Some called it a Cinderella story. Others muttered in disbelief, “What the [expletive] just happened?” As for the six of us from New Mexico, well, we just celebrated.
Last Slinger Standing is the bartending competition of the Southwest. It happens during Arizona Cocktail Week, in February, in Scottsdale. This is its fifth year, and the first time New Mexico had a team.
Two of the event founders, Kim Haasarud and Layla Linn (an Albuquerque native), came to Santa Fe last June for New Mexico Cocktails & Culture to teach the mixology seminars and oversee the parties. Teamwork is how a community grows, and I have been thrilled to be part of Arizona's festival since it began. A few months ago, when the ladies asked if New Mexico could participate in this competition, my answer was a wholehearted, "Hell yes!"
After local bartenders submitted recipes, hoping to make the team, the final four were chosen: Chris Milligan (Secreto Lounge), David Vega-Hernandez (Zacatecas in Albuquerque), Andrew Roy (Radish & Rye and Coyote Café) and Michael Sebree (Radish & Rye). I served as team coach for our weekly practices.
The New Mexico team went up against Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona. To say we were an underdog is an understatement. Those states have well-known bartenders with proven track records in competitions. Slinger is run "sweet 16" style, so winners from each round went head-to-head with each other until there were only two left. In this case, that was Les Baker from Colorado and Andrew Roy of Santa Fe. In each round, competitors were given a surprise spirit, modifier, and a required technique. In the final round, they got rye whiskey and Guinness beer, and the drink had to be smoked.
The New Mexico team concentrated with sweaty anticipation as Roy muddled amarana cherries and added a little maple syrup and two ounces each of Guinness and rye whiskey. He also used cherry wood in the smoker. Now intrigued by the out-of-nowhere finalist, hundreds of spectators cheered "Andy, Andy, Andy!" instead of "Andrew," because his name was shortened on the board. It didn't matter. We'd take it.
When the judges held up their voting cards, reflecting a unanimous decision that Roy won, the entire place erupted. As for us, we screamed, cried, jumped around and hugged. Flashes popped on cell phones as the momentous victory blew up Facebook, and word spread like wildfire through the Santa Fe bar scene. Roy was bringing home the trophy.
On a personal note, I've known Roy since the summer he was old enough to bartend. Today, not quite 26 years old, he's already a second-level sommelier and popular local barkeep. A former St. John's College student, this kid knows how to study, and when not slinging drinks, he's reading about wine and spirits. And that, my friends, is how a champion is made: hard work, knowledge, practice and nerves of steel. I know I speak for all of Santa Fe when I say we couldn't be more proud of you, Andrew.