails include one that is “built”, two that are stirred, one that is shaken, one “dry shake” (with egg white for froth) and one that is muddled. Penalties include short/over pours, back stepping out of the station (if an ingredient is forgotten or not within reach), wrong or missing garnish, incorrect glassware, broken bottles or glasses, use of wrong spirit and messiness or spills.

“This is the best cocktail competition in New Jersey,” Koep said. “It really puts people out of their comfort zone, even if they have tended bar for years. It really puts them under fire and it’s fun to watch.”

There are four rounds in the finals, each round with a different theme. Bartenders are encouraged to go “all out.”

“We’ve had bartenders use fire, smoke, strange glassware and foodie-type presentations in the finals,” said Samantha Kaufman of Allied Beverage. “It’s interesting every year to see what people come up with.”

“It was a total adrenaline rush,” said Claudineia Bock, bartender at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville and a competitor at Mohawk House this week. “It’s like being in your own zone but also watching and listening to everything around you. It was fun and exciting. But I lost points unfortunately for forgetting garnish on 2 drinks.”

“This year we have really leveled the playing field for bartenders of all shapes, sizes, forms, etc. by going back to making classic cocktails quickly, efficiently and consistently,” said Steve Fette, craft spirit development specialist for Allied Beverage. “We saw seasoned bartenders crack under the pressure as well as underdog bartenders who nailed it.”

The prize for 1st Place is a very large cocktail shaker “trophy” and an American Express Gift Card for $1000. 2nd Place will receive a gift card for $500 and 3rd Place for $250.

“We are honored to be selected to host an event like this,” said Steve Scro, owner of Mohawk House. “We are known for our innovative, creative cocktails that embrace local farmers and purveyors. We are proud to represent Sparta and Sussex County.”

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