Trick Dog's Caitlin Laman is Miss Speed Rack USA 2014

By Virginia Miller  |  May 13, 2014
Credit: Gabi Porter

Part spectator sport, part bartending speed competition, the most raucous cocktail competition in the country is Speed Rack. It's also the first contest of its nature to showcasing female bartenders, only. All proceeds go to breast cancer research and to date, they've raised more than $160,000 for the cause. The competition first makes the rounds to 8 top cocktail cities around the US (SF's rowdy showdown was on March 9). The finalists headed to New York a few days ago and on May 8 - out of 16 national finalists - SF's very own Caitlin Laman from Trick Dog won it all, earning the title of Miss Speed Rack USA 2014.

Top-name male bartenders served as barbacks, while the competitors had to compose cocktails from a list of 50 classic recipes for judges who scored them on prep time, accuracy, taste and, yes, speed. It all went down with an audience of over 500 people and an all-star panel of Dale DeGroff, a.k.a. King Cocktail, Kate Krader of Food & Wine Magazine, Charlotte Voisey of William Grant & Sons USA, and Julie Reiner of Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge in NY. As the winner, Laman will take an all-inclusive trip for two to France, where she'll attend the Cointreau Bartender Academie. She also gets an educational trip to Ireland and the Jameson Distillery with Speed Rack Founders Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix.

We chatted with Ms. Laman about her big win and where she drinks on her days off.

What was the experience like competing in Speed Rack? It was equal parts thrilling, stimulating and exhausting. Things move very fast. [After each round] all of a sudden you are back on stage again with four new cocktails, hoping and praying you don't have to make something with egg white. At least I was, because I cannot crack an egg to save my life. When it was over, it took at least a day for things to sink in, I feel like I didn't even smile until the next morning. This is an unusual competition. Most of the girls get very competitive and yet Ivy [Mix] and Lynette [Marrero] want us to remember that this is a friendly competition, for a good cause. I think they underestimate what they have created, because most of us take this pretty seriously.

How so? I was concerned with how much fraternizing all the competitors were asked to do before the competition. We had a cocktail hour the night before and a brunch that was literally right before we were to show up at the venue. But, it actually ended up being pretty cool. We got to know each other and had some fun together and it made the whole experience that much more worthwhile. It was also an incredible experience having so many people from Trick Dog and San Francisco and LA and New York there to support me. It felt really good to look out and see all my friends with their fists in the air.

What elements do you think factored into your win? Preparation and focus. I treated it like sport and spent a lot of time training, timing myself, watching video of myself, finding ways to be faster and prepping my dealer's choice lists. Being on stage was actually really fun. Once I heard "Go," I was as relaxed as I had been all day, or all year, because at that point I was just bartending. But without that preparation, I would have never won. Confidence was a big part of it as well. Once I heard I had the fastest qualifying time I said, "Okay, I got this." I am glad that I won, but I am so happy it is over and I can have my life back. Throwing my flashcards and dealer's choice lists out was a wonderful feeling. Oddly, I also kind of want to do it all over again.

Will there be any kind of celebratory drink served at Trick Dog? Shots of Calvados! Just kidding. I was pretty happy about how all four of my dealer's choice cocktails came out so those would be perfect to order in celebration. For the final round, the judges each asked us to come up with a cocktail based on guidelines they had laid out. Dale Degroff wanted something gin and citrus-y with sparkling wine, like a French 75. I made him a cocktail with gin, lemon, raspberry syrup, Dolin Blanc [dry vermouth] and Champagne. Essentially a Clover Club sans egg white, in a tall glass, then add Champagne. Julie Reiner wanted something smoky and refreshing. I made her a cocktail with Scotch, apricot, Aperol and lemon. Charlotte Voisey wanted a play on a White Lady (gin, orange liqueur lemon and egg white), something floral. I made her a cocktail with mezcal, lemon, apricot and egg white. Kate Krader wanted a cocktail that was herbal and spicy. I made her a stirred cocktail with tequila reposado, Cocchi Rosa, Cynar and green peppers.

Where do you like to drink in SF and what do you like to drink on your days off? I usually end up drinking at places near to both my house and Trick Dog, [places] where friends work: Lolinda, Laszlo, The Hideout [in the back of Dalva], Locanda. Any old dive bar will do, as well. If they have sherry, I am drinking sherry. If not, beers and/or shots. IPA, Pilsner, mezcal and Rittenhouse [rye whiskey] are all favorites. If I have time to actually go out to dinner I usually drink wine.