TAMPA — Last week in Las Vegas, 28 top bartenders from the United States and Canada went head to head in the ninth annual Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. The Chopped-style semifinals took place at Magic Hour Studio and involved an intimate series of seven competition rounds throughout the day, with winners announced after each round. Tampa's own Brenda Terry, most recently of Ciro's Speakeasy, impressed the judges with her imaginative "Griswold's Flip" cocktail, making her way into the finals at the MGM Grand.
Alas, Terry didn't take home the gold, but her ebullience about being a finalist was palpable in a post-Vegas phone interview.
"This was my first competition. It really validated me as a bartender. For some reason Bombay Sapphire said, 'Hey, you're amazing. We're going to fly you to Vegas and stick you with all of your idols. We see potential in you and we want to nurture that.' "
The only female Tampa Bay bartender ever to make it into the finals, Terry, who turned 30 while in Vegas, sees her profession as analogous to that of a chef.
"We read the same books. You can learn from chefs. I built a cocktail around the Victorian era, and there were a lot of infusions in that era. I did homemade bitters tinctures and syrups. Syrups are really big right now."
Terry says the pace of the competition was "whirlwind." The first night was a celebration, everyone getting to know fellow competitors. The next day was "rapid-fire mode." For her finals cocktail? She had 15 minutes to create.
"It forced me to get out of my comfort zone."
The result was the Bricky Lady (see recipe). If the preparation seems daunting, she says you can sample one these days at her new home base, the Bricks in Ybor City.
"But Ciro's was where I cut my teeth. I owe them everything," Terry said. "This competition helped me say, 'You are a professional, and this is your career.' "
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.