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Math, chemistry and personality required to craft the perfect cocktail

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(L-R) Local bartenders Tara Gillum and Kelsey Smith participated in a cocktail competition and won fan favorite for their beverage. (Photo: Robert McGraw/Gazette) CHILLICOTHE – Bartending is an art form that requires skill, knowledge of math and a bit of chemistry and the ability to socialize in order to […]

Click here to view original web page at www.chillicothegazette.com


CHILLICOTHE - Bartending is an art form that requires skill, knowledge of math and a bit of chemistry and the ability to socialize in order to achieve the perfect cocktail.

Local bartenders from two establishments put their skills to the test earlier this year when they competed in two separate competitions. Steiner's Speakeasy owner Tara Gillum and bartender Kelsey Smith, along with bartender Cortney Tackett of Longhorn Steakhouse, competed in events that required them to craft drinks while being judged on taste and presentation.

In late September, Steiner's Speakeasy was the only bar outside of Columbus to participate in a cocktail competition. In a room of 250 people, Gillum and Smith knew just five. They were tasked to create a margarita but the rest was open to interpretation.

Gillum worked to create a Polynesian inspired margarita that combined white tequila, orange, chili powder and a few other ingredients. After judging, the duo won fan favorite for their beverage.

While some may believe that bartending is easy, Smith and Gillum assert that there's more that goes into it than what people think.

"Bartending is definitely an art form," Gillum said. "Mixing up one ingredient completely changes the outcome."

Before a competition or when crafting a new seasonal menu, Gillum hosts parties at her house for friends to sample the creations. The feedback helps her distinguish which ingredients work well together and which don't. She then takes the finished menu to her employees where they do a training class for the new drinks.

In November, Gillum and Smith competed in a cocktail contest inspired by the holidays. Gillum created a fruitcake inspired Manhattan that used taste and smell to remind people of the holiday season.

"The key is figuring out what alcohol and ingredients pair best with the flavor profiles you're trying to create," Gillum said.

Beyond the technical aspects of bartending like ensuring each drink has just the right amount of ingredients, or not adding too much ice, the person behind the bar is also expected to provide an experience.

Before working as a bartender, Smith was employed at a server for several years. When a bartender quit, she took on the job and for the past four years, she's made a career out of it.

One of the most challenging parts of the job for Smith is forcing herself out of her comfort zone. Smith says that she's had to learn to develop people skills. Sometimes, when the bar is quiet, she has to interact with customers one on one or gauge if they want to have a conversation. And when it's packed, she has to ensure that each customer feels like they've been seen and heard.

"I've had to learn how to notice certain traits in people and what to pick up on," Smith said.

Like Smith, Tackett became involved in bartending after working as a server. While taste is important in Longhorn's Barstars contest, it's also about presentation and knowledge of drinks. Judges scored Tackett on detail, types of pours and knowledge of the Longhorn menu.

Tackett began competing at a local level, against other bartenders at the local brick and mortar. She advanced to the regional competition where she was up against 500 other bartenders with various levels of experience.

"It was surreal to see how big it was," she said. "I never thought I would bartend but it's turned into something that I've loved."

Compared to serving, Tackett says bartending is a lot more than serving drinks. It's about guest interaction and decoding their taste to find the perfect drink.

Smith agrees that part of bartending is helping customers decide which drink they want to purchase. By learning their likes and dislikes, bartenders may be able to offer a new beer or suggest a specific cocktail.

"We pride ourselves on our great quality cocktails and we want to make sure that people are happy and excited with their purchase," Gillum said.

Although the staff at Steiner's isn't competing in another competition until Valentine's Day, the bar remains open throughout the week. Customers can sample beverages from the new winter cocktail menu that features a Peppermint White Russian, a holiday mule and even sangria.

"We're lucky to have the clientele we do," Gillum said. "Everyone here appreciates what we're trying to do."

Steiner's Speakeasy is open Monday through Sunday starting at 3 p.m. and is located at 31 S. Paint St. Longhorn Steakhouse opens at 10 a.m. and is located at 1077 N. Bridge St.

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Twitter: @ToriaBarnhart