Bartender of the Year San Francisco Finalist Crafts Winning Cocktail with Empowering Inspiration

— April 18, 2019
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Heaven Hill Brands, announce last finalist for 2019 “Bartender of the Year” 

BARDSTOWN, KY – Alison Kwan, Bartender at True Laurel in San Francisco, announced as the Heaven Hill Brands and San Francisco finalist for the 2019 Bartender of the Year Competition. Kwan won first place, $1,000 and a trip to the finals at Half Mile Farm in Highlands, North Carolina. 

 In the second round of the semifinal competition, contestants created the inspired cocktail submitted as a recipe in the preliminary round. Kwan crafted the “New Libations,” inspired by talented women within the industry (see recipe at end of release). 

I chose to do a take on the GinGin Mule, arguably one of Audrey Saunders most signature cocktails. Also known as the Libation Goddess,’ Saunders was the first person to put Rittenhouse Rye on a cocktail menu in NYCShe fought to get this product because she really believed in it as not only a quality product, but also as a piece of American cocktail history. She was the impetus for much of the modern cocktail renaissance,” said Kwan. I’ve substituted the gin for Rittenhouse Rye, the ginger beer for Domaine de Canton and fresh Granny Smith apple juice (a natural pairing for spicy rye), the lime for lemon, and the mint for aromatic California bay laurel syrup. Audrey’s recipe is timeless, and so is her inspiration to meIt is my dream to continue the legacy of talented female bartenders, to further their cause, and to inspire and empower the women bartenders of tomorrow, just like Audrey has done for me. 

Thi Nguyen of The Saap Avenue in Oakland, Calif., won second place and $500. Six semifinalists competed regionally in San Francisco on Monday, April 15 at Bon Voyage!. Bartenders competed in three rounds, the first two featuring the classic cocktail and inspired cocktail from their preliminary submission. For the final round, bartenders created a custom drink for a fictional bar menu using a minimum of 1.5 ounces of at least one Heaven Hill brand not previously featured in one of their cocktails including Domaine de Canton French Ginger Liqueur, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, and Rittenhouse Rye Whisky, as well as Dubonnet Rouge Aperitif, Sacred Bond Brandy, or Lunazul Tequila. Contestants and judges were then invited to a family dinner at The Workshop at The Progress and professional development with Kevin Diedrich, Owner of Pacific Cocktail Haven in San FranciscoDiedrich created a cocktail utilizing Heaven Hill products and spoke to his inspiration behind it, as well as the path to opening his own bar and the challenges along the way. 

 National Brand Educator for Heaven Hill Brands Lynn House, Bar Manager of Clyde Common & Pépé Le Moko Jeffrey Morgenthalerand Diedrich judged the semifinalists’ cocktails and chose one finalist based on highest scores. Contestant skills and cocktails were scored on flavor, appearance, presentation, technical skills, use of sponsor brands, and adherence to judges’ guidelines. 

More than 1,100 original cocktail recipes were submitted online nationwide beginning September 15, 2018. Preliminary entries required two original cocktail recipes, one rendition of a classic recipe, and one relating to an inspiration, along with a short description of how the cocktail represents a deep inspiration to their life. The top contestant from each region will go on to vie for the title of Bartender of the Year and $15,000 at Half Mile Farm in Highlands, North Carolina from June 17-20, 2019. Finalists will be challenged on their full range of skills as hospitality professionals. Judges will be looking for the ultimate bartender who displays the total breadth and aptitude all bartenders aspire to embody. 

Grounded in the original Bartender of the Year Competition hosted by Domaine de Canton starting in 2009, Heaven Hill Brands resurrected the competition due to strong demand from bartenders worldwide. Harrison Ginsberg of The Dead Rabbit in New York City was the 2018 Bartender of the Year and will return as a guest judge for the finals. Ginsberg joined an impressive rank of past champions, including Nathan O’Neill from the Nomad Bar in New York City who was named Bartender of the Year in 2017, and Abigail Gullo formerly of Compere Lapin in New Orleans who won the inaugural competition in 2016. Visit the official competition website at for complete competition details.  


New Libations  Crafted by Alison Kwan 



  • Rittenhouse Rye (1.5 ounce(s)) 
  • Domaine de Canton Liqueur (.75 ounce(s)) 
  • Fresh Granny Smith Apple Juice (2.0 ounce(s)) 
  • Meyer Lemon Juice (.25 ounce(s)) 
  • Bay Laurel Syrup  (.25 ounce(s)) 

 Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker. Shake and double strain into ice-filled Collins glass. Garnish with Granny Smith apple fan on skewer. 

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