Battle of the Booze

By: Reggie Jolly and Stephanie Wolff

What appears to be a classic post office on the outside, is actually a bar. Volstead is a speakeasy known for their hard-to-find entrance and their vintage aesthetic. Four times a year, Volstead hosts the Bartender’s Brawl, a competition that pits the best mixologists from all over Florida and South Georgia against each other for a cash prize of $1000—and infinite bragging rights.

To create a cocktail, it takes a steady hand, some booze, and maybe a mixer or two. But the Bartender’s Brawl introduces a new caliber of mixologist in a classic-style bar.

“The Volstead wanted to do a competition that focused more on the quality of a cocktail and not using any particular spirit,” says Volstead’s Hana Ferguson. “They wanted to see a competition that challenged the bartender’s creativity and ability to come up with some of the best tasting cocktails with the most random ingredients.”

In the competition, contestants have access to a variety of classic bar ingredients, including but not limited to: fruit, orange peel, simple syrup and a selection of spirits. However, they are also encouraged to bring any specialty item of their choosing.

“I decided to bring things that are kind of my go-to. Whenever you’re making cocktails for people in your own bar you kind of find things you fall back on a lot,” Kate Carpenter, the most recent Brawl Champion said. “So for me, it’s fortified wines called cantinas, which are bitter fortified wines.”

She also tends to use some specialty syrups, including a pineapple-hibiscus cordial.

Volstead’s general manager Matthew Williams had significant influence over the interior and exterior design of the bar. That same creativity was instrumental in brainstorming the specifics of the Bartender’s Brawl and the unique ingredients used.

According to Williams, The Volstead’s theme was inspired by the Prohibition Era, and influences the cocktails they serve.

“Cocktails now have gone back to their roots, the classics,” he said. “And that’s what has propelled good cocktails here this whole time—getting it right from the very beginning.”

While the regular competition is hosted throughout the year, Volstead hosts a winner-take-all tournament with the past four winners. The next winner-take-all showdown will be held in June of next year.